Designing for Diana
A standout talking point of season four is, of course, the long-awaited debut of Lady Diana Spencer to the show, with rising star Emma Corrin taking on the role of the ‘People’s Princess’. Dressing one of the world’s most recognizable figures, and at such prominent, photographed stages of her life, posed a challenge for the costume department. “The biggest conversation for us regarding Diana was, as someone so well documented, how we negotiated what she really wore versus what or how we designed for her,” says Sidonie Roberts, assistant costume designer and head buyer for Netflix’s The Crown. “There were key moments when we adhered to recreating iconic looks that she wore. For example, the wedding dress, which, with the un-precious generosity of designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel, we went about recreating.” In other scenes, they allowed themselves more creative license, for her lesser-known public moments or in private spaces, “for the purpose of ultimately telling a story rather than making a documentary,” says Sidonie.
Political power suits
Season four ushers in a new prime minister to parliament, with Gillian Anderson arriving to the series as Margaret Thatcher. From pussy-bow blouses to sharp, high-powered suiting – a signature style of the era, particularly for women in the workplace – Thatcher’s look changes to portray her political journey. “As she increases in power, she creates a personal style to project her political values, adopting the ‘power dressing’ of the 1980s,” says costume designer Amy Roberts. “She could use this look to great effect, wearing wide-shouldered, strongly tailored suits, but cleverly softening this by wearing pussy-bow blouses.” A standout look comes during her Downing Street acceptance speech, in the electric-blue pleated-skirt suit.
Princess Anne, played by Erin Doherty, took the style crown in season three as a big-haired, daringly dressed, mini-skirted teenager in the Swinging Sixties. Anne matures into a more established role in the royal family for season four and, sartorially, this means longer skirts, lower heels and headscarves. But she is still tackling trends and traditions. “She was one of the first major royals to repeat-wear clothes in public, sometimes as much as 30 or so years later,” says Amy, “so we chose to play with putting her in the same outfits multiple times – to differentiate her from any of the other principal royal women in this particular way.”
Color is used across the characters’ wardrobes to reflect the mood of the action, both in their personal lives and on the political front. Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth II, for instance, “has moved away from last season’s palette of 1960s clear pinks, lilacs and blues to slightly more somber colors,” says Amy. This is to reflect her “settling into her role as monarch, as much as to a general move away from the optimism of that time to the ‘Broken Britain’ of the 1980s.” Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret is also in darker hues for season four, “indicating the real tragedy and loss of direction her life has now taken”. For Margaret Thatcher’s visit to Balmoral, her costumes are vibrantly colored “to make her look as far away from the natural country look as possible. When she goes stalking with the Queen, she’s in the most vivid synthetic-blue dress and coat with heels.” Diana’s palette was also chosen to contrast with those of the lead royals. “We decided to isolate the colors she wore from those of the other royals, and make that her particular color scheme, further emphasizing the ‘her versus them’ narrative,” Sidonie shares. “So, with that, we introduced a lot more red and black, as well as typically 1980s shades of green and purple.”
While many of the most memorable style moments in the show come from regal occasions, there is also much downtime for the royals, in which you see the family wearing more relaxed attire. “The clothes are comfortable and practical, made of tweeds and wools; raincoats and wellington boots for the British weather; knitwear; kilts at Balmoral; headscarves for the women; caps and deerstalker hats for the men,” says Amy of dressing the at-home scenes. “They aren’t on show for the public here, they are ‘off duty’ and doing the things they feel supremely at home with, and the relatively casual clothes reflect that – mud and all.”