Fashion plays a starring role in the new Netflix series ‘The Crown’
The first season of the Netflix series “The Crown,” which premiered Friday, follows the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. It also offers a retelling of something revolutionary for that time period that is taken for granted today with every blog post about Michelle Obama’s latest hairstyle or tweet about Kate Middleton’s shoes.
That is, fashion plays a serious costar in this royal adventure.
Ultimately, the series can be viewed as a sartorial study of the United Kingdom’s longest ruling monarch as the young, female ruler grows accustomed to a life in the public eye while being more comfortable behind closed doors and relaxing in 1950s housewife chic.
“The Crown” was created by Peter Morgan, who has an Oscar nomination for writing the screenplay for the Helen Mirren film “The Queen.” The Netflix series is expected to follow her majesty’s life during a six-season run.
The introductory chapters star Claire Foy as a young princess just as she marries Prince Philip (Matt Smith) in 1947 and begins her life as a happy mother and navy wife who chastises the love choices of her sister Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) and is unprepared for the toll the demise of their beloved father, King George VI (Jared Harris), will have on her life.
“It’s funny,” said Michele Clapton, “The Crown’s” costume designer who is no stranger to the art of royal headwear. (She’s well-known for her Emmy-winning costume designs for HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). “I’m British, yes, and I’m aware of the royal family and I thought I knew a little bit about [Queen Elizabeth].”
Clapton said she believes the death of King George VI created an upheaval that had a tremendous effect on the young queen’s marriage and family.
“It made me much more sympathetic to her than I thought I would be,” Clapton said. “I think ‘The Crown’ is a real observation on family and power and what it does. And also, on a more frivolous note, I really wanted to design in the ’50s [styles].”
Clapton explained that this meant taking Elizabeth from under her mother’s thumb through a wardrobe shift of pastel pinks and bows and onto Elizabeth’s carefree days in Malta with sunglasses, cotton separates and “a pretty plum party dress with large pink embroidered flowers.”
Those costumes are a contrast from the look of a still-unsteady, inevitable queen dressed in a two-piece suit while speaking in public — or being so in denial of her father’s failing health that she doesn’t own proper funeral clothes and is handed an ebony suit.
Clapton said 95% of the wardrobe for Foy and Kirby was made from scratch and “we never wanted to copy, except when we were matching [documented events such as Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953]. They were always costumes inspired by [the time period].”
As for the crown and other baubles, Clapton said, “We used these to [convey] mood or to send messages. There was a pretty little brooch, a flower basket that I particularly liked. Her parents gave it to Elizabeth on the birth of Charles. She still wears it today. So obviously [it’s] a favorite. It seems to tell of her more emotional side.”
But Queen Elizabeth isn’t the only iconic figure of that era to receive the star treatment in “The Crown.”
John Lithgow plays Winston Churchill, a casting choice that may seem odd because, as Clapton said, “he’s not like Churchill in stature or nationality.” A special bodysuit was made to turn the 6-foot-4 American actor into the 5-foot-6 British prime minister.
Not to be overlooked, Churchill’s dashing style also might be a wardrobe worth blogging about.
“I thought he was a fantastically brilliant dresser, Churchill,” Clapton said. “I loved his suits and his big coats. I thought he was very inventive and creative.”