Netflix series, The Crown has been out for a while now, gripping many as it reveals the tale of the Queen’s (Claire Foy) life throughout the fifties; from her marriage to Prince Philip (Matt Smith) to the death of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris). The series has won critical acclaim for its realistic script but one of the main aspects of the show that has really captured its audience is the design of each garment.
Each episode displays sumptuous, historically accurate costumes which are rich with detail, for us to consume. But with 293 speaking parts and 7,000 extras to clothe, who was responsible for this enormous task?
56-year-old Michele Clapton, a costume designer from Oxfordshire, was responsible for every single detail. Her, and a hefty costume department made up of 100 people…
“It was something that I was really interested in doing because of the story I had to tell, the public and private life.”
In a tight schedule of only ten months of filming, 20,000 costumes were needed, with more than 300 hand-made by Clapton and her team. The rest were on loan from vintage suppliers, costume companies and charity shops.
‘At one point, we used every fifties dress available in London,’ says Michele. ‘We had to go Spain and Italy to hire more.’
Much of Clapton’s designs came down to guess work, as they didn’t have insight or direction from the royal family themselves. Instead, to accurately portray the Queen’s wardrobe, Clapton spent hours sifting through old film footage, photographs, fashion cuttings and fifties patterns.
‘What I appreciate now is that the Queen was an icon in those post-war years,’ she says. ‘Her father was loved, but not particularly glamorous; nor was her mother. She was this fresh, young hope for the nation.’
Each of Foy’s daytime garments of wool crepe, cotton or silk took around three days to make from scratch, then had to be fitted three or four times in order to appear correctly on Foy’s figure.
Hats were very much a prominent accessory during that time, and Clapton made sure to make them as historically accurate as possible, replicating every feature, right down to the petals on the flowers which were designed by Sean Barrett, a leading London milliner who has also worked on Downton Abbey. Each hat cost several thousand pounds and over 30 of them were made for this series.
In 1947, royal couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, designed the Queen’s original wedding dress. Inspired by a Botticelli painting, the gown was made from ivory silk, and was covered in 10,000 pearls with a 15 ft patterned train.
Clapton’s replica took a team of six embroiderers working ten-hour days seven weeks to create, at an estimated cost of £30,000.
But it wasn’t all 100% accurate, as Clapton had to modify Foy’s outfits to cater to her and her baby.
“I had a 4-month-old baby when I started filming, so I was wearing a corset. Thank god!” she laughed. “A lot of my costumes had a zip down the back so I could actually feed my baby. [Michele Clapton] was so accommodating with that and never made me feel bad or anything. It must have been a real nightmare, and they were so supportive and lovely.”
In contrast to Elizabeth, her Sister, Margaret was well known for her racy outfit choices. Clapton’s choice of outfits for her reflected a habit of trying to out-do her older sister with curvaceous figure-hugging dresses and suits which were very modern for the era.
‘She liked things a little more fitted, cinched at the waist, perhaps showing a little more cleavage than her sister. She thought about what she wore. Her clothes looked as if she’d had two or three fittings — she liked to take a walk in the corridor and swish her dresses around to see how they moved.’
She was a fan of bold pops of colour and wearing trousers, where as the queen didn’t, unless riding. Her choice to wear them showed her masculinity, portraying herself as being as strong as the male figures around her.
The success of other British period dramas such as Downton Abbey in America have shown that it isn’t just the British who enjoy a posh spectacle, which is most likely why Netflix staked a massive £100 million on the series, showing the Queen’s life from the early years of her reign through to the present day.
With Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning shows such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black under its belt, The Crown is its most ambitious project so far and is set to be yet another Netflix hit.
Text: Afua Aidoo
Images: Netflix, Flynex