Fit for a princess
The moment the bride steps in front of the waiting guests for the first time is often the most breathtaking in any wedding – be it at a grand church, a paradise beach or a flowering meadow somewhere in Scandinavia. Imagine then, the same moment with an audience of hundreds of millions, inside the venue, at home in front of their television sets or in a park following a live feed on their mobile phones. Royal weddings are huge events and what takes the lion’s share of the attention at that very moment – and for many years to come – is the bride’s dress.
This spring, fans of royal sartorial splendor are in for another treat as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchange vows in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. In the three Scandinavian countries – all monarchies – royalists have had the luxury of witnessing no less than seven weddings over the past two decades. The Danish royal family has seen both princes, Joachim and Henrik, get married, the Norwegians have celebrated the weddings of Crown Prince Haakon and Princess Märtha Louise, while in Sweden all three royal children – Crown Princess Victoria, Prince Carl Philip and Princess Madeleine – have tied the knot with their chosen ones.
For the royal bride, the wedding is no doubt a big day on a personal level, but it’s also a manifestation of power, a national celebration and a chance to support and show off local designers’ handiwork. Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria, for instance, chose her compatriot Pär Engsheden to design her gown, while Mette-Marit, her equivalent in Norway, went to Oslo-based designer Ove Harder Finseth. Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary, meanwhile, commissioned fellow Dane Uffe Frank for her wedding.
“These women are walking advertisements for their country’s fashion scene, often wearing homegrown design, and the pictures are spread all over the world,” says author Ebba Kleberg von Sydow, who has written a book on royal fashion and hosted the television broadcasts of all the recent Swedish royal weddings. “Historically, royal wedding dresses have been very much trendsetting. That applies especially well to Victoria’s dress, which is still, eight years later, a reference for many Swedish brides.”
The dresses also say a lot about the person wearing them. Victoria’s wedding gown, for instance, made of cream-colored duchess silk satin, with short sleeves and a turned-out collar, makes a confident, grown-up and timeless statement in its simplicity, much like the princess herself. When Ove Harder Finseth designed the wedding gown for Norway’s Mette-Marit, he worked closely with the future princess to achieve a dress that would be true to her style.
“She was very much involved. She wanted to choose materials and be included in the whole process. She had a vision of the dress even before she came to me. After that, we worked back and forth on the idea,” Harder Finseth says.
“The challenge was to achieve a narrow silhouette, but at the same time create a dress big enough to fit the occasion. Royal wedding dresses usually need to be big, but you have to consider the person, too. Mette-Marit has a very simple style.”
Harder Finseth solved the dilemma by opting for a two-meter-long train and a light, six-meter silk veil, intended to resemble the billowy waves on the beaches of southern Norway, where the princess comes from. The dress itself was created from thick silk crepe and an astonishing 125m of silk tulle.
“A dress too simple, with a small train, could easily have disappeared in an impressive church,” he says.
Princess Diana’s gown from 1981, in ivory silk taffeta and antique lace, with a train almost eight meters long, is another classic example of a dress worthy of its surroundings.
“When choosing and designing a dress, the location is very important,” says fashion designer -Marina -Kereklidou. She has created many couture dresses for Swedish celebrities, including minister of culture Alice Bah Kuhnke. “Princess Diana’s train is so long because it has to stand out in the huge Westminster Abbey. It makes a difference whether you’re getting married in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, or a little chapel in -Dalarna. The former requires something magnificent, the latter a personal touch.”
When royal brides start browsing wedding magazines for inspiration, they also have centuries worth of traditions to consider. In Scandinavia, etiquette dictates, for instance, that the dress should always be white. In the 18th century, princesses often got married in silver – Danish Princess Sofia Magdalena married Sweden’s Prince Gustav in a silver brocade dress in 1766, and Princess Lovisa tied the knot with Crown Prince Karl in a silvery silk dress with silver sequins in 1850 – today, however, anything other than white would be a sensation. Long arms are most common, and royals should never wear open-toe sandalettes to an occasion like this.
The purpose of following these traditions is, of course, to protect the institution of monarchy which merely has ceremonial and symbolic power today.
“What’s exciting about royal brides is that in them the fairytale meets reality. There are not so many fairytale elements in their lives anymore – thanks to the modern times we live in – but here, they prevail. Royal weddings are a manifestation of the monarchy, a chance for the royals to come out among the people, to be seen and increase their popularity,” Kleberg von Sydow says. “The British monarchy still holds on tight to its traditions, while our Scandinavian princesses have more freedom to let their personal taste show when choosing a wedding dress. That says something about the role the royals have in their respective societies.”
While many royal wedding dresses fall into the classic category, others clearly bear signs of their time. The gowns could, in fact, reflect larger tendencies in society – as fashion often does, according to Marina Kereklidou.
“If you look at the Dior wedding dress Sweden’s Queen Silvia wore – minimalistic, slim with a high neck and long sleeves – it’s exactly how fashion was in 1976. Princess Diana’s dress is clearly from the 1980s. And look at Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s wedding gown from Calvin Klein – she’s American royalty one could say, which oozes the 1990s. Today, we’ve gone back to more traditional dresses and become more conservative. Is it because the world right now is so volatile? That’s one possible answer,” she muses.
Published: May 30, 2018
Last edited: May 30, 2018