Nowhere has seen Her Majesty The Queen more natural – and at ease – than the Derby at Epsom Downs Racecourse, that great British sporting event which historically brings together people from all walks of life, says Judith Watt.
At the Derby, Her Majesty’s style has varied from the utility scheme coat she wore in 1948 to 2011’s fuschia and white ensemble by one of her favourite couturiers, Stewart Parvin, and hat by milliner Rachel Trevor-Morgan, who has designed hats for the Queen for the past six years.
Her Majesty the Queen was the only person ‘who could put on a tiara going downstairs’, said the late Royal couturier Sir Hardy Amies. During her long reign, commemorated in 2012 with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, she has always maintained a style appropriate to the occasion.
Paris may have led haute couture, but as Sir Hardy Amies once quipped, “The frogs may have the frocks, but we’ve got the rocks!” Nobody, he said, could wear jewels so well. Yet the Queen is not like the late Elizabeth Taylor, who adored collecting precious stones and rode to fame in her role as Velvet Brown, winner of the Grand National in the 1944 film National Velvet.
One of Her Majesty’s greatest passions is horseracing. Her father King George VI bred and raced thoroughbreds and introduced her to all aspects of ‘the sport of kings’. She was photographed with her parents at Derby Day in 1948 and filmed privately dancing a jig at the finish.
As Britain emerged from seven years of rationing and austerity, her image was hugely influential in British fashion. “The Coronation will influence the way you look this year whether you are choosing a gown for an evening reception at Buckingham Palace or your biennial hat, it will change the aspect of things to come”, said Vogue in February, 1953. Likened to the young Elizabeth I, the British looked forward to a second ‘Elizabethan’ age, with British manufacturers weaving brocades from 16th century paintings, jewellers imitating the cloisonné designs that bedecked the grand ladies of fashion and everywhere was the Rose of England.
Crown and coronet, white satin and red velvet; all appeared in the collections of British designers. Vogue celebrated the colour of the season – ‘Pink Champagne’, the ‘pink of perfection’ for Coronation year, as traditional as the heraldic rose. Even a touch of it in accessories would be an inspiration for the year ahead.
On 2 June 1953, Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. It is a ceremony that goes back some 1,000 years to the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066. In the history of Royal image-making, the Coronation portrait is the most emblematic of all.
Twenty-seven years old, she cut a pretty and regal figure, dressed in a gown designed by couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, embroidered with gemstones and the emblems of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Hartnell’s outfit was a masterpiece, teamed with the diamond-encrusted regalia of the monarch. The Abbey was filled with 8,000 guests, onlookers lined the route from Buckingham Palace and the event was televised live across Europe with footage flown to Commonwealth countries and America.
Four days later, the Queen attended the Coronation Derby on a sunny 6 June to watch her colt Aureole, ridden by Harry Carr, wearing the Royal racing colours of a purple body with scarlet sleeves and gold braiding plus a black velvet cap with a gold fringe, come second, beaten by Pinza, whose jockey was the newly-knighted Sir Gordon Richards.
The crowd was reputedly 750,000 strong, converging on Epsom Downs by charabanc, by train, by gypsy caravan or Rolls Royce. She wore a slate-blue, full-skirted coat, matching satin dress and a hat, probably by Kate Day. Over the years, her stock Derby Day outfit consists of a good hat, smart day coat worn over a dress and gloves – always gloves. Invariably, she is accompanied by close family members; it is a day about enjoyment and sport.
GUIDE TO THE EPSOM DERBY FESTIVAL 2015 – CLICK HERE