The first few segments of Designer Diaries delt with the Norman Hartnell effect on the style of British queens and princesses. The Danes, too, had a designer who helped them forge a very distinctive and royal style. Jørgen Bender, born May 9, 1938, was the Danish fashion designer who crafted dresses for two generations of Danish royals and had an enduring effect on how we think of them.
Bender wanted to be a designer from his youth. When he was 14 he became an apprentice to the Danish designer Holger Blom, and by the time he was 19 he had earned Blom’s trust to the point of becoming his right hand man. In 1965 he and Verner Enquist became the owners of Blom’s business. In 1997, after years of service to the royals and others, Bender was made a Knight of Danneborg.
When you see the sheer number of gowns he designed for the Danes (and for Queen Silvia, who gets her own post), and the subtle design elements he used to personalize each gown, you will realize what a genius he was.
By 1967 Bender had become the go-to designer for gowns in the Danish royal household, and we all know that household needs lots of gowns. It’s no surprise that they turned to him for their wedding dresses. Although we usually do designer wedding last in a series, let’s treat ourselves and turn to his first. If a retrospective Dior’s royal gowns was a roller coaster ride of design styles, a look back at Bender’s is a smooth glide in the Swan Boats – very consistent and very royal.
We are beginning with one of the greatest achievements of Bender’s career. Crown Princess Margrethe’s 1967 gown has been discussed here and elsewhere endlessly, but that doesn’t take away from its glory. Bender used heavy silk and fashioned a dress with a general queenly medieval style that seems at the same time completely modern. The dress is stately, yet plain enough to hold up to the many traditions required by the Danes: the use of Princess Margaret’s lace in the front panel, the Daisy brooch, and the family lace veil. The most royal touch, in my opinion, is the six meter train, attached at the shoulders and ending in square points.
Anne-Marie was the youngest of the sisters and the first to get married. In 1964, Bender designed a simple dress for a very young girl who was going to go from princess to queen in a day. A bit of a tall order, that. He delivered a dress that didn’t swamp the young bride, and still looks fresh enough today. In a touch of design genius, Princess Margaret’s lace peeks out of the small panels in Anne Marie’s skirt.
The last Danish princess of the family to marry, in 1968, was the elegant Benedikte. Bender designed a dress that had similar design elements to her sisters. It shared the shoulder train of Daisy’s gown, and the rounded open neck that was used in Anne-Marie’s dress. Princess Margaret’s lace was used in the side panels (Bender must have spent sleepless nights figuring out how to this differently on each gown). The designer gave the dress Benedikte personality by affixing two bows at the high waist, each adorned with diamonds for the event.
When Benedikte’s daughter, Alexandra, married her first husband in 1998, Bender designed one of the last wedding gowns of his career. The dress bears some elements of her mother’s gown. It’s done up in heavy silk and is relatively plain. The neckline, although round, is higher and the gown sports double bell sleeves and a double bell skirt. It definitely bears the mark of Bender, though, and is of a piece with the gowns of the sixties.
Sadly, Jørgen Bender died relatively young, in 1999 at age sixty. His creative legacy lives on, though. The Danes continued to wear his clothes though the early part of this century, and certainly this series of wedding gowns will forever keep his designs alive.
Note: Alert readers, and all of you are, will note that Princess Alexandra (Joachim’s first wife) is not included in this retrospective. Her wedding gown is of a piece with her other gowns designed by Bender, and we’ll cover that next week. Thanks!