Welcome our Royal Wedding Gown summer series, where we look at royal gowns from a different perspective. In this entry, we examine how the size of location can influence the dress design. A royal bride needs to make an impact coming down the aisle. She needs to be seen not only in the venue, but by crowds on the street and often, on television screens. Previous entries in this series include: Danish Heirloom Lace and Royal Wedding Venues
Note: When I mention the size and scale of the venue, I am talking about the location of the actual religious ceremony. All these brides wore their gowns in several places on their wedding days; such is the whole point of a royal wedding.
Bride: Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti
Venue: Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam
Number of Guests: 1700
(Nieuwe Kerk By Arch – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5083699)
(Queen Maxima and King Willem-Alexander by Image Source: Getty)
Nieuwe Kerk is an expansive fifteenth-century church, which is used primarily as an exhibition and arts space. Regular services are no longer held there, although is the venue for Dutch royal investiture ceremonies and the grandest of weddings. Valentino knew he had to design a dress that wouldn’t get lost in the space and the sea of guests. And he responded. He delivered a dress in heavy silk Mikado (it was February, and that helped the bride stay warm), with embroidered lace panels in the skirt that were revealed as the bride moved. But it was the back view which made the most of the venue. The designer included a five-meter (16 foot) train, and a floral hand-embroidered veil that rested over the train. The entire effect made the beautiful bride visible and interesting from front and back, and a lovely complement to her surroundings.
This one is definitely worth a watch from the camera placed above the events. You will definitely get a feel for the scale of the venue, and the way the gown and train fill the space.
Bride: Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano
Designer: Manuel Pertegaz
Venue: Santa María la Real de La Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, Spain
Number of Guests: Approximately 1700 (unofficial)
(Santa Maria Cathedral By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39902190) (Queen Letizia and KIng Felipe by Image Source: Getty)
Madrid’s cathedral is relatively new. Begun in 1879, it was constructed in fits and starts throughout the 20th century and finally consecrated by Pope John Paul in 1993. It was built to impress, size-wise, and to make a statement that Madrid was the country’s spiritual capital. The ceilings soar, and the main aisle is 102 meters long. Considering this length, Manuel Pertega designed a dress that is narrow, but long. The skirt extends from the waist and flows into a train measuring 15 feet, or 4.5 meters. From the front, the bride is a slim column, but from the side and rear, she takes up space. The dress is made from Valencia silk woven with threads of fine silver, and embroidered with fleur-de-lys flowers, the heraldic fleur-de-lys, ears of wheat, clover, and strawberries. The veil echos the shape of the train. Made from off-white silk tulle and hand-embroidered, it is embellished with scrolls and garlands of ears of wheat, and fleur-de-lys.
The criticism of this dress is that it appeared to overwhelm the slender bride, and indeed in motion, there are times when it looks like she struggles to control all that fabric. In still photos, however, you can see what the designer aimed for, the feeling of stature in an enormous venue.
Bride: Lady Diana Spencer
Venue: St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
Designers: David and Elizabeth Emanuel
Number of Guests: 2,650
(St. Paul’s Cathedral By Photo: Harland Quarrington MoD/MOD, OGL v1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26907705) (Princess Diana and Prince Charles by Image Source: Getty)
We can’t talk about scale without talking about this wedding. St. Paul’s is one of the grandest possible venues possible for a wedding. The present building dates from the late 17th century, and was designed in the English baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren . The dome dominates the London skyline, and the building is one of the largest churches in England. It can hold up to 3,500 worshipers. By any measure, this is an impressive space.
First-time royal wedding dress designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel had a task in front of them to make their very young bride both visible and memorable in the midst of all the space, people and hubbub of this event. When talking about the failures of the dress, most people point to the eighties excess and the wrinkled fabric, however, their major success was that the designers correctly accounted for the scale of the event. A pared-down, minimalist bride would have been lost in this venue, and the designers understood that.
The Emanuels delivered a dress that was big by any measure. The fabric was an ivory pure silk taffeta with Carrickmacross lace panels, said to be from Queen Mary, at the front and back of the bodice. The volume was achieved in the full skirt, lace-flounced sleeves, and a neckline enhanced with taffeta bows. The old lace-trimmed train was twenty-five feet long.
Time often isn’t kind to this dress, but there is no denying the effect of the very young bride, in her very big dress, on the steps of one of the grandest cathedrals of them all.