07 January 2013

On Dressing the Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe

Angela Kelly is the Queen's personal assistant, adviser and curator – in other words, the woman responsible for coordinating the Queen’s outfits (including personally designing and overseeing the production of much of the clothing and hats) and helping select what to wear from that massive jewel collection. Dressing the Queen: the Jubilee Wardrobe is her firsthand account of both the daily business of that amazing job and also the extra special outfits created for the Diamond Jubilee year. I’ve had some requests for a review, so for anyone still on the fence about purchasing it, here you go:

On the clothes: The last part of the book is devoted to the individual outfits from the largest events of the Jubilee year, but before we get there, Ms. Kelly writes extensively about the basic business of dressing the Queen. Every little detail is planned for - the number of things they plan around makes the head spin. What I liked the most was the behind the scenes feel of it all; you really do get to see what the inside of the dressers’ area is like and just how many people are involved in dressing the Queen. And though some of the details of the thought behind the Jubilee outfits were released at the time, there’s still new depth to be revealed here.

On the jewels: I wasn’t expecting too much on the jewel front from the book, but I was pleasantly surprised. There are photographs of several pieces I had never seen before, and professional display photos of things we’ve only seen in use. Ms. Kelly is the curator of the Queen’s jewelry, and she shares a bit about her process – including a new look at how exactly the Grand Duchess Vladimir Tiara is swapped between emeralds and pearls. My sole frustration with the book does come on the jewel front, though: many of these pictured gems aren't captioned or explained. We can see new brooches and other new to us pieces, but the only written explanations are for pieces most jewel watchers already know well. But as it was with The Queen’s Diamonds, so it is here, and detail of this level is probably too much to ask for.

Overall impressions: What I loved about this book is that it feels like a piece of history, and it's almost hard to believe that it really happens today. The sheer scale of this couture operation – a mini fashion house, all for one person – is fascinating! It’s such an enormous contrast to the purposefully low key fashion we see from so many royals today. I was expecting this to be a bit of a reference book, but it is certainly not; it’s very easy to read, conversationally written, and rather romantic in its tone, I would say. (You learn quickly that Ms. Kelly has her dream job and adores her employer.) It’s both rare to get a look inside this side of things and to get that look from someone as close as Ms. Kelly is, and on that level alone I think it’s worth a look if you’re a fan of the Queen (and if you're a jewel fanatic, the new pieces alone will be worth it!).

Have you read the book? What did you think? Were you surprised by anything you read?

Links for purchase:
The Royal Collection Shop

Photo: The Royal Collection