Everyone has a memory of seeing Princess Diana in her wedding dress. The specifics may be fuzzy, but we all have an idea in our head of what that particular gown meant. It’s soft, extravagant, and utterly unique. The women of Buckingham Palace truly take center stage in the fourth season of Netflix’s The Crown, and Emmy-winning costume designer Amy Roberts gets the chance of a lifetime to introduce Diana to the world.
Diana was one of the most photographed women in history, so everyone has a favorite look or outfit. The paparazzi made sure that we saw everything that Diana was wearing at all times. Roberts couldn’t let that pressure get to her, however.
“The whole of The Crown can feel like pressure. If I thought about that pressure, I wouldn’t be able to leave my front door. Weirdly, I thought the best thing I could do is just close your eyes and think, ‘What do I remember from that image?’ It’s like thinking about Charlie Chaplin or Mickey Mouse. Everyone, whether they are Royalists or not, has an idea or a memory of that dress.”
There is an extreme romanticism to Princess Diana’s wedding dress. When we see the dress from behind, with the long veil splayed out behind her, we know how huge this moment is. It’s almost as if the wedding predicted the whirlwind life that Diana was going to experience until her untimely death. But the fourth season of the crown has a happier beginning. The dress represents the idea of love and the exciting promise of a happily ever after.
“It’s a big, romantic, puffy-sleeved dress in a gorgeous color with a long, long, long trailer. I didn’t set out to put out the exact number of pearls. I was taking broad brush strokes. We were fortunate to have David Emmanuel and his wife, Elizabeth, visit us, because we had to get their permission to recreate it. The big thing is the color of the dress because in videos and photographs it looks slightly different. We got about five different cream taffeta so David could have the final say. He pointed it out right away, and he brought the original copies of the design and the shoes and the lace. He released us all from this anxiety about it. It was setting the proportion right and the width of the bell skirt. I can’t tell you the excitement of doing that. When we filmed it, it took a whole, separate van to get to the location in central London.”
As Diana and Prince Charles globetrot around the world after their wedding, almost every scene has a different outfit. The clothes reflect how special she truly is. She wears so many different colors and silhouettes that it makes us believe that anything is possible.
“With Diana, you felt like she was so much more approachable. It was her skill and her talent and you felt like you could run up and hug her. You admire The Queen, but you don’t think you could run up and hug her. Diana’s clothes just speak more to the people too.”
As Diana’s marriage begins to crumble, there is a tragic juxtaposition to who she represents and the loneliness she feels. In the season finale, Diana is visiting New York City and she clashes with Charles on how she is representing the crown. She is wearing some of the most glamorous clothes the show has ever seen, but Diana probably doesn’t truly feel like a princess when she is struggling with her eating disorder and feeling isolated in her marriage.
“That outfit that was heavily beaded and she has the bolero. She’s presenting herself to the public and she goes into the hotel and slips it off and throws it to one side and she violently vomits into the loo. We lost the bolero and she’s in this sophisticated, almost Dior-esque dress and she’s so ill and then we see her alone and she looks across the skyline. I found that very shocking. She is presenting in this stunning and glamorous yet there is all this agony and heartbreak going on. It’s so shocking and revealing, isn’t it?”
As the season progresses, the pre-princess image is almost forgotten, but Roberts was also affected by how Diana always felt like an outsider. When she goes to Buckingham Palace for the first time, she’s very much out of her element, and her clothes reflect how ordinary she was before being plucked up into a marriage with a prince.
“Another one that upset me a bit was when she first goes to the palace before she’s married. I wanted her to look really awkward and slightly old-fashioned. She’s in a puffy sleeved dress—it was vague echo of the wedding dress but it actually wasn’t intentional—and she goes into the room and Princess Margaret is holding court. All the others are wearing sort of dark colors and Diana puts her foot in it and she doesn’t know what to do. The dress doesn’t particularly flatter her. I remember it was brilliantly shot by the director and I found that terribly upsetting. Diana was quite plump and she was an average girl. She didn’t have many clothes and I think she had hardly anything. When your jumper goes lumpy and she is wearing flat shoes and she’s not wearing a flattering jacket, I was keen to up that so the glamour really stands out. I wanted to get over that awkwardness. She has that awful scene with Camilla, and I wanted her to look terribly awkward there too. I wanted her to look tiny and she looks little whereas Camilla looked confident and comfortable in her own skin. That’s such a brilliant scene.”
Diana represents a truly emotional component to this latest fourth season, but Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher is a woman who doesn’t allow anyone see any weakness. In her first meeting with Elizabeth, Margaret is wearing a flowing blue dress but by the end of the season, she is wears a darker, bruised color palette.
“We had a glimpse of the subdued Maggie. She was one of the first women to realize the power of power dressing. I loved her journey as she progressed in strength. Her shoulderpads got bigger and the colors changed from blues to purples and greys. What was interesting with her—and it was a joy to work with Gillian Anderson who is interested in your process—was the meetings of her and The Queen. I was very careful to be aware of the emotional stakes those two women were in.”