The look of the Royals has changed over the course of history; from the domineering power projected by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, to the preening extravagance of George IV, to the aspirational elegance of the House of Windsor and today’s Queen Elizabeth II.
Few people can be better placed to examine how the Royals are seen and want to be seen than Hugo Taylor, who – as the co-founder of sophisticated eyewear brand Taylor Morris – has created a fashion label built entirely on the art of perception. It’s no surprise that his thoughts first turn to an iconic accessory: sunglasses.
“You can’t think of a Launer handbag without thinking of the Queen.”
“If you’re going to cover up your eyes – the most expressive part of you – you have to cover it up with something that expresses you,” says Hugo, “and sunglasses are a really great example of how you can be defined by an element of your fashion choices. Think of Audrey Hepburn, and you immediately picture her in the pearls and oversized shades from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Although the Royals’ formal duties – and the need for them to connect very directly with the public – often precludes the donning of shades, members of the Royal Family still find their own very characteristic ways to express their personalities through style.
The most obvious fashion icon of the Royal Family, Diana, Princess of Wales’ style was an assertion of her freedom and open-heartedness – even at the most difficult of times.
“Diana was an exceptional woman,” says Hugo, “and her style was very much a part of her character, persona and armour. It was her way of communicating and welcoming people in – a style of dress that is both inspirational and non-threatening, in stark contrast with the formal military outfits we associate with male Royals.”
It was a style that was very much defined by its lack of consistency, exposing a hard-to-pin-down personality that evidently delighted in playfulness, diversity and experimentation. She was well-known for shoulder-padded outfits that typified the 80s, but her most famous dress ended up being a silk off-the-shoulder little black dress by Christina Stambolian.
“When she wore that to the Vanity Fair party at the Serpentine Gallery, jaws dropped,” says Hugo. “It was classic, it was timeless and it was deliberate – she knew it was going to make people sit up and pay attention.”
Diana’s appearance in the dress coincided with a controversial interview with Prince Charles that aired on ITV, and the success of the Stambolian in drawing the public’s eye from her estranged husband earned it the nickname of The Revenge Dress.
The Duchess of Cambridge – as the future queen – has a sense of style that is greatly in thrall to the duties of her future role, without ever compromising on elegance or undermining her considerable beauty.
“Kate is an English rose,” says Hugo, “and her style is extremely conscientious in its representation of her country. She likes to reuse certain dresses she has already worn, and that shows she’s sensitive to the cost of everything she’s wearing.
“She’s also a big supporter of the high street, which demonstrates a commitment to promoting the British high street brands and supporting British fashion – which I think is brilliant given how much the high street is struggling these days.”
In this sense, a Royal’s fashion choices can transcend simple aesthetic style to make a tangible, practical difference.
“From speaking to my friends and founders of young businesses, I know exactly how happy it makes them – and how important it is for their business – when one of the Royals wears something of theirs,” says Hugo, “it truly has a transformative effect.”
“If Kate is the English rose,” says Hugo, “then Meghan’s bringing the Hollywood glamour.”
There was potential for culture shock when feted actress Meghan Markle was transformed into Duchess of Sussex in one of the world’s oldest Royal families, but she adapted to her new role with considerable aplomb. Such a transition is not without precedence, however.
“One of the people we really love at Taylor Morris is Princess Grace of Monaco”, says Hugo of another actor-turned-royal. “Meghan definitely has that Princess Grace thing going on and we love it; one of our design touchstones is British elegance combined with Hollywood glamour, and we see a lot of that in Meghan.”
Nothing encapsulated that combination more than Meghan Markle’s wedding dress – the sleek, modern and British-designed Stella McCartney number that is sure to go down in history as a symbol of the bride’s modernising influence on the Royal Family.
Finally, our monarch – the grand matriarch of the British Royal Family – Queen Elizabeth II. Over the course of her six and a half decade reign, she has forged her own inimitable, inscrutable style that has marked her out as fiercely individual and strong willed – even when her position means she can’t always express these aspects of her personality more explicitly.
From the military overalls she wore as a mechanic and truck driver in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War – making her the first female member of the Royal Family to enter the armed forces – to the Barbour jacket, wellies and headscarf she’d wear for walking the corgis, the Queen’s fashion sense has always demonstrated a common touch that endears her to her public.
In public, however, she favours bold, imposing block colours coupled with pearls and pristine white gloves – eye catching while nevertheless conservative in cut and concept, communicating the delicate balance of tradition and progress that has come to define her reign.
“She’s an absolute icon,” says Hugo. “You can’t think of a Launer handbag without thinking of the Queen, and that is the mark of a true icon – she’s made it her own, a kind of signature. It’s that kind of style power that made Dolce & Gabbana base an entire collection around her in 2008.
“But there’s still something undefinable about her – that mix of high fashion and down-to-earth country charm. It all adds up to someone who’s a bit of an enigma – I guess that’s why we always want to know more about her!”