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The outfits* that say 'The Queen'

Elisabet II no només ha de fer de reina, també ho ha de semblar. Tot i que dóna la imatge que la moda no li interessa, vigila molt a l'hora de triar els símbols que la identifiquen. No cal veure-li la cara per saber qui és.

Though it is something the Red Queen might have said, it was actually uttered  (2) by Elizabeth II. "I have to be seen to be believed," the queen of England remarked, according to her most recent biographer, Sally Bedell Smith. Far from being a crazy tautology, that declaration is a shrewd assessment  (3) of monarchy management in an era when image rules supreme.

It was in the 1953 Order of Coronation that England's newly crowned ruler was referred to as "Queen Elizabeth, Your Undoubted Queen." Over the decades that followed -and that culminate this week in her Diamond Jubilee celebrations- that undoubted queen diligently fulfilled a role she considered fateful (4). She simultaneously forged the definitive image of a monarch at a time when most monarchies were reduced to ceremonial nothingness or else had gone kaput.

Not the least of the accomplishments (5) of Elizabeth II, in other words, is that she is the queen but is also the defining image of one.

And how, after all, is a queen supposed to look?

It is a question unlikely to have troubled her predecessors, women like Elizabeth I - whose portraits depict the Virgin Queen as velvet-clad (6) semi-divinity, cloaks threaded with gold filament and decorated with pearls, the ivory egg of her head nestled in a ruff (7) of extravagant lace - or the Queen Empress Victoria, whose appearance, to use Lewis Carroll's description of his Red Queen, invariably called to mind the "concentrated essence of all governesses."

The current queen's canniest (8) tutor in brand management was likely her mother, said Andrew Bolton, a curator at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From the time she married George VI, the plump (9) and pretty Queen Elizabeth, queen consort and later queen mother, carefully crafted an image that conformed to the saccharine beauty ideals best portrayed by the 19th-century portraitist Franz Xaver Winterhalter, a favorite of her husband.

Guided by the photographer Cecil Beaton and the dressmaker Norman Hartnell, she refined a style that varied little throughout her long life. (She died in 2002, at age 101.) Romantic, anachronistic (part Glinda the Good Witch, part Scarlett O'Hara), her hyperfeminine manner set her apart from the steely (10), modern chic of royal relatives like Marina, Duchess of Kent, and her in-law, the Duchess of Windsor.

"The queen mother's clothes were a reaction to the intense fashionability of the duke and duchess of Windsor, whose style was about modernity and a modern royalty," Bolton said.

Looking at Queen Elizabeth II, it would be easy enough to conclude that she lacks any interest in fashion. But that, Bolton said, would be a mistake. "She is not particularly interested in high fashion, but she is particular about clothes and interested in things that make her absolutely identifiable as queen."

Like any star performer in an age dominated by the photographic image, the young queen needed an easily identifiable signature, something that instantly conjured the wearer: Elvis' jumpsuit, Michael Jackson's glove. The formula she arrived at, aided first by the dressmakers Hartnell and Hardy Amies and more recently by Angela Kelly, was of a series of simple shapes and color blocks. The pastel rectangle of her customary coat and the bright disk of a matching hat, the black oblong of her handbag and the generic low-heeled pumps are almostWarholian in their Pop simplicity. The outfit would say the queen even if the queen wasn't in the outfit.

"The way she looks is instantly recognizable," said Sam Shahid, a branding expert (11)  behind labels like Calvin Klein, who, bypassing Big Ben and other cliches of Britishness when photographing an England-themed Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, show a Queen Elizabeth II look-alike instead. "Even the kids know who she is. You could show just the suit and it would still be her. You almost don't need the face."

Unlike Jacqueline Kennedy, who deliberately distanced herself from the matronly style of former first ladies, helping to conjure up the seductive visual mood of John F. Kennedy's Camelot, there is little hard evidence that Queen Elizabeth II consciously set about fashioning a "look."

Yet her clothes make clear, said Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the queen's understanding of her ongoing lifelong "performance," and it doesn't take a semiotician (12) to read in her presentation a clear portrayal of upper-class distaste for novelty and gimmick (13), a resistance to foreign ideas, a reassuring matronly solidity.

Her clothes also, like those of circus performers and rock stars, are designed for specific functionality, since unlike the legions of commoners working at factories or desk jobs, the queen mainly works standing up, is routinely observed at full length and, small as she is, is required to stand out (14)  in a crowd.

"If she's coming out of Parliament in New Zealand, you have to be able to see that figure in a lemon coat and hat from far away," said Hugo Vickers, the biographer of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Charged or cursed with illuminating the dullest (15) ribbon-cutting with the luster of her presence, the queen, said Smith, the author of "Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch," has thus evolved a flair (16) for making an entrance - that flash of Easter egg color - and an instinct for avoiding any wardrobe malfunction. If you cannot find a photograph of this much-photographed woman with her skirt inadvertently flying up, that is because those skirts are weighted (17) The armholes of her coats and jackets are cut generously to facilitate the famous windshield-wiper wave.

"It's not that it's not authentic, but there's a theatrical component to the way she looks, and she's very aware of it," Smith said, adding that before each of the numerous foreign tours and state visits the queen has made during her long reign, a research team has been dispatched to do reconnaissance on national symbols, birds and flowers, podium backdrops, and even cultural superstitions "about a color that's verboten in that place." The queen's sense of occasion is "almost military," Smith added, since "from a very early age she was extremely conscious of what kinds of things to wear in what circumstance."

Yet however much the disciplined monarch in public, in private the undoubted queen has an unexpected streak of vanity. "She dresses much better in private than public," Vickers said. "She wears lots and lots of jewels and really dazzles (18). She sparkles away like mad."


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GLOSSARY

*. outfit: conjunt (roba)

2. to utter: pronunciar

3. shrewd assessment: avaluació sagaç

4. fateful: fatídic

5. accomplishment: assoliment

6. velvet-clad: vestit de vellut

7. ruff: gorgera

8. canny: astut

9. plump: gras, grassa

10. steely: acerat

11. branding expert: expert en marques

12. semiotician: expert en l'estudi dels signes i els símbols

13. gimmick: truc (per atreure l'atenció)

14. stand out: destacar

15. dull: avorrit

16. flair: do

17. to be weighted: penjat amb peses

18. to dazzle: enlluernar

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EXERCISE 1

Find the following words in the glossary.

1. boring

2. a trick to attract attention

3. a bit fat

4. person who is strong and hard

5. astute

6. type of cloth

7. set of clothes

8. to shine

EXERCISE 2

Complete these sentences adapted from the text with the correct preposition.

1. The Queen stood _______ in the crowd. She was different.

2. She has an instinct _______ avoiding any problem with her clothes.

3. From an early age she was conscious _______ what kinds of things to wear.

4. Jacqueline Kennedy wore clothes which helped to conjure _______ the seductive mood of JFK.

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ANSWERS: CLICK HERE

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