Since the third season of Peter Morgan’s lavish, awards-laden royal epic The Crown, the Emmy-winning mother-and-daughter costume designing duo Amy and Sid Roberts have been responsible for the extravagant looks seen on screen. They dressed Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth II in bejewelled ’60s-era shifts for series three, Emma Corrin’s young Princess Diana in that elaborately ruffled, puff-sleeved wedding dress for series four, and Elizabeth Debicki’s now-separated Princess of Wales in the showstopping revenge dress for series five.
For the show’s sixth and final instalment, though, they faced new challenges: not just bringing this era-defining behemoth – which has yielded so many jaw-dropping fashion moments across its run – to a fitting conclusion, sartorially speaking, but also dressing Diana for the final weeks of her life, in the run-up to her tragic death in 1997. Beyond that, there was also the matter of introducing audiences to a teenage Kate Middleton, as embodied by Meg Bellamy, who crosses paths with Prince William (Ed McVey) at St Andrews in 2001, clad in early Noughties staples like bootcut jeans and flower chokers.
The costume designers proved well up to the task, naturally: the first four episodes of the season, which dropped last month, feature Diana at her most captivating, sporting slinky summer dresses and swimsuits while holidaying with Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw) and getting closer to his son, Dodi (Khalid Abdalla), with many of her ensembles exactingly replicated from real life and others seamlessly imagined but no less stylish.
Now, as the countdown continues to the second half of the season, set to land on Netflix on 14 December – with the final trailer promising a recreation of the charity fashion show Kate walked in while at university, wearing that strapless see-through dress – anticipation is at a fever pitch. Below, the costumers talk us through the legal complications involved in bringing that runway moment to life, getting the brand that made Diana’s own swimsuits to create Debicki’s, and charting the style evolution of Lesley Manville’s impossibly glamorous Princess Margaret as she battles a debilitating illness.
The first half of season six is, of course, very Diana-centric, and follows her over the course of a summer where she was photographed constantly. How do you decide when to replicate her looks exactly for a scene, and when to do something different?
Sid Roberts: It’s something we have to think about for everyone, and the answer is usually there for us in the script – there will be moments like the one where she’s on the diving board in the blue swimsuit, or when she and Dodi kiss, or when they’re in Paris where it feels appropriate to show her as she was. And then there are other moments in Peter’s writing where we’re taken into spaces and worlds where she wasn’t photographed, where we don’t know what she wore, and then we can create something new. The hope is that by showing Diana in these familiar looks, we can build trust with viewers, so that when there is a flight of imagination, they’ll come with you.
One key real-life look that you include is the leopard-print swimsuit. What made that piece so significant?
SR: It was important for us to get that one right, so we went to Gottex, the company that made Princess Diana’s swimsuits from that time, and they said, “We’ll recreate it for you”, and they did. As a look, it’s symbolic: on this holiday, she’s in the wild and she’s being hunted. She comes out, and it’s like a safari with all these photographers taking pictures of her. She’s like a lioness, she’s protecting her cubs, and she decides to give the photographers a little something, so she sails over for a little chat. It’s definitely her most calculated look of the season.
What did you learn from Gottex, in terms of how Princess Diana liked her swimsuits?
SR: So, they did the leopard-print one for us, as well as the neon green and purple one which is my personal favourite, and a black and white one. We made the turquoise one, the pink one, and the one with the Japanese print ourselves. With Gottex, those swimsuits that Diana wore were shop bought, and as with most ’90s swimsuits, they’re quite high cut and rather unforgiving. So, we worked closely with them and sent pieces back to be refitted so that they were a little less high, so that Elizabeth felt comfortable in them while she was doing these very vulnerable scenes. I think Gottex are now actually selling that leopard-print style again.
There’s a sense, this season, that this Diana is in control of her style narrative like never before. What’s her evolution from series five to six?
SR: For us, the big evolutionary moment for Diana was the revenge dress and this is a continuation of that, but there are no ball dresses this time – the swimsuit is the ball gown of season six. When you think of her evolution across the seasons, though, it’s really interesting – the silhouettes change so much. You have her wedding dress in season four which is this meringue that covers her completely, and then later in season five you get the revenge dress which has this tight bodice and she isn’t wearing a bra. That eventually leads you to season six, where she’s at her most bare and pared back in these swimsuits – she’s opening up but also vulnerable at the same time.
Looking ahead to the second half of the season, we’re set to meet a young Kate Middleton at St Andrews. She obviously wasn’t photographed as much as Diana at that time. What kind of research did you do to create her looks?
Amy Roberts: There are a few photographs of her, but we also did a lot of research on St Andrew’s students from the period. I’d say it’s very much Sid’s era. She went to school with kids who dressed like that.
SR: I was definitely closer to the age that Kate was then, so I could fill in the gaps. There are lots of bootcut jeans, the wide woven belts, the flower chokers, the pointed ankle boots with the stiletto heel. I remember from when I was at school the length of those jeans – even with a heel, they were on the ground, and you got scuzzy bits at the bottom where you’ve almost trapped the heel in so you get a little hole, and there’s fraying and a bit of mud. There are tiny details like that in Kate’s look, but also everyone else’s at St Andrew’s.
And I obviously have to ask about that unforgettable runway moment. What were the challenges of recreating that transparent look?
AR: We always have legal issues with things like that, because there’s, of course, a particular designer [fellow St Andrew’s student Charlotte Todd] who’s made it, so we weren’t allowed to copy it. We didn’t get permission to copy it from the designer, which is fair enough, so we had to recreate it, and that’s a fine balance – we want people to know that’s that dress, but we don’t want to offend the designer. With that dress, the most important elements are the transparency and the strapless silhouette. We used different fabrics from the original and a different ribbon thread, but it was close enough for everyone to recognise it.
I also wanted to touch on Margaret, who gets more of a showcase in the second half of the season, and we see her in these incredible kaftans in Mustique.
AR: We’ve always gone bold with Margaret, ever since we started in season three with Helena Bonham Carter. We did a lot of research, but sometimes you do have to chuck that out the window and bring your own ideas to the character and take inspiration from their aesthetic. Margaret is a sensational character and she warrants that approach more than others because of her wildness, so there’s lots of colour and dramatic shapes. There are a few occasions like her 70th birthday party where we went with what she actually wore, but we also got to play around with her looks.
AR: Her final story is really moving: we see her in Mustique in this powerful black and blue look, and that’s when she has her first stroke. That look is Margaret as we’ve always known her, but then you journey through her illness to her final looks, and she has this peach, pleated, little girl-ish pull-on dress. Usually, her scarves are worn with élan, but now they’re like shawls that an invalid would wear around their shoulders. In her final scene, where her sister is reading to her in bed, she wears a mohair cardigan – it’s soft; there’s nothing sharp about her now. Nobody will notice, but that had parrots on it. This is Margaret, but now with elasticated waists and those baby doll colours, as if she’s becoming an infant again.
And finally, I know there are some lovely connections between Margaret’s wardrobe and the Queen’s, which nod to the special, lifelong bond they’ve shared. Tell me more about that.
AR: We like to do that linking by using the same patterns on them in different colours, though I’m not sure if people notice it. We did it with Olivia Colman and Helena in season three at a birthday party – they’re actually in the same print, but the Queen’s is a muted, slightly more conservative blue, and Margaret’s is orange. I don’t think even the director realised that until we pointed it out. So, we did it again: another time, they’re in these mohair cardigans in Balmoral, and they’re exactly the same because we found two. We’ve done flashbacks before, and as little girls, they’re dressed similarly, and we wanted to keep that connection.
SR: Sometimes, it isn’t even in the same scene: in season five, the Queen had a suit with the same print that Margaret wears in Mustique this season. We’d encourage people to go back and watch the show again and look out for these little visual games.
The Crown season six, part one is streaming now on Netflix, with part two to follow on 14 December.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.