In real life, the British monarchy will continue to supply royal obsessives (and casual observers) with romance, drama, intrigue and adorable kid content for years to come. But on the small-screen, "The Crown" — which chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II — comes to an end with a fifth and final season. But it's not over yet.
Season three, which Netflix released a lifetime ago last November, kicks off in the mid-'60s, along with a new cast: Academy Award winner (and seasoned on-screen royal) Olivia Colman taking over from Claire Foy as Elizabeth and two-time Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter assuming the role of her impulsive younger sister, Princess Margaret. (Aside: The real Princess Margs once threw low-key shade at Bonham Carter's acting skills.)
On top of spilling copious amounts of royal tea and revealing behind-the-scenes political machinations, "The Crown" features lush and expansive period costumes. Earlier costume designers Michele Clapton ("Game of Thrones") and Jane Petrie ("The King") won Emmy Awards for seasons one and two, respectively. As with the cast, seasons three and four also introduce a new costume lead: Amy Roberts.
"It's quite different now," the Emmy nominee for 2011's "Upstairs, Downstairs" says, over the phone from the U.K.
Roberts enjoyed playing with more color, suited to the mid-'60s into the groovy '70s — a "sugared almond" palette for the Queen and hues that felt "darker" and "bruised" for Margaret, who's volatile marriage to Lord Tony Snowden (Ben Daniels) is deteriorating.
"You've got four very distinct women," explains Roberts. "You've got the Queen, who is pretty stylish, but she is the Queen. Her role is quite sober and matriarchal. She's settled in her position on the throne now, so she's more sober." But, fittingly for a queen, she enjoys an outfit change for nearly every scene, so the costume department custom-built upwards of 80 outfits for Elizabeth to wear over 10 episodes.
For Margaret, the team created about 40 bespoke looks for the party-loving royal "who's much more on-point, stylish, dangerous," continues Roberts. "The Queen Mum has that look that the Queen Mum always has: slightly messy, slightly blouse-y. Those generations of royal women make a nod to fashion, but they are not high fashion. But Princess Anne is our youngest member, so she will bring in a little bit of a '60s silhouette: the mini-skirts and the polo necks."
Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor, "Emma"), in his tweedy Prince of Wales checks and fine wool knits, enters his early 20s. He meets Camilla Shand (Emerald Fennell), his true love, whom — real-life spoiler alert — he eventually marries in 2005. (Oh, "The Crown" episode that will never be.)
Season four began filming immediately after three wrapped. The ever-aggressive paparazzi snapped many scenes of Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) filming the penultimate installment, which just narrowly completed production before the Covid-19 shutdowns in the U.K. But the rush to finish didn't affect the costume department.
"With all those custom-made pieces, you have to be ahead of the game," explains Roberts. Her couture house-like department regularly operated on a three-week to one-month-ahead schedule, especially for the "ceremonial" pieces for principles.
"In fact, the last day, it was a huge scene with Diana and that was it," she continues. "We went out on a bang, you know. A massive scene with her in New York, and that was it. No more filming."
Season four extends to 1989, when Princess Diana embarked on a solo trip to New York City — actually shot in Manchester, England — prior to her 1992 separation from Charles. Playing the People's Princess, Corrin was photographed wearing a stunning re-creation of a gold-embroidered, pearl-embellished Victor Edelstein gown and bolero jacket that Diana wore to attend a Welsh National Opera Gala production of "Falstaff" at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music.
As "The Crown" stans anxiously await the announcement of a season four premiere date from Netflix, Roberts revisits some of the costume and behind-the-scenes highlights from three with Fashionista, including Colman's reaction to donning Queen Elizabeth II's intimidating investiture helmet, Princess Margaret's historically inaccurate White House visit dress and Prince Charles's and Camilla's imagined meet-cute outfits. And, yes, the costume designer drops more teasers for the upcoming season, including Princess Diana's "fantastic journey."
Your re-creations for Queen Elizabeth II were so accurate, like the fur-trimmed coat she wore to Aberfan (episode three) and her investiture suit — especially the hat. What was the most challenging costume to recreate and why?
The investiture costume with that extraordinary hat. In "The Crown," you have key moments with actual events that we know about. [The images are] very much out there on film and photographs and you are acknowledging those looks. I hate to say we're "copying" them. I think we're making a nod to them with hopefully a bit of us in there.
But that was quite a challenge because everybody knew that extraordinary medieval hat that the Queen wore. [We made ours out of] a very fine satin georgette and getting that color, that pale clotted cream color, [was a challenge]. For Olivia, that was quite a challenge to wear as well. She's a remarkable actress to work with, as you can imagine. She just lets you do your job. But even she looked slightly askance when that hat came out. But being Olivia, she went with it.
Which costume for Queen Elizabeth II allowed you the most creative freedom, because it wasn't a re-creation?
I'm really fond of when I imagine dealing with the real woman. There's a series of outfits [in episode five], when she is very involved with sorting out her riding stables and her horses aren't doing very well. And she leaves her [royal] role in the care of her mother and goes off [to Normandy, France and then Kentucky] with Lord Porchey [John Hollingworth].
I loved doing her like that. In macs [trench coats] and blouses and skirts and headscarves. The scarves are such a cool look. People can really relate to that now with that slightly Prada and Miu Miu-style shirts, blouses and colors that we went for. When she dines, for once, she's not done up in a long dress. She's in rather attractive — well, I think they were nice — floral silk dresses.
I loved being able to see or pretend or imagine that side of her; that kind of upper-middle-class country woman doing things that she loved. [Spending time with] her horses — not that there are many dogs in that episode — which I think she probably feels most at ease with. Olivia looked fantastic in those clothes. She's like glowing in a way.
Everybody assumes [my favorites are] all the big ball dresses, which are lovely to do. But I like doing that more real element of people. This other side. 'The Crown' gives you that fantastic opportunity — the big, glamour, out there moments — and there's a lot of very intimate personal stuff, where you don't know what they would wear or what they would say, but you can have let your imagination go with that one and that's lovely to do.
In episode two, Princess Margaret goes to the White House to see President and Ladybird Johnson, to help secure U.S. aid. You designed a floral, off-the-shoulder, arm-baring dress, which made sense for her to trade dirty limericks with POTUS. But in real life, Princess Margaret wore a pink, long-sleeved jacket over her gown. What was the inspiration behind changing the design, and what are the print and silhouette telling us about her?
I just wanted to be a bit bolder and more startling. I just remember when we saw that fabric in one of the shops, I thought, 'That's it. That's it! Let's use that for that [part].' Sometimes things jump out at you, don't they? Also, it's a portrayal of Margaret by an extraordinary woman, Helena Bonham Carter. So somehow you're also taking that on board. With Helena, you could push it a little bit further and she would just be bold and brave with it herself.
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Princess Anne is considered a fashion icon and as young woman in the late '60s and '70s, she was able to push the fashion envelope and do things like wear jeans and mini-skirts. How did you use her costume to show her as the more independent one in the family?
I don't think she represented the wild '60s. But the mini-skirts — the short skirts — that she wore, represented the '60s in a kind of posh-girl way. The first image that we had of her [to work off of] was written in the script as Anne in jodhpurs. That blew it all apart, didn't it? Here's this girl, strutting through the palace in riding breeches and boots — I think that's how it was written — that was my big guide into how we would deal with her.
There's a little shot of her [in episode six], when she visits her brother, when he's performing the play and she's in the audience. She's got '60s baker boy cap on, but there's nothing extreme about her. It's sort of sensible. It's getting that balance of that youthful brashness, but still she's a princess.
I did enjoy the scene where a buttoned-up Prince Charles calls her from Wales because he's homesick. She's in her room at the palace — and it's all messy — and she's wearing high-waisted flare jeans and a Hawaiian-print, long-sleeved T-shirt.
[That] was a scene where you could do that. She's on her own and I quite like that because it was contrasted against Charles, who never gets to be relaxed. He's at university. He's still wearing those little old man clothes, like tweed jackets and sweaters. I mean he looks adorable, because the actor's quite adorable, isn't he? [Ed. note: Yes.] He never somehow lets his hair down. So it was quite fun that she was dressed like that and he was in corduroy trousers or slacks — they were called slacks then — and a jumper.
It was really quite funny, the director of that particular episode, Christian Schwochow, is quite young himself and also German. So his view on the Royal Family was quite refreshing and we wanted to blow it out of the water as much as we could.
What inspiration and process did you go through to design and create the costumes for imagined scenes between Charles and Camilla?
There's very little reference [imagery] on her in that early time. With Camilla, it's a sexy posh girl with, dare I say, not a huge amount of style. Why should she? Why should she have that? So it's just that Sloane Ranger girl. We were just trying to tune into that and her country pursuits. So after she marries [Andrew Parker Bowles, played by Andrew Buchan] in series four, suddenly she looks a whole lot more herself, really. She's living the life she wants to in the country, [as part of the] the country set. It was a little point to what she'd become, probably. She's fun, relaxed and not particularly into clothes.
In series three, you know that you'll see a lot of these people again in series four. So you're kind of giving little pointers to what they'll become when they're a bit older and more settled. And people have a style. You change, of course, but you are what you are. You just get a little more sophisticated or get a little more confident.
Speaking of, images of Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in famously-photographed outfits (or variations of them) have been caught by paparazzi. How does Diana's place as an international fashion icon influence how you designed her portrayal in season four?
Well, she was brilliant to do because she has a real journey in four. Most of them do, but she, in particular, has a fantastic journey — a real arc — again, like Camilla. We kick off with a nice little Sloane Ranger, wearing bobbly old jumpers, and you end up with a dramatic change. A complete manipulation of her look. Like, she puts on suits of armor to protect herself. So that's all we'll say about that.
What hints can you share about the other members of the Royal Family in season four?
The Queen grows in being steadier in her role and her marriage. I'm always saying this, but whatever issues she has — or had — in the marriage, [she and Philip, played by Tobias Menzies] found a way of dealing with that, like a lot of marriages. It's just everybody maturing.
And Margaret — that very tempestuous relationship she has with Tony at the beginning, it's just getting more and more toxic. Of course, in four, her life is really a real mess and we just illustrate that with her clothes. But the colors are much more dour and bruised and her flamboyance from three is slightly toned down now. Charles actually matures into a married man, quite stylish, but, again, an unhappy marriage. And good old Queen Mum stays the same. Lovely Queen Mum. I love her.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.