Dressing the screen queens
Taking inspiration from Sir Cecil Beaton’s portraits of the Royal Family, Alison Jane Reid styles three beautiful actresses for a very special Jubilee fashion shoot
Who did most to capture the mystique, firepower and glittering aura of the British Monarchy? Sir Cecil Beaton, photographer and costume designer. He was at the epicentre of glamour, both sides of the Atlantic, for 50 golden years; the monarchy needed him.
I never tire of Beaton’s theatrical and romantic royal images of our Queen, the Queen Mother with a parasol, looking like a Gaiety Girl, and Princess Margaret, one of the great beauties of her age. It is the inspiration for this sumptuous Jubilee fashion story, photographed by Beaton disciple Mike Owen and featuring three beautiful screen queens: Jenny Agutter, Eleanor Tomlinson and Celine Buckens.
Back on the eve of war, Cecil Beaton was surprised to be asked to photograph the Queen consort, but she cleverly chose him herself, to spin a gilded, fairytale image of the monarchy, as a form of optimistic propaganda in the face of the German threat.
As Beaton wrote in his diary in 1939: The telephone rang. “This is the lady-in-waiting speaking. The Queen [consort] wants to know if you will photograph her tomorrow afternoon.” In choosing me to take her photographs, the Queen made a daring innovation. It is inconceivable that her predecessor would have summoned me – my work was still considered revolutionary and unconventional.
Beaton’s meticulously composed fashion portraits of the British Monarchy owe much to his work as a costume designer. He would collect an Oscar for Costume Design, including Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe for My Fair Lady, and he worked similar magic for royalty, creating a romantic Arcadia, which sent out such a powerful message of optimism and unshakeable strength.
In the early years, Beaton treated his Royal subjects as if they were Hollywood goddesses, creating informal fashion portraits that were full of fantasy, escapism and whimsical detail, with castles, parasols and cascades of roses and hydrangeas from his garden, forming a luscious, idealised backdrop. Meanwhile, the young Princess Elizabeth wore Norman Hartnell’s gossamer, shimmering couture gowns, as if spun by fairies. This was to be a new golden, Elizabethan age.
Many years later, he would daringly strip away the pomp, regalia and sparkling gowns, much to his sitter’s consternation, to create his extraordinarily stark, compelling portrait: Queen Elizabeth II Wearing An Admiral’s Boat Cloak, against a blue background. It is still one of the most timeless and powerful images of the Queen.
My muses for this shoot are three beautiful women: Jenny Agutter, national treasure, known as a railway child, the deliciously innocent girlfriend of a werewolf and, more recently, a steely spook and a nun. This is Jenny as you have never seen her before, looking like a queen in my late friend, Catherine Walker’s peerless gowns, once fashioned for a princess.
For Walker’s imagination lives on, with a new design team to continue her architectural approach to dressing the world’s most powerful women. As she once told me, ‘a beautiful couture dress is like a glittering suit of armour and a talisman for the powerful, busy woman to go out into the world with confidence and grace’.
With Jenny are two inspirational young actresses: Eleanor Tomlinson, with her feline grace, stillness and allure, who was Young Sophie in The Illusionist, loved ‘inhabiting Tim Burton’s extraordinary imagination’ in Alice in Wonderland (as Fiona Chattaway), and plays a very 21stcentury princess in upcoming Hollywood blockbuster, Jack The Giant Killer. Finally, there’s the lovely, gamine Celine Buckens of War Horse. Only 16, she has gone from school drama to Spielberg in one beautiful leap. Now, with GCSEs looming, she is adroitly juggling castings.
Jenny Agutter, who was born the same year Princess Elizabeth came to the throne, clearly loved every minute of the shoot.
‘The Jubilee is a wonderful celebration of a long reign that has seen the UK through many changes,’ she says. ‘The Queen is the epitome of stoicism. Coming to the throne within a decade of the war, she represented the strength to rebuild and reorganise the country.
‘There have been so many social changes and many difficult times, but there has always been a sense of cohesion in Britain.We live in a culturally rich country, which now incorporates people from a past empire and others who need our support.
The Queen has always been our best ambassador and it is a delight to see the excitement her visits create. I particularly remember the BBC documentary a number of years ago, which went behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace. Someone wondered how she managed to remain on her feet all day, and the Queen said something along the lines of, “I just remain firmly with my weight between my two feet and there is no problem.” It is this no-nonsense quality for which she is much admired.
‘I loved dressing in Catherine Walker’s beautiful gowns. Since her sad loss, the atelier has continued to produce the elegant, classical couture outfits for which she became hugely known. I felt very regal. We had a wonderful time looking through Cecil Beaton’s work from the 1930s and 1940s – I was especially touched by one particular photo of the Queen as a young mother with Prince Charles; there was such warmth and joy in the way she held the young boy close in her arms, and Catherine Walker’s gowns captured all the allure and glamour of those times.’
To see more stunning photos from this fashion shoot pick up a copy of the Commemorative Double Issue of The Lady magazine on sale now
© Alison Jane Reid/The Lady
Anya Hindmarch: 020-7501 0177, www.anyahindmarch.com
Aruna Seth: 020-8773 7859, www.arunaseth.com
Catherine Walker: 020-7352 4626, www.catherinewalker.com
Chrysalin Umbrellas: 0845-602 3712, www.umbrellaboutique.co.uk
Erickson Beamon: 020-7259 0202, www.ericksonbeamon.com
Garrard: 0870-871 8888, www.garrard.com
MacCulloch & Wallis: 020-7629 0311, www.macculoch-wallis.co.uk
Stamo: 020-8211 4578, www.stamo.co.uk
Tammam: 020-7617 7512, www.tammam.co.uk
Contributing fashion editor: Alison Jane Reid
Photography by Mike Owen: email@example.com
Photography assistant: Alex Foreman
Make-up: Vickie Ellis, using Dermalogica
Hair: Heather Manson
Make-up assistant: Charlotte George
Fashion assistants: Maria Hazzard and Roisin Tierney
With special thanks to: English Heritage Ranger’s House, Chesterfield Walk, Blackheath, London SE10: 020-8853 0035, www.english-heritage.org.uk
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920