'The Queen is beyond fashion'
No royal outfit would be complete for Her Majesty without a pair of gloves by Cornelia James. The Layd meets her daughter Genevieve, who carries on the bespoke tradition
Tucked away on a farm, down a narrow lane in the depths of East Sussex, is a workshop. Only the Royal Warrant next to the door of an outbuilding gives a clue that something special happens here. For this is where the Queen’s gloves are made.
Her Majesty has been a loyal customer of Cornelia James since 1947 when the company made her ‘goingaway’ gloves for her wedding to the then Lt Philip Mountbatten. The Royal Warrant was granted in 1979 and, ever since, gloves have been sent to the royal household every year.
The story behind the formation of the company is the stuff of fairytales. In 1939, Jewish design student Cornelia fled from the Nazis in Austria, arriving in England as a refugee with a suitcase full of leather fabric. She used this to make gloves in many different colours and, thanks to post-war rationing, business boomed.
She eventually caught the eye of Royal dress designer Norman Hartnell, who ordered a pair of white cotton gloves for the Princess’s goingaway outfit. Today, it is Cornelia’s daughter, Genevieve James, who runs the business and holds the Cornelia James Royal Warrant. She designs the gloves, her husband Andrew cuts them, and they employ three ladies from a nearby village to stitch them.
So how many gloves does the Queen get through in a year? ‘It depends on how busy she is, but it can be just half a dozen or three dozen,’ says Genevieve. ‘She wears a lot of threequarter- length jackets and is not that tall, so if her gloves go up past her wrists it makes her arms look longer. The Queen wears gloves to complement her outfits, but she shakes hands with a lot of people so they protect, too. The gloves are white, black, or ecru, maybe brown, occasionally navy. But very classic. Because that’s what she is. She is beyond fashion.’
The Queen’s gloves are always cotton, with no stretch. ‘She prefers not to have stretch,’ Genevieve continues. ‘And cotton is practical – that’s one of the reasons she likes them so much. You can just wash and dry them, so they last for years.’ The thrifty Queen sends gloves back to be repaired, rather than ordering a new pair.
Princess Anne also likes to wear Cornelia James gloves. Three years ago, though, she sent the navy pairs back with a complaint. ‘She’d worn them on a visit to Africa,’ says Genevieve. ‘And the right hand had faded. We couldn’t understand it. Our gloves never fade. But it turned out that all the ladies were putting on hand cream to have smooth skin when they shook hands with the Princess, which was then fading them.’
Genevieve says that her mother, who died in 2000, got Princess Diana interested in gloves. ‘When my mum met Diana, she said to her, “Oh, you bite your nails, like my daughter. You should wear gloves!” And then there was a call from the palace – Diana was going to a party. She had a lovely blue Bruce Oldfield dress and Diana said, “Oh, I want gloves”. So we rushed some through for her.’
It’s not just the Royal Family who are fans. Madonna has worn several Cornelia James lace creations, while Katy Perry, Kate Moss, Lara Stone, Pixie Geldof, Cheryl Cole, Amber Le Bon and Kylie Minogue have all been spotted wearing them.
But being by Royal appointment, is not without its dramas – such as when the Queen’s gloves got lost in the post. ‘The Queen was about to head off to Korea,’ recalls James. ‘We managed to find some similar ones (hers are custom-made), and we had to dispatch Andrew to the palace to deliver them. He had to go on his motorbike as the London marathon was in progress, so there was no other way to get there in time. When he arrived he told the guard he had the Queen’s gloves, and the guard said, “Pull the other one!” Luckily, he liked motorbikes so we got them to her in the end!’
So what’s next for Cornelia James? ‘I’d love to get the Duchess of Cambridge into a pair of our gloves,’ confesses Genevieve. ‘Who wouldn’t? She could forget the hats and just go for the gloves.’ But she has a plan: ‘I’m working on some ski gloves – leather with possum fur, as possum isn’t endangered. I’m going to send her some and hope she wears them.’
I can’t help hoping she does, too.
Cornelia James: 01273-485900, www.corneliajames.com
Daily tip from the lady archive
"What makes leisure and holidays delightful is just the fact that they come rarely. If you can have them whenever you like they lose their nature.”The Lady. The Joy of Work. 14th May 1914
Attractive salary and benefits.
Furnished accommodation provided.
Must have excellent references.
Single or couple with partner who could assist with household and garden work.
Drivers licence required.
Must be good with pets.
Contact: Apply Box 15573