'Don't touch the Queen, don't ask questions and don't turn your back': Milliner to the monarch recalls the terror of royal fittingsFrederick Fox admits he was daunted by royal appointmentQueen's tailor Hardy Amies confesses her 'ugly' bags ruined his beautiful designs
18:23 GMT, 2 April 2012
Being called upon to design for the Queen is likely to be the highlight of any fashion designer's career.
But it could also herald the most daunting, indeed, terrifying moment in a couturier's life.
As revealed in a new book, Elizabeth: Reining in Style by Jane Eastoe, reprised in this weekend’s Stella magazine, to be asked to supply sketches to the Queen was a daunting prospect.
Dressing the Queen: Hardy Amies, who designed the blue creation worn by the Queen here, said he was frequently disappointed to see his 'beautiful designs' ruined by what he called the Queen's 'ugly handbags'
Couturiers, milliners and other designers would be contacted by the Queen’s dressers and asked to provide sketches. Frequently, they would receive no further detail – no hint as to the nature of the event, or even the time of year the outfit would be required for – making it very difficult to supply something precisely to her requirements.
Those who did pass muster would then have to attend a fitting with the Queen – a prospect that was in itself widely felt to be terrifying.
Daunting: Milliner Frederick Fox says his first fitting with the Queen was one of the most terrifying moments of his life
Jane Eastoe explains that upon his royal appointment in the late 1960s, the milliner Frederick Fox was briefed ahead of his fitting with the Queen by one of her most trusted designers, Hardy Amies.
He told Fox: ‘Don’t touch the Queen, don’t ask questions and don’t turn your back’.
Eastoe tells how, on the day in
question, Australian-born Fox came into difficulties with the edict that
he mustn’t turn his back.
Queen was standing at the end of a long room,’ she reports him as
saying. 'I advanced, did my chat and my thing. When it was time to
depart I was rooted to the spot. I thought that if I walked backwards I
would fall over the furniture of one of the corgis.
'Her Majesty spotted my dilemma and turned her back on me to ask Bobo [the Queen’s dresser] to fetch some specific shoes – giving me the opportunity to withdraw.'
Royal favourite: Princess Diana in a Frederick Fox hat
Fox designed five hats for the Queen's tour of Chile and Argentina, and went on to design for the Queen on numerous occasions. He was awarded a royal warrant in 1974, as well as an LVO in the Queen's 1999 birthday honours list, making the hard work and trauma worthwhile.
He has also designed headpieces for eight further royals, including the Queen Mother and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Trusted: Sir Hardy Amies designed for the Queen from the 50s until 2002, a year before his death – and advised Frederick Fox on his royal fitting
For Amies’ part, despite his privileged position as one of the Queen’s favourite couturiers – he designed gowns for the Queen from the early part of the 50s right up to a year before his death, in 2003 – it was not always a bed of roses for a designer with a ferociously specific design aesthetic.
Eastoe tells how Hardy Amies, along with the Queen’s other couturiers, despaired of Her Majesty’s tendency to pair their outfits with what they deemed to her ‘ugly’ handbags that blighted their designs.
She says that the Queen’s formidable dresser Bobo wanted to ensure no design house dominated the Queen’s wardrobe, so she would outsource the design of hats, shoes and handbags to other designers which would then be matched to her outfits.
Hardy Amies, she says, ‘complained bitterly’ about ‘ugly handbags’ that ruined his ‘beautiful designs’.
His solution, which he claims was a popular strategy among Her Majesty’s dress designers, was to give the Queen handbags they considered to be beautiful in the hopes she would choose to carry those instead.
Read more in this week’s Stella magazine, on telegraph.co.uk now.