What are fans of The Crown to do as we wait — and wait — for the lavishly produced drama about the monarch’s life and times to return to Netflix sometime this year with a new cast of royals?
There’s only so much tea one can pour in anticipation of Oscar-winner Olivia Colman’s debut as the new, somewhat older Queen Elizabeth.
If you’ve already re-binged the first two seasons (guilty), maybe you’d like to get a closer look at the costumes worn by Claire Foy, Matt Smith, John Lithgow, and others in those episodes, that took the queen (Foy), her family, and the world outside the gates of Buckingham Palace from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s.
The people at Delaware’s Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library are counting on it. The museum on the former Henry Francis du Pont estate just debuted a new exhibition of gowns, suits, dresses, and uniforms, “Costuming The Crown,” scheduled to run through Jan. 5.
In 2014, Winterthur doubled its annual attendance with the help of an exhibit of costumes from Downton Abbey, reaping the benefits of TV viewers’ desire to go beyond the screen for a closer look at the worlds they see there.
A few years later, in June 2017, “Downton Abbey: The Exhibition,” a display of costumes and sets from the international hit, which aired here on PBS’s Masterpiece, launched its world tour in Singapore. It visited New York in 2018 and is in West Palm Beach, Fla., until April 22.
On Wednesday, HBO’s licensing arm announced a deal with Linen Mill Studios to open a Game of Thrones studio tour next spring in Banbridge, Northern Ireland, that promises, somewhat ominously, to “drop fans in the very heart of the Seven Kingdoms.”
Movies have always inspired tourism — think of how many people have reenacted Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky run up the steps of the Art Museum, or who now include the Harry Potter studio tour as a must-see on a trip to London — but with a growing number of big-budget TV shows, there’s more high-end craftsmanship than ever to be repurposed once the credits roll.
“I think it’s the way TV is going. Budgets and the expectation of people [are] so much greater now," Michele Clapton, the costume designer for The Crown’s first season, said after a recent press preview at Winterthur.
“We have a very sophisticated eye, but so does the audience,” said Jane Petrie, the costume designer for the second season.
“There’s a big sort of surge to make it real, and so that exhibitions like this can happen. You could do it with the room sets, you could do it with everything. They’re so thorough," Clapton said.
Each designer has won an Emmy for The Crown (Clapton has four others for her work on Game of Thrones), but, Clapton said, “I don’t think you’re ever aware of how a series will be received. Sometimes, I think some of my best costumes are on shows that never see the light of day, which is desperately sad. So it’s lovely when something does make it through. And to see the exhibition here today – it’s so great for all of the crew … I love seeing their work celebrated. People see how much work goes into it.”
They may also see details they missed on screen, like the extensive hand embroidery on the wedding dress Foy wore as Princess Elizabeth, and my favorite, the pockets in a dress Clapton designed for Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret.
One thing you definitely didn’t see on screen was the padded bodysuit Lithgow wore to play the considerably shorter and stouter Winston Churchill (displayed with a tastefully placed cloth fig leaf).
“John was very keen to try and embody, physically, how Churchill stooped and stood and moved. And so we created a suit that helped give him that sort of silhouette,” Clapton said, but then Lithgow changed his posture so adeptly that layers had to be subtracted.
“We had to change because it started looking unreal because he was doing so much of it himself,” she said.
Though both women grew up in the queen’s United Kingdom, neither had much interest in the doings of royalty before it became part of the job.
“It always surprises me how many people are really, really into the royal family,” Petrie said.
“But also people outside Britain, I think, almost” care more “than people within,” Clapton said.
Even the public’s fascination with the late Princess Diana mystified them a bit. “She’s always remembered as this fashion icon, and she just wasn’t to me, or anyone I knew,” Petrie said.
Clapton agreed. “She meant nothing to me. Their style was so removed from the reality. Kate Middleton, I guess, is a little more linked to what women are wearing now — but not the young people.”
And as for the former Meghan Markle, “she still comes from a kind of red-carpet exhibition,” Petrie said.
Has working on The Crown, with its exposure of the machinery of royalty, changed their attitude toward the family?
It has, Clapton said, "and I appreciate them in a way, in a funny way.”
“Me, too, and I come from … maybe a little bit more of a punk-rock background,” Petrie said.
A number of the dresses in the exhibition are based on those made for the queen or members of the royal family by two designers with theatrical backgrounds, Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies — hardly surprising, given that The Crown is essentially a show about one of the world’s longest-running shows, the British monarchy.
“When we did a talk at the V&A [London’s Victoria and Albert Museum], in the audience a woman came and spoke to me afterwards who had … made clothes for the queen,” Petrie said.
“We talked about the theatrical side of what we do, and she said they go and scout [locations] and they know the background colors. Everything we imagine they do before she chooses her outfit, they do. And it’s as theatrical as us. They know where she’ll be, what she’s standing against, what the color of the room will be, what she ought to wear that day,” she said.
Translating the royals’ show to Netflix’s audience, though, required some tailoring.
The wedding dress Foy wore may be as heavily embroidered and appliquéd as the one Elizabeth wore, for instance, but it’s not strictly a replica.
“If you look at the queen’s wedding dress, it’s actually quite baggy here,” Clapton said, indicating the bodice. “It’s a little bit frumpy looking to our eye, so we slimmed it out and refined the cut so that people watching now would say, ‘Oh, that’s a beautiful dress.’ ”
People might “remember, oh, the wedding or the coronation was so glamorous and so incredible, and when they look [at the actual photographs] they might be a little disappointed," Petrie said. “It’s almost like we polish things in our memory, and that’s what we’re doing now."