On the eve of the anniversary of Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution in 1587, Jeff Garner and Historic Environment Scotland will pay tribute to her as the original royal fashion icon by unveiling their new collection on the catwalk. Taking inspiration from the Scottish monarch for the new spring/summer line, the fashion show will be the first of its kind to take place in the Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle tomorrow.
Born at Linlithgow Palace, Mary, Queen of Scots reigned over Scotland from 1542 to 1567. She spent much of her childhood at the royal court of France and returned to Scotland at the age of 18 to take her throne.
Mary was a pillar of fashion in her day and clothes were important to her court. She used expensive clothing to visually display her rank and power. By wearing costly fabrics including velvet, satin and cloth of real gold and silver, she communicated to courtiers, ambassadors and the public that she had great financial resources at her command and that she was in the know about contemporary European fashions.
As portrayed by Saoirse Ronan in the recent film, Mary Queen of Scots, she remains an icon of style and strength more than 450 years on.
Historic Environment Scotland uncovered records of her fashion dolls and after presenting this research to Jeff Garner of design house Prophetik, the dolls became the main inspiration behind his collection. Further details of her extensive wardrobe which had been stored in Edinburgh Castle were revealed. It was filled with black satin gowns embellished with bands of other textured black fabrics and padded round shoulder pieces, commonly known as burlettis, which were highly fashionable in the 1550s and 1560s. However, Mary’s household was not dressed wholly in black. Gowns of silk ‘camelot’ were made for eight girls in her household, embellished with tanny velvet, a dull brownish purple colour which enjoyed a great deal of prestige in the 16th century, and double lined with taffeta.
Prophetik designs which have been worn by everyone from Kings of Leon to Taylor Swift are often inspired by the dressmakers of the Civil War period who worked with what was in front of them, fashioning beautiful gowns that were later taken apart to recreate new dresses – sustainability born out of necessity.
Speaking about the show Jeff Garner says, “Women of the Crown defines a past when young kings had regents and strong queens ruled countries and inspired arts. Mary, Queen of Scots brought the beauty of fabrics to lighten the castles of Scotland.”
The retail range produced by Historic Environment Scotland, in conjunction with Prophetik, is set to be showcased in the Queen Anne room during the catwalk show. The range features many of the fabrics and styles reminiscent of the 16th century, which grew in popularity thanks to Mary, Queen of Scots.
The inventory, taken on 26 March 1578 at the request of the Earl of Morton, who had resigned the regency, listed about 60 gowns – but more intriguingly, also included 15 or more fashion dolls known as poupines or ‘pippens’ in Scotland.
A miniature bed and a horse-litter (the preferred transport of queens) in the same group of objects belonging to Mary suggest that some of the dolls had been simply luxurious toys however. Due to their elaborate design, play may have been limited to the creation of tableaux rather than the recreation of domestic activities in doll’s houses.
While dolls were traditionally considered as children’s playthings, with home-made rag dolls referred to in the 15th-century Scots poem Ratis Raving (which records children making a ‘pepane’) used as puppets or as performing objects, by the second half of the 16th century, fashion dolls for privileged children were imported into England and Scotland. These were made of wood and papier mache and were presumably very expensive, commissioned primarily as fashion dolls for gifting purposes. Carefully kept as luxurious and finely crafted objects, fashion dolls were intended as international courtly gifts, from which garments were made up and worn, often as a compliment to a foreign court.
Medieval and renaissance fashion dolls were sent between courts clothed in detailed miniature representations of current fashion, seemingly for reproducing the style of another court but perhaps exchanged in courtesy. A king might write for a doll to dress the ladies of his court, or a prospective bride might request a doll dressed in the fashion of her prospective husband’s court, just as in 1515 Francis I requested a doll from the fashionable Isabella d’Este of Ferrara to dress the ladies of his court. She was known for her elegance and personal style and eagerly sought information on the dress of other courts.
A fashion doll with a high degree of verisimilitude was more useful than a two-dimensional representation for exhibiting a new style of dress. Dolls could present a three-dimensional experience of fashionable garments, superior to drawings, paintings and prints. For this reason, the clothes were meticulously and accurately reproduced in a smaller scale, intended as an exemplar for others to copy.
Adding to the diplomatic accounts and portraits, there is evidence that the dolls’ outfits would have been exquisitely crafted by tailors to display the new trends in materials, accessories and dress styles. In September 1563, the leading court tailor Jacques de Seulis made grey and silver clothes for the dolls listed at Edinburgh Castle, permitting them to serve as mannequins showcasing female fashions.
As well as an expression of style, the role of dolls could be extended into one of aides-memoire when they entered collections, serving to represent the manners and politics of other courts.
The dolls are grouped in the inventory with items that may have formed the contents of Mary’s cabinet room; including some exotic items such as the beak and feathers of rare birds, and her embroideries. A similar mix of objects can be found in the inventories of other women’s cabinets of this era: Catherine de Medici, Mary’s mother-in-law, also kept a group of dolls in armoires with luxury objects such as Eastern leather and Venetian masks, Chinese lacquers, antique medals, shell and coral, as did the family of Charles de Cossé Brissac, Marshall of France. These collections suggest that they were, or had become, curiosities held in the same kind of regard.
Ultimately, the dolls were tokens of international affection, and were exchanged between powerful women across Renaissance Europe as a way of keeping abreast of the latest fashions. They were an expression of authority, imposing the queen’s style on the court and its followers and demonstrated the look of the day to the aristocratic women of higher rank who attended court as visitors and had their own tailors. This would result in women across Europe looking to Mary, for the latest fashion and trends.
Natasha Troitino, head of retail for HES, says, “We are delighted to have this unique opportunity to work with an haute couture international designer to produce a capsule range of products inspired by Mary, Queen of Scots. The creation of Jeff Garner’s 2019 collection, based on our historic sites and the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, has provided a platform to showcase the rich abundance of creative industries Scotland has to offer, something which HES is passionate about. Along with the release of the film, Mary Queen of Scots, Scotland continues to be celebrated internationally and secure its place within modern culture.”
The Women of the Crown catwalk show will be seen for the first time in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle tomorrow night, before it travels to London Fashion Week. The retail range will be available online at www.HistoricEnvironment.scot/shop and at the Crown Shop in Edinburgh Castle.