Bruce Oldfield is a perfect but also risky choice to design the Queen Consort’s coronation gown
When the Queen Consort is crowned at May’s Coronation, it will be a moment that symbolises her taking on the biggest job of her life, at 75. So it seems fitting that the man who is dressing her will be a fellow septuagenarian, putting the cherry on the cake of an illustrious career as one of British society’s most beloved designers.
In Bruce Oldfield, Camilla is at once choosing the safest possible pair of hands for a gown that will be one of the most significant of her life, but she is also taking an interesting risk: Oldfield is also synonymous with the late Diana, Princess of Wales for whom he created more than 100 gowns. In many ways, choosing him is a gracious nod to her legacy.
In the months leading up to the Coronation, Oldfield is already proving that he is ready for the job. For Camilla’s first state visit as Queen Consort he delivered on dazzle, creating a coordinating top and skirt embroidered with silver that looked like it had been designed to directly complement her important jewels. It was perhaps her most glamorous look, ever.
If anyone knows how to execute a coronation gown for a Queen who hasn’t always felt at home in the fashion-plate role that naturally seems to befall royal women, it’s Oldfield. The skirt and top format, rather than a traditional gown, works wonderfully on Camilla’s figure.
He has the kind of understanding of society dress codes that only someone who has been immersed in that rarefied world for decades can boast. “The girl who goes to Ascot is different from the girl who goes to Cheltenham,” he told The Telegraph in 2021. “I know their lifestyles: the flat-racing crowd and the jumps lot; what you need for Ripon and what you need for Goodwood.”
Renowned for his old-fashioned charm and charisma, it’s a sign of Oldfield’s place at the heart of the British fashion establishment that he has found himself in some way connected to many of the biggest royal style moments of the past four decades.
When Catherine Middleton’s family visited his shop in the run-up to her 2011 wedding to Prince William, he was besieged and hailed as a front-runner to design her dress. He was forced to deny the rumours, issuing a statement in which he said that, “Catherine will undoubtedly look spectacular – she has a fantastic figure and knows well what suits her.”
Alas, the then new Duchess of Cambridge went with a more modern choice in Alexander McQueen, but Oldfield did eventually dress the Countess of Wessex in a gold skirt suit for the wedding.
The son of an Irish mother and a Jamaican father, Oldfield grew up in Barnardo’s care homes and spent three years as a teacher before asking the charity to help him get to St Martin’s art college in London. There, he was soon spotted by several fashion editors who introduced him to New York department store Henri Bendel, where he launched a collection. He began his eponymous label in 1975.
The 1980s were Diana-dominated for Oldfield. His aesthetic evolved along with her style and there are examples of her wearing everything from frothy, glittery gowns to smartly tailored suits by him.
In the late Princess’s Oldfield repertoire, you can see how deftly he is able to balance edginess with elegance – his creations for her were not always entirely demure, sometimes going off-shoulder or backless, which meant that she didn’t look out of step with the times.
His past and present collided when he designed a purple crushed-velvet dress for her to wear to a Barnardo’s fundraising gala at the Grosvenor House hotel in 1988 – he had the place of honour by her side. In 2016, Oldfield shared a similar moment with Camilla, when they attended a Buckingham Palace garden party in aid of Barnardo’s together.
Oldfield has dressed the great and the good over the years. There have been wedding dresses for Samantha Cameron, Queen Rania of Jordan and Jemima Khan, gala gowns for countless duchesses, and red-carpet showstoppers for the likes of Jerry Hall and Marie Helvin. In 2015, he designed a 60-piece collection for John Lewis.
He has created formalwear for the Queen Consort for many years. He excels at neatly tailored dress coats for Royal Ascot and bling-tastic gowns for moments requiring a hefty dose of regal splendour; Oldfield was the man behind the crystal-encrusted pale blue dress that Camilla wore for the premiere of the latest Bond film, No Time To Die, in 2021. She also attended a fashion show he hosted in 2017 in aid of the Royal (formerly National) Osteoporosis Society, of which Camilla is patron.
Oldfield’s design for Camilla is unlikely to be as lavish as the late Queen’s coronation dress which was designed by Sir Norman Hartnell in 1953 and incorporated gold beads, diamantes and pearls. She is a Queen Consort, not the monarch. It will be the grandest outfit we’ve ever seen her in though. This is more than just a dress, it is a historical artefact.
Oldfield will undoubtedly include symbolic embroidery which represents Great Britain and the Commonwealth and the materials used will be carefully chosen to reflect the finest British talent. The Royal School of Needlework worked on the late Queen’s coronation robes in 1953, and on the Princess of Wales’ wedding gown in 2011, so it may be involved in this gown too.
The shape will be traditional and impeccably tailored, likely reflecting the silhouette which Oldfield has honed for Camilla.
As with so many design veterans, the fashion industry hasn’t always been kind to Bruce Oldfield. In July 2020, his business went into liquidation and his future looked uncertain. Instead of slipping gently into retirement, he came back fighting, with a pared-back new operation that saw him working from his home and working closely with just a select number of clients.
It’s a punt that will have paid off handsomely if he has now beaten competition from the likes of Anna Valentine, who made Camilla’s wedding dress, and won the once-in-a-generation commission to design the new Queen’s coronation gown.
Bruce Oldfield’s biggest design moments
Diana, Princess of Wales wearing a silver lamé dress by Bruce Oldfield in 1985
Bruce Oldfield and the-then Duchess of Cornwall at his fashion show in aid of the Royal Osteoporosis Society in 2017
Camilla wearing a navy lace gown with black embellishments in 2016
Jemima Goldsmith on the day of her wedding to Imran Khan, wearing Bruce Oldfield, 1995
Marie Helvin and Bruce Oldfield together in 2004
Jerry Hall in a scarlet gown designed for her by Bruce Oldfield, 1990
Camilla wearing a blue striped coat, with matching mask, designed by Bruce Oldfield at Royal Ascot in 2021
Oldfield designed this ruffled blue gown worn by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1982
Diana’s stylist Anna Harvey loved this black velvet Bruce Oldfield gown worn by the Princess so much that she ordered one for herself, 1985
Diana, Princess of Wales wearing a peach skirt by Bruce Oldfield in Coventry in 1986
Queen Rania of Jordan wearing a spectacular Bruce Oldfield gown on her wedding day in 1999