In the Palace of Aranjuez on the outskirts of Madrid, there is a small exhibition tucked away in a corner of the ground floor. Without a small sign, it’s easy to miss as you exit the tour, unless you spy the security guard at the entrance. Passing through the dimly light cabinet which displays the outfits worn by former King and Queen Juan Carlos and Sofia at the former’s coronation, I was not expecting the treasures in the next room – Spanish royal wedding dresses.
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In a large glass display case dominating the room, I found the wedding dresses worn by the four senior Spanish Royals: former Queen Sofia, Felipe’s sisters Infantas Cristina and Elena, and of course, the current Queen, Letizia. There’s something almost spooky about a wedding dress on display; I remember The Duchess of Cambridge having a similar thought about the exhibition of her own dress in 2011.
I have always been fascinated by Letizia’s wedding dress; worn for her wedding to the then Prince of Asturias in May 2004, it is a very different design to the dresses of other royal brides. Unlike the soft, lace dresses popularised by Princess Grace of Monaco, The Duchess of Cambridge or Princess Madeleine of Sweden, Letizia’s gown was more structured. In fact, when you see the dress in person, you understand the genius of Spanish couturier Manuel Pertegaz, as it is breathtakingly intricate without being over-the-top.
The wedding of Felipe and Letizia was a significant occasion: it was the first royal wedding to take place in Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral, and the first in the Spanish capital for almost 100 years. It was also a difficult day, due to the terror attacks which had taken place in the city just two months before – there was a fine line between a wedding fit for the future king and queen, without being insensitive to the victims’ families. The Spanish couple also married a week after the wedding of the Crown Prince of Denmark, Frederik, which meant that comparisons to his new wife Mary would be inevitable.
Letizia’s future mother-in-law, Queen Sofia, suggested Pertegaz to design the dress; already in his 80s, Pertegaz had designed for iconic women, such as Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. With the Almudena Cathedral providing a colourful, intricate backdrop to the ceremony, Letizia’s dress had to stand out as she walked down the aisle and stood at the altar.
The dress’ best-known feature is the striking high collar, which is embroidered on both sides. Embroidery is a key feature of the dress, with flowers, strawberry tree fruits and ears of wheat depicted in gold and silver thread on the sleeves and the train. The image of the fleur de lys was also prominent throughout the design; this symbol is associated with the Prince of Asturias, Felipe’s title at the time.
The dress itself is made of natural silk, with flared sleeves, and is slim in the front before descending into a 4.5 metre train, which is round at the end. The train does not detach from the dress, which meant that as Letizia walked down the aisle, it appeared to be an effort at times for her tiny frame to move the sheer amount of fabric.
With regard to accessories, Letizia wore the Prussian diamond tiara – loaned to her for the occasion by Sofia. With her hair pulled back in a simple updo, the tiara was offset by a tulle veil, a present to Letizia from her future husband.
The veil itself was almost three metres long, made of off-white silk and again featured embroidery similar to that on the gown; this is believed to be a gift from her fiance for the big day. Letizia also wore diamond earrings, a gift from the King and Queen.
There’s no doubt that Letizia’s wedding dress continues to divide people: I am a huge fan, but many find the dress too ‘different’ and prefer classic styles. After her marriage into the Spanish royal family, Letizia has become one of the main royal style icons, with her simple choices and passion for designers such as Carolina Herrera. I, for one, believe that on 22nd May 2004, a considerable fashion force was launched by the entrance of Letizia Ortiz in the Almudena Cathedral in that stunning Pertegaz gown.