There’s a rolling rack in my spare room that I save for works in progress. I call her the Rack. She is my holding station for options I am mulling, impulse buys that I need to return, and random inspiration pieces for things I am itching to make. But it is a little after New Year’s, wandering into awards season, when The Rack really earns her stripes. Nomination dinners, screenings, promotional parties, guild awards, and this year, joy of joys, the triple whammy of an invitation to the Oscars, the Governors Ball, and the Vanity Fair party. We have a good time, the Rack and I.
And then in March, just as all the Hollywood madness came to a close, a rumor started to swirl around our house that the unbelievable might occur: an invitation to the wedding of HRH Prince Henry of Wales to Ms. Meghan Markle. And when the rumor became a substantiated fact, all hell broke loose, and The Rack went into full-on red alert.
Six Weeks Out
To put this invite in context, allow me to back up a little. I am a London-born costume designer, and I am married to a director named Kevin Bray. Kevin is American and we live in L.A.; Kevin was the original director on Suits, and as such was instrumental in casting Meghan as Rachel Zane—hence, the invite of all invites. I am merely the significant other on this adventure, but I am extremely proud to be riding on my husband’s magic carpet.
But what to wear? Being a Brit and a costume designer, I thought I knew a little about posh weddings, but this is a whole other level. So I have the Rack stand by while I do a little research.
The wedding will be at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, on May 19. Civilian dress code is said to be “day dress with hat” for the ladies and “lounge suit or morning coat” for the gents. Common sense says no black or white. More asking around yields advice such as no busy prints, no bare shoulders, no heaving bosom, nothing sheer except for the sleeve, closed-toe pumps, a small bag (space is limited), and, of course, a hat. But going too big on the hat is apparently a faux pas, while paradoxically, if you go the fascinator route, more is more.
The next step is to figure out who I want to actually be on the day, because I am a costume designer, and as such, I think always in terms of character, even when designing for myself.
If I had a social life of epic proportions, I would choose to wear Duro Olowu. Pinned to a favorite Pinterest board of mine are two Olowu suits. One is a winter suit made from delicious green bouclé with a big pouf-y skirt and tiny cropped jacket, and the other is a summer suit in a soft abstract print with a leaner silhouette. I smush the two together in my mind, and pretty soon I have a plan. In honor of a beautiful American actress marrying a dashing prince, I am leaning toward a left-of-center Grace Kelly look. If, that is, Grace Kelly looked Italian and had a penchant for pastels. And puff sleeves. So I do a horrible sketch and begin to move pieces onto the Rack for inspiration.
I pull together a box of feathers and ribbons and silk flowers from my personal color-coded vintage millinery collection, in part for inspiration and in part because for a second I entertain the idea of making my own hat. I cobble together a starter number, but pretty as it is, it’s not feeling right, so I let go and move on.
Still no physical invitation, and Kevin is convinced that someone important has looked at his Facebook page, and his political rantings have sent up a red flag. I email our contact at Kensington Palace and let her know that we are invitation-less. The ranter is mortified, but I am beyond shame: I am itching to go fabric shopping. It turns out a few of the stateside invites are taking a minute to get through the royal mail system.
I head straight to International Silks & Woolens. I’ve spent my whole career shopping for fabrics at ISW and it has never failed me. Guided by my favorite employee, Samir, I head upstairs to the vintage brocades and tweeds and find the prettiest of silk and cotton blends woven into a dreamy pastel palette. Samir informs me it is Chanel, and when I look at the price per yard, I believe him. He disappears for a minute and then returns with his boss. Beaming, they tell me that it would be their pleasure to give me the fabric as a gift to make something for the wedding, and to please pick out a lining. I don’t know if it’s me or Meghan they love, but I am truly moved. Before I hang my new treasures on the Rack, I wrap and fold myself in the Chanel, feeling its weight and drape. I couldn’t be happier.
Three Weeks Out
Time to make some decisions. On Monday I look at the Rack and mull over the inspiration pieces hanging there. I keep coming back to an Adolfo leather skirt, which looks as if Dior and Mugler had a baby, and my beloved Co denim jacket that has the perfect puff sleeve. Feeling good about using these pieces as a visual to support my sketch, I call High Society Tailors to see if they have time to whip something up for me. These guys have been in business since the 1960s and made countless suits for my shows over the years, so I know they can pull it off.
I head to my storage unit to search in my vintage fabric stash. I’m feeling the need to add a floppy bow and possibly work in a little matching clutch. A piece of rose silk velvet I scored a few years ago in New Orleans is still carefully wrapped in tissue just waiting for me to set her free. I also root through my millinery boxes and find an adorable ’50s frame covered in a pleated brocade with a bow. I feel it would be delightful reimagined in my pastel blend, so the next day I head downtown to the California Millinery Supply Company to poke around for supplies. I chat with the proprietor, Irene, while gathering vintage feathers, French tulle, and grosgrain ribbons that ultimately have nothing to do with my suit or my hat.
On Friday I head back to High Society for my muslin fitting. Goes well.
Two Weeks Out
I’m in shoe hell. I’m not great in high heels and fancy shoes, but an Italian Grace Kelly would never sacrifice style for comfort, so I step away from the wedges. I spend days scouring every department store and boutique between Silver Lake and Beverly Hills. I find the perfect pair of blush pink suede booties at Saks Fifth Avenue, but tragically they are Chanel, and it would most likely mean the end of my marriage if I came home with boots that cost more than our son’s school fees. My head tells me it’s simply not worth the deceit, but my heart is heavy. So I compromise and buy them, knowing full well they will go back.
I shop from high to low because I have seen nothing in-between. Steve Madden, Chinese Laundry, Nine West, Michael Kors: No brand is too humble. But, of course, nothing comes close to the blush booties. As the week progresses, I thoroughly abuse my Zappos VIP status, and an additional 17 pairs of low to medium heels arrive at my house. I force myself to make a short list.
Meanwhile, the social arrangements are going gangbusters. Dance parties, dinners, and drinks are in the works. Everyone will be staying at the divine Coworth Park in Ascot.
Time to laser in on the jewels. I am reintroduced to designer Sarah Hendler, who makes the most beautiful, handcrafted 18 karat gold pieces with enamel details and colored gemstones. Sarah offers to lend, and I joyously accept.
The Rack is coming together quite nicely with all the looks for the trip. There is, of course, the wedding and the shenanigans, but also three days in London and three days in New York on the way home. I long for a steamer trunk.
Nine Days Out
Shoe bummer continues. I find another couple of possibilities at Topshop in the mint family, but nothing spectacular.
Get an intense glycolic peel, and despite looking like the shriveled apple at the bottom of a fruit bowl, I shamelessly go to my follow-up fitting at High Society.
And even though I love my remade ’50s chapeau (thank you for your speed and talent, Rachel Stivers), I am having anxiety that my vintage redo is maybe too . . . vintage. I reach out to a British milliner I’ve worked with in the past named Sophie Beale, who offers to send some pieces to the hotel when I land.
Eight Days Out
Pick up the finished suit and hang her at the front of the Rack. I am also quite pleased to find the waist is now a bit too big: My shedding for the wedding is paying off. I skip dinner in favor of a tequila and an epic fashion show to plan my wardrobe for the week. I also try to decide on the shoe, but then get off message and start thinking about adding in some black. I realize I need an objective eye.
Seven Days Out: Saturday
I lose my iPhone at the Grove doing preliminary returns. Not good. But stop at L.A. Rose Vintage Fashion on Melrose and, hallelujah, find the most perfect and divine sheer organza blouse with balloon sleeves and a high neck that knocks all my other contenders off the shelf into the water. I schlep my outfit and all my shoe and belt options over to my girlfriend Morgan’s house for a confab. Our girlfriend Dayna joins us, and together they veto the black. I refuse to show them the Chanel booties, as I know they will bully me into keeping them, so the vote goes to a pair of lavender d’Orsays.
Six Days Out: Sunday
Take a break. It’s all a bit much.
Five Days Out: Monday
Sarah’s jewelry arrives. It’s just too good. I land on dainty pink enamel spear earrings with a ruby post, two Ethel ball rings, and a couple of stackers. Utter joy.
Go back to ISW and get a teeny-tiny lavender grosgrain ribbon and a minuscule rhinestone buckle to make a belt. I need something to tie it all together and visually explain why I cropped the jacket so short.
Four Days Out: Tuesday
Finally ask my beloved assistant, Jonathan, to return the Chanel booties, because I just can’t do the walk of shame. I get my roots done and a manicure. I make a rookie move and try a new nail color that is deeply unsatisfying.
Rush around picking up the dry cleaning, last-minute alterations (thank you, Shirley Lipscomb), and toothpaste. Spend all night packing. I can’t believe we fly tomorrow.
Three Days Out: Wednesday
We get to the airport and I realize I’ve forgotten my brand-new Acne Studios blanket wrap I was saving for the plane. That was my fault for not saying a proper goodbye to the Rack. I might have to bring her a little something from Liberty to make up for my rudeness.
Watch the Manolo Blahnik documentary on the plane and get really uncertain about my shoes again.
Two Days Out: Thursday
Arrive at Heathrow, and very much enjoy telling the passport control officer why we are visiting. The whole country is royal-wedding crazy. Every TV channel, every paper, every radio station, every conversation and causal remark. Check in at the lovely Coworth Park. Lots of security. Quite exciting. A Mr. Porter box with pocket squares is waiting for the hubs, and Sophie Beale’s box of hats for me. I ultimately stay with the matching hat from L.A., as I can’t shake my need to be perfectly matched from head to toe. Also waiting is a package from the Palace (!) with instructions and admittance cards. The Suits gang begins to trickle in; we settle in at the bar to catch up and people-watch. The gents compare their morning coat experiences. Mine is bucking tradition and wearing a monochromatic Canali. I find out the hard way that a Don Julio on the rocks costs 35 pounds and switch to house white.
One Day Out: Friday
Pin hair and make beauty tear sheets to get ready for tomorrow. I’m lucky enough that the lovely and talented @Charlottereid is available to do my hair and makeup. Go for an hour-long walk around the grounds of the hotel to try and shake the jet lag. Break down and have a manicure at the spa and change my polish color. Dinner for 25 is rowdy and fun, with speeches and toasts and cute kids and cigars. There is, of course, a long discussion around the table about dress etiquette and who’s wearing what. Back in the room, I get everything set up for the morning. Suit, blouse, Wolford fishnets, shoes, jewels, hat, bag: It is all waiting and ready to go.
I call my son and crawl into bed around midnight. After all these weeks, tomorrow will come soon enough.
Sunshine. Pealing church bells. Arches made of flowers. A castle. Fans. Flags. Military. A chapel. Stained glass. Radiant light. Ancestry. A choir. Spirituals. Prayers. Hymns. A Queen. Princes. A bride. Vows. A horse-drawn carriage. Family. Speeches. Friends. Joy. If you believe in love, if you believe in fairy tales, then this was truly the day of days. Harry and Meghan forever!