E!’s TV drama series “The Royals” follows the lifestyle of a fictional modern-day British royal family living in London and stars Elizabeth Hurley as the power-hungry, glamorous Queen Helena, who keeps a tight rein on the public image of her family. Hurley is joined by cast members Joan Collins, Jake Maskall, William Moseley and Alexandra Park.
WWD sat with Hurley, executive Mark Schwahn and costume designer Rachel Walsh to talk about the show’s fashion, costumes and real-life royals.
WWD: What was the fashion inspiration behind each character, and what designers did you work with?
Mark Schwahn: What’s interesting is that we have a royal family but not a royal family’s budget. With Elizabeth [Hurley], people were expecting a biopic, I think, and when you think queen, you think of the Queen. It’s wonderful, but a little different style than our queen. So I said we want to make sure that Elizabeth’s style stands out, and that it’s a little different, and it’s a little more provocative. We don’t want it to be slutty. We don’t want it to be racy, but we want it to be contemporary, because her character is not just the matriarch of her family. She has her own story line, her own relevance, so with Elizabeth, she prefers shift dresses. That’s a look that she personally prefers. So I said, “OK, let’s start there and let’s work from there.”
Rachel Walsh: With the queen, what we tried to do is marry the contemporary elegant fashion trends of the season. So we tend to use designers like Roland Mouret, Victoria Beckham to create a sort of timeless elegance. We always use lots of different designers. I mean, it can range from couture, which we have made, so bespoke, a lot of Roland Mouret, Victoria Beckham a bit, some Calvin Klein. It really varies from season to season, but quite classic silhouettes, generally, for her. But then sometimes we look at vintage icons. So we looked at Princess Margaret from the Fifties, the Windsors from the Thirties, just to get inspiration from some of the jewelry and the textures. With Elizabeth, we’re trying to use a lot of embellished fabrics this season; lace because that’s obviously very on trend this season, and brocades, and we’re keeping her palette quite cool — white and black with silvers and golds, so it’s quite timeless, and she always stands out, her silhouette, against any color.
WWD: What about Princess Eleanor’s wardrobe?
M.S.: I think more people approach me about Eleanor’s [Alexandra Park’s] wardrobe. For Eleanor, we wanted her to be fashion-forward, and the best thing about our show is that we have amazing seamstresses. So we can say, “Let’s come up with our own couture things. Let’s not chase designers as much, and have her have her own look and have her wear bespoke pieces that we can make, obviously much cheaper. And obviously we have relationships with designers, and we’ll go out and get things, but with her, we make a lot of the things. I think it was all influenced by rock ‘n’ roll mostly. I wanted her to always have just a little bit of fetish wear, like she should have a little bit of leather or latex or lingerie or silk or whatever, because she was this bratty princess. She was presented as the more provocative character, so I thought, “Well, let’s always have her just have a little something,” whether it’s a tartan skirt or badass boots, just always have a little bit of edge to her. We have been able to play against that when we want her character to seem a little more vulnerable — we make her a little prettier, you know. And she’s so wonderful and game and easy to dress and has that approach of “whatever you’d like,” which is a great way to start.
R.W.: With Alex, it’s obviously that’s a much more contemporary character, so we tend to mix vintage with designer. Today she’s wearing the Saint Laurent jacket, but then we might buy a vintage blouse and some high street. We use Topshop, Maje, Sandro, Vivienne Westwood, McQueen, Gareth Pugh. So we try to use the quite-out-there designers but mix it up so the demographic of the audience can still aspire to her style because you can sort of find it on the high street. And also the vintage, a lot of vintage jewelry. I’ve got an incredible pair of Seventies shorts that she’s going to be wearing for the next episode that are quite Kiss-like, studded little leather shorts. We shop a lot of vintage.
WWD: Can you tell us about Prince Liam’s wardrobe?
R.W.: William is the equivalent of Prince Harry, I guess. I try to keep him very classy and understated, so the clothes don’t overwhelm his character. He’s wearing Reiss, John Varvatos, Gieves & Hawkes, AllSaints. We mix it up. It’s sort of contemporary high street, like Kooples, with very classic Savile Row tailoring.
M.S.: It was Tom Ford. I wanted him to have kind of clean, traditional colors, and I think the high-street version would be Theory and Reiss — blues and grays and whites and very clean lines. But for him, the aspirational version was Tom Ford.
WWD: What about looks for Cyrus?
M.S.: For Jake [Maskall], it’s a lot of Vivienne Westwood and male Christian Louboutins because they’re just so grandiose and daring. Cyrus is our sort of peacock character, so we always say, “Let’s just think peacock.” Always he’s going to have a little bit of flair, being kind of loud, and I love that there are no rules with that character, whatever is daring, whatever is loud, we can just do that.
R.W.: Cyrus is one of the most fun characters to dress. Again, a real wide range of different designers, a lot of McQueen, Westwood, bespoke. Some of his suits are being made by a tailor on Savile Row, and then again vintage for a lot of the pins, and we shop a lot of Victorian, Edwardian. We research the jewelry quite a lot. We look at old photographs and paintings of the Royal family and try to emulate that because a lot of the pieces he’s wearing are original pieces. So it’s a real broad section.
WWD: Were there any funny anecdotes when you were putting the looks together?
R.W.: We always have wardrobe malfunctions. Last year, we had a Berardi dress Elizabeth was wearing in, let’s say 10, and she bent over, and the whole zip split open. Literally, her dress had fallen off, and we had to do an emergency mend on set. But, you know, not really. Joan is always fabulous to dress, and her wardrobe is the most fun to do because she’s got the most amazing collection of clothes in her house, dating back from the Fifties, and she’s fabulous because she’ll let you look at all the costumes from the Fifties and get inspiration from the “Dynasty” era, which we try to emulate because, with her, I’m literally like, “I just want you to look like you did in ‘Dynasty,’ but for this contemporary audience.” Because her silhouettes were so fabulous, her shoulders, so that’s what we did. We watched a lot of “Dynasty” to get there, and we watched it a lot on YouTube, and we were like, “That one is a great look,” and the colors and the fabrics. You know, to a lesser extent Elizabeth is the power dresser of this era for this show. We try and power dress her as well, to empower women, you know. They are empowered, strong characters.
WWD: Do you have any favorite looks?
Elizabeth Hurley: Well, yes, my character has the constraints of being the Queen of England, and being a perfectionist, and wanting to present the image she’s chosen to present. So my character, Queen Helena, she wants to be slick. She wants to be fashionable but dignified. There’s not too much bosom, there’s definitely no leg. It’s very dignified. Obviously, Eleanor is the exact opposite — she wants to be fabulous and out there. The theory is that we’re the most powerful and rich family in the world, we can wear anything we like. So our diamonds are big, shoes are high. Even though the clothes are tarty, they’re expensive.
Alexandra Park: I think with Eleanor it’s become very much an expression of how she’s feeling that day, and very much what’s going on in her life and relationships is dependent on what she will throw on that day. But sometime she will put in some effort, like that little red Valentino dress and the Saint Laurent jacket. And I love that, when she tries to make an effort.
WWD: If you were to rule a country in real life, how would you rule it, and are there any fashion rules that you would set in place?
E.H.: I would ban the beanie. I don’t like beanies. I think they are the most unattractive thing. I don’t like them; they make everyone look sort of smurfy. I might ban flip-flops in the city — I don’t like seeing people’s toes — and I would ban flip-flops on an airplane. And I would ban seeing any sign of underarm hair on a man on an airplane. I find it really distasteful when you see — I’m sorry, they’re normally Australians, they are. Hairy legs, hairy toes, hairy armpit hair. It’s like, put it away. I don’t really like underarm hair on anyone. They must go.
WWD: Can you tell us about the fashion in the upcoming season?
M.S.: As character motivations and temperament changes, we do adjust the fashion. Cyrus was dealing with cancer, and we started putting him in darker colors, because he was a little more depressed and a little more sad, and he wasn’t as peacocky and as flamboyant. I said, “Well, he probably wouldn’t be feeling like he wanted to be so flamboyant because internally he wasn’t.” Eleanor, when she’s in a good place romantically, she tends to be a little softer. We’ll have her in more dresses and have her do softer things, as opposed to when she’s fighting a man or the world and she tends to get edgier or a little tougher. The Queen has had different color palettes. I think this year, more blacks and whites, more sort of Chanel classic — let’s just do the blacks and the whites because the show is often about heroes and villains and she’s been both, so I was like, “We should do both with her.” She’s been in vibrant colors before, but I think this season we’re going to adjust that a little bit. She’s becoming this sort of strong presence in the family. It used to be more villainous, but now it’s more human. But she’s lost her husband, she’s lost her son — or so she thinks — and she’s lost a lot of her life. So we took more vibrant colors away from her a little bit, and we’ll sort of build back to it when she gets more inspired.
R.W.: We tried to keep a breath of spring 2015, so a lot of the blush tones that are around will be featured on Elizabeth. Her palette is going to be very pale and ethereal with this black and white, silvers and blush. So definitely that. We’ve really noticed a lot of pleats, so we’ll be incorporating pleating into a lot of this season. So a lot of Issey Miyake-style textures — quite architectural textures. We’ll be definitely using a lot of lace. For the boys, we’re trying to go more sartorial and get the very clean cuts, moving away from the classic cut and going very slim, almost to a sort of Sixties cut for the suits and trousers, which seems quite a trend this season, and also a lot of pastels. There’s a lot of pastel around this season for women, which is sometimes quite hard to work with on set, but we’re trying to use some of the very pale mints and apricots. So when we do, for instance, a garden party soon, instead of the acidic brights that were around the season before, we’re going to go for the softer pastel tones. We keep abreast of the season’s trends, but we try not to be dominated by them, because it’s not always conducive to what we’re doing. But we certainly make sure that we’re hitting the mark because a lot of people watch this show for the fashion, so we have to make sure there’s a nod to it.
WWD: Did you look to real British royals for inspiration?
R.W.: We are very aware of Kate, of Catherine, who is quite a breath of fresh air, I think, for the royal family because she does mix her wardrobe with high street and she reworks things. So we do look to her a lot for the younger female characters. There are a few new characters that we’ve actually done a lot of storyboards for with Kate, especially from the tour she’s just done. We were like, “She’s actually wearing some incredible clothes and some of it is high street.” She wears a lot of Reiss and a lot of L.K. Bennett, which we do use. Also, William and Harry we always look to for their tailoring, and, obviously, what the Queen is wearing, for the colors. Certainly when we do ceremonial episodes, we do a lot of research and download a lot of photos and make sure we are getting all of the regalia correct, because you can’t get it wrong. The way things are worn is very important. A lot of research goes into it.
WWD: Was there feedback from the royal family on the show? Do you know if they have watched it?
M.S.: You know, when I did “One Tree Hill” — which was my show before this — someone reached out on behalf of Will and Kate and said they loved the show — and could we get them some box sets? Which was really great. I haven’t heard that for this show. I would hope that they would see us as entertainment, which is what we’re meant to be. We’re meant to be so fictional, it’s not meant to be derivative or mocking. I consider London my second home, and I hope people will love it. It’s not for everybody, but I always say this: The impetus behind the show was never to throw stones at the Royal family, and it was never to mock the monarchy. Our episodes are sometimes so pro or so con, but it’s so fictional. I don’t want to say I’m doing what Shakespeare did by stretching the imagination, but he was telling fictional stories as well, and it was hard for people to get past that at the beginning — maybe because we were on E! and they had not done scripted. So people were showing up expecting a biopic. A lot of the press at the beginning were asking where does the family fit in the British monarchy? I said it doesn’t; it’s its own thing. I say it’s contemporary London, it’s actual London, but it’s a fictional thing. So while I was inspired by the fact that a lot of Americans are obsessed with the Royal family and that, you know, Harry was on magazine covers, what inspired me was the interest in the area. It wasn’t the actual family.