Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Challenge: Design gowns worthy of a queen

Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth” sequel was awash with blues — and not by accident. “We used color to tell the story,” explains costume designer Alexandra Byrne, an Oscar nominee for her work on the original. “Blue is the color of yearning and immortality, themes that dominate the film.”

A series of indigo gowns made from watermarked silk mark key plot points. We see the first — and most austere — directly after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots when Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth is at her lowest ebb. That dress grows larger and more lavish as the Virgin Queen successfully takes on the Spanish Armada and regains her spirit. When the Queen gets her groove back, she sheds the blue. Elizabeth stands victorious, bathed in light in virginal white, reticella lace ruff around her neck and two sheer veils, attached to hoops from each shoulder, projecting like angel wings.

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Byrne says the looks were inspired both by historical research and modern influences; one such was a theatrical costume created by Balenciaga in the 1940s (itself based on a dress worn by 16th-century Spanish queen Isabel de Valois). “Elizabeth’s appearance was extraordinary,” Byrne says. “I wanted the audience to salivate over her, in the same way her courtiers would have.”