Bruce Oldfield – the couturier behind Queen Camilla’s exquisite coronation gown – opens up about his pivotal role in royal fashion history in the July issue

My sidekick and fitter extraordinaire Sophie Rowe and I were at Westminster Abbey on the day of the coronation. We were there to make sure Her Majesty looked absolutely stunning and that her outfit was perfectly tailored. The Queen arrived wearing a simple ermine trimmed mantle (a cloak worn over a dress) which we later removed – it was too busy – to be replaced by a heavily embroidered mantle. Once everything was fixed, we returned to our seats. Mantles are a standard, traditional part of the coronation ceremony and are tied and embroidered by a specialist maker. We were careful to ensure that the length of each worked perfectly together in the working position so that one train of the dress did not show beyond the end of the gown.

There will be people who like it and people who don’t, but you can’t please everyone. As long as your honor is happy, that’s all that matters to us.

Bruce Oldfield celebrates with models after his Spring 1974 collection show at Pendleton.

Fairchild Archive/Getty Images

It was really a big moment for me. It brought my story full circle, to my childhood. I was a Barnardo’s child and was raised at age one – my mother is Irish and my father is Jamaican. I have a distant memory of watching Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 in Head, County Durham, where I lived with my foster mother Violet Masters and four foster siblings. There was only one television set in the entire village, and on the day of the coronation, everyone crowded into the small set to watch the small picture anointed to the queen and take Kodak photographs. It seems pretty cool now that this little brown boy, staring with interest at that screen nearly 70 years ago, was chosen to make the next Queen’s coronation gown.

I’ve always been obsessed with glamor – I grew up watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. On Sunday afternoons, I’d check out Astaire and make sure there was a life there that was different from the one we were leading in a humble one-story house on the edge of the A1. In my teenage years, I was transferred from my foster home to Barnardo’s Residential Children’s Home in Ripon and wore the purple pinstripe hipster trousers my foster mother had made for me to cut a line at the local coffee bar. She was a seamstress and I often sat with her as she worked – her fabrics, beads and all the dressmaking accessories. I was the only one interested in my foster siblings and she saw that I had potential. My Barnardo’s file for 1957 says: 'Foster mother hopes boy will be a fashion designer.’

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