Bridal Fashion Week just ended. It was the most boundary-pushing market ever and the shows provided a number of takeaways: headbands are the new veils; Meghan Markle’s covered-up look continues to influence; bustles are back; and pearls are the go-to, pretty accessory du jour. With these trends top of mind, all of the inspiration anyone really needs for their secret wedding mood board just might come from something a lot less current: Starz’s latest historical fiction series, The Spanish Princess, which takes place between 1485 and 1603. Based on Philippa Gregory’s novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse, the show premieres on May 5 and follows Catherine of Aragon, the stunningly beautiful red-headed young princess of Spain who has been betrothed to Prince Arthur, the son of Henry VII, since birth.
As the child of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, Catherine (who is played perfectly by Charlotte Hope) was always destined to be a queen, and as soon as she’s of marrying age, she’s sent to rainy, bleak ol’ England with her entourage in tow to take on the House of Tudor. The Tudors have only just recently regained the throne, and to say they’re paranoid about those plotting in the shadows would be an understatement.
Catherine is a quick study though, and does what she came to do in this very Machiavellian world by marrying Arthur and becoming the Princess of Wales. But when her new husband dies unexpectedly, her life plan is thrown off course, and lots of in-law family drama ensues. Amid all of the plotting, scheming, and constantly changing hierarchy of the court, one thing is a constant ray of light: The woman’s clothes are to die for!
Critics may say they’re pure flights of fancy, or claim they aren’t completely on point, but as with other miniseries on Starz that are rooted in historical fiction (see Outlander), we’re not watching with the assumption that every single seam and accessory is spot on. We’re here for the beauty, the fantasy, and the awe-inspiring looks served by costume designer Phoebe de Gaye . . . and if we learn something along the way, all the better!
Immediately, a stark contrast is drawn at court between Catherine’s vibrantly dressed, diverse crew, and the noble members of the very Catholic, very austere Tudor court. “I love when Catherine arrives on the beach at the beginning,” De Gayle admits. “[She and her court] look like they’ve come from the moon! They seem like this entirely different species. The fisherman are gawking at this extraordinarily dressed party, and here they are almost wading through the water and you see the elements . . . veils whipping away. It’s a dramatic moment!”
De Gaye previously worked on Starz’s prequel series The White Princess, which was based on Gregory’s novel of the same name, so this isn’t the first time she’s had to dress royalty. “It’s nice that this isn’t a story about a dried-up old husk about to be put aside,” De Gaye laughs. Quite the contrary, Catherine is depicted as a girl who transforms into a strong woman, and the ensemble she wears when she weds Arthur, with its cinched waist and princess sleeves, is major—and works to help communicate this transition.
“There’s quite a lot of visual material,” de Gaye explains. “But this time it was slightly more difficult because any information about the Moorish [people] was harder to find. I had to put a couple of things together and hope that it looked right. It was very interesting—the mixtures culturally with the Moorish Islamic style and the Christian styles, to go into that and try and get some of that into Catherine’s wedding dress.”
The wedding dress was found in Spain at a costume rental house where De Gayle often sources pieces. “We discovered a section of underskirts that were very richly embroidered and in lovely colors,” she remembers. “It was ivory with golds and silvers. We found a white velvet which wasn’t expensive, and then I had it printed using a pattern based on pomegranates, which were in Catherine’s heraldic symbol, and then we made the rest of the dress to match.”
When De Gayle fitted Hope in the look, something fortuitous happened. “We were trying to create a puff sleeve shape in a toile, and our cutter, Lynn, had made this piece for the inner part of the ridge. There was a net, and through the net, you could see Charlotte’s lovely slender little shoulders, and it made her look rather vulnerable. It was fitting that on this solemn occasion that she be quite vulnerable. And then, of course, there had to be a big train that we were going to see process [down the aisle].”
This bridal moment was made for the girl who loves the romance of dresses by Brock Collection and Luisa Beccaria. For anyone contemplating whether or not a blusher veil is too retro (especially with so many other more modern feeling, competing accessories like headpieces, barrettes, and hats on the scene right now), note that in this portrayal, trendsetter Catherine of Aragon wore one embellished with tiny flowers, and it stands the test of time. “She had a very long veil,” De Gayle notes. “Veiling is quite important for her. She remained veiled until she was married. This, of course, caused all sorts of problems dramatically [when shooting the show]. We couldn’t have her underneath a veil the whole time. We had to find a very, very sheer veil, but I think you get the general idea.”
De Gayle finished off the look with a pearl-encrusted headband and a dramatic double-strand necklace. While Catherine will forever be remembered as the first wife of Henry VIII, for their infamous failed marriage, and the fact that she continued to make a claim to the throne even after he had gone on to marry Anne Boleyn, when it comes to fashion, she triumphed. She wore clothes completely ahead of her time—and this reimagination of her wedding look is one worth referencing in the here and now.