30 November 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Princess Mabel's Gown

HRH Prince Johan Friso of the Netherlands and Mabel Wisse Smit
April 24, 2004
Delft, Netherlands

Goodness me, our little digression into the wedding gown of Princess Mabel in last week's comments spawned an immediate outpouring of Wedding Wednesday requests. Well, I don't blame you. If you've never seen it before you really can't comprehend it in a single glance. So here you go, kids: Bows Gone Wild, starring Mabel van Oranje.
When Mabel Wisse Smit married Queen Beatrix's middle son, Prince Johan Friso (he prefers you just call him Friso now, thanks) in 2004, she turned down conservative designs from the Dutch design duo Viktor & Rolf and requested they make her something "memorable" (mission accomplished). She's not a conventional girl, this one, and stated herself that she was never the little girl with wedding dress dreams.
The end result is actually a very flattering silhouette in snow white double-faced duchesse satin with a bateau neckline, long sleeves, and a flared skirt leading to a 3.15 meter train (10 feet 4 inches - including the bows, of course). She topped it with a short veil and a diamond sunray tiara.
The tiara is actually a pared down diamond-only setting of the large Mellerio Sapphire Tiara (click here to see it in all its glory as normally worn). I find it somewhat, erm, pokey in a photograph, but in movement it works. The huge diamonds capture every last possible bit of light. The tiara itself has a rather two-dimensional effect; it almost seems like a fairytale illustration of a tiara come to life to me. Observe:
But none of that matters, really, because what you want to talk about right now are the bows: 248 of them, to be exact. Yes. Two hundred and forty eight. That's 128 bows for the skirt, 85 on the bodice, and 35 on the train. All handmade from crepe georgette (no wonder the thing took more than 600 hours to make), and symbolizing longevity, commitment, and permanence. Placed on a trelliswork background, they cover every single part of the gown, growing gradually in size from the neckline to the hem and then catching a serious case of gigantism on the train. The pattern covers the seams, so it looks like the gown is cut from a single piece of cloth.
Believe it or not, the dress isn't the only infamous part of this love story. Like a few of her princess peers, Mabel's past includes some sketchy bits. She was alleged to have had a relationship with a drug lord called Klaas Bruinsma. When questioned about this by the Dutch government, the couple gave what Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende termed "incomplete and incorrect information". They stated that while they had left details out, they hadn't lied, and repeated that the Mabel had not had a romantic relationship with the man. Nevertheless, the government did not ask parliament for the required permission for the prince to marry. (The scandal flared up again later when Friso and Mabel admitted to changing Mabel's Wikipedia entry themselves to make it less harsh with regards to these events.)
Friso married her anyway, obviously, and lost his place in the Royal House and in the line of succession. I'd say that the bows were an attempt to create a bigger story than the scandal on the wedding day, but she's kept up a string of eyebrow-raising Viktor & Rolf creations ever since...so, this is just her style. And that style, including the notorious bowfest, is entertaining for sure, but it rubs me the wrong way. There's something to be said for a woman that's not afraid to make a splash and is completely comfortable marching to the beat of her own drummer, don't get me wrong. I just think that the best style is one that leaves people with an impression of you and not your just clothes (yes, despite enjoying frivolous fashion discussion so much I started a blog about it, I actually do believe that), and if you've reached the point where your clothes speak louder than you do, you've gone too far.
Some of Mabel's more notable outfits
And, see, the first thing you should know about Mabel isn't that she likes a crazy dress, it's that she's a human rights activist, and not in the standard "princess with a cause" way. This is what she does, and has done since before she married Friso. She is currently CEO of The Elders, a group of public figures including Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter brought together by Nelson Mandela to use their experience for good on some the world's toughest issues. If you'd like to see her in action, click here to see a recent talk she gave at TEDxAmsterdam on ending child marriage. She has a lot to say, and if her clothes are as far as people get into what she's all about, that's sad. And that's the end of my rant on Mabel's style.
Mabel and Friso live in London, and Friso is CFO of URENCO, a uranium enrichment company. They have two daughters, Luana and Zaria. Because Friso lost his place in the Royal House, he no longer carries the title of "Prince of the Netherlands" but retains his family title of "Prince of Orange-Nassau" and the styling "Royal Highness". Mabel is a Princess of Orange-Nassau. We don't see them at formal events like Prinsjesdag, but they do pop up at other events like Koninginnedag. 

Mabel's dress: fun and quirky or weird and wrong?

UPDATE: In February 2012, Prince Friso was buried by an avalanche while skiing in Lech. Lack of oxygen caused severe brain damage, and he never recovered from his coma. He passed away in August 2013.

Photos: People/Corbis/Harper's Bazaar/ANP/PPE