17 July 2013

Wedding Wednesday: Princess Mathilde's Gown

HRH The Duke of Brabant and Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz
December 4, 1999
Brussels, Belgium

Note: Mathilde's wedding gown has been written about before on this site, a few years ago, but that's like a century ago in Internet Time. In honor of the soon-to-be King and Queen of the Belgians, today we have a redo.

The September 1999 announcement of the engagement of the heir to the Belgian throne, Prince Philippe, came as a great surprise. Many wondered if the 39-year-old prince would ever marry; Philippe was seen as an awkward and introverted guy, kind of boring really, and certainly not a suave Prince Charming with a love life ripe for press picking. He stayed under the radar, which is exactly how he managed to date a 26-year-old speech therapist from the Belgian nobility for three years in secret. The announcement of their engagement left the country clamoring for the couple's photocall - the press didn't even have a good recent photograph of the new future queen.
With their siblings at the engagement photocall
Of course there were rumors right away that this was an arranged marriage. Philippe addressed them when they met the press, saying that no one had introduced the two, and that it was indeed a love match (those arranged rumors are still hanging around today, after four children and more than a decade of marriage). It was a fairly perfect match, really: Mathilde was young and pretty, came from a good background (she was a jonkvrouw, a lower grade of nobility, at the time and her father was made a count), she had an honorable career, and she possessed enough warmth and charisma to spill some over to her stiff husband. Plus, she was actually born in Belgium (a rarity - she'll be the first-ever Belgian-born queen consort). She was a hit. "The whole of Belgium fell for your charms," noted the mayor of Brussels during their civil wedding ceremony.
Obviously a Belgian designer was needed to add to this national celebration, and Edouard Vermeulen of Natan was the choice - not at all surprising in hindsight, as Mathilde's wardrobe is primarily Natan today. The wedding was held in December and included plenty of movement - to the Brussels Town Hall for the civil wedding, and then to the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula for the religious wedding, and then on to the reception - so a winter coat dress was called for. The coat was a silk crepe design with a tall collar and long sleeves. At the front, it closed with buttons and a trim line around the waist. The coat covered a simple sheath dress beneath.
At the back, the coat swept out to a long and dramatic train, 4 or 5 meters in length, which took some effort to manage in the course of an active wedding day (click for videos: the trip to the town hall, the civil ceremony, the religious ceremony). On top of the train rested the veil, a family heirloom from Queen Paola's family dating back to 1877. The magnificent piece of Brussels lace was also worn by Paola, Philippe's sister Princess Astrid, and later by sister-in-law Princess Claire.
Mathilde's tiara was on loan from Queen Paola as well: Queen Elisabeth's Diamond Bandeau. Queen Paola does not loan tiaras normally - never, really, she doesn't have much to loan - so this was a special occasion indeed.
I've said it before: I think Natan creations are dicey day-to-day but not bad at all when it comes to the bespoke wedding gown. Mathilde's gown made my list of top 10 royal wedding gowns initially, and though it certainly wouldn't make a redone list today, I still have a soft spot when it comes to this one. It has a high collar on a coat dress plus a simple dress details paired with a detailed veil, two of my favorite combos. But beyond personal preference, I think there's a good design at work here: it's a December dress that doesn't overdo it with the winter theme (the wee attendants in red velvet provide all the holiday spirit a wedding requires), and it has a certain amount of design flair and a certain amount of grandeur (high collar and train length, hello) without overwhelming Mathilde. I think the dress was a great success.

What do you say: a success, or not?

Photos: ANP/Getty Images/Corbi/Polfoto