Meghan Markle just officially became part of the royal family, but she’s already well-versed in their art of keeping secrets!
A new piece by Harper’s Bazaar details one of the biggest headlines of Saturday’s royal wedding -- the gorgeous and glamorous gown worn by the newly-appointed Duchess of Sussex, details of which were kept top secret until the day of Markle and Prince Harry’s nuptials.
Markle worked closely with designer Clare Waight Keller, the first female artistic director of French fashion house Givenchy, to create the idea for her dress, a stunning, “pure white,” boatneck dress. The highlight of her wedding ensemble, however, was the long, dramatic veil, which was paired with Queen Mary’s breathtaking diamond bandeau tiara.
"From the very start we had a few variations on the design, but then very quickly it [held] to the final creation that you saw,” Keller said of the process of creating Markle’s gown. The pair’s collaboration included top-secret meetings, multiple workshops and even Keller keeping the secret that she was designing a royal wedding dress from her own family. In fact, her own husband, architect Philip Keller, didn’t find out that she was involved until the dress designer was announced publicly!
“[Meghan] was really focused, as I was, on it being absolutely perfect for the occasion. And also knowing what the House of Givenchy has done in its history, I think it was a collaboration that came through that," Keller added. “We exchanged conversations about what would be the ultimate lines and proportions and the scale of the dress, but over time we got to a point where I [knew] she knew exactly what she wanted, having tried some of the toiles and mock-ups that I had shown her. And then it evolved into the final design.”
Two small teams -- all of whom signed non-disclosure agreements -- set up private workspaces at the Givenchy Haute Couture Atelier in Paris and at a secret location in London. "It was all about keeping the secret," Keller noted.
One of the most time-consuming details of the dress was Markle’s five-meter silk tulle veil, which took more time to complete than her dress -- almost 500 hours -- and had its own designated workshop. The detailing was so delicate, workers had to wash their hands even 30 minutes to make sure not to sully any of the thread or tulle.
The embroidery on the veil -- flora representing each of the Commonwealth countries -- was created by hand-stitching each silk thread and organza flower on a flat surface before sewing it on. In total, there were 55 distinct flowers on Markle’s veil: one for each of the 53 Commonwealth nations, stalks of wheat to symbolize love and charity, and two special additions: Wintersweet, which grows in front of the couple’s Nottingham Cottage home at Kensington Palace, and the California poppy, which is the official flower of Meghan’s home state.
“We both loved the story of that,” Keller said of the meaningful detail. “It also meant that every single one of those countries also journeyed up the aisle with her. It was a really poetic moment. She absolutely loved it.”
In March, Markle and Keller reviewed the first photos of the dress as it was being created, and decided on a three-quarter sleeve. The following month, the pair met for a series of three in-person fittings to get the look just right.
“There were a few adjustments in the later fittings, but by the time we got to the third stage, we were quite close to knowing what we needed to do,” Keller recalled.
In May, the dress was secretly transported to Windsor Castle, where it was safely stored until the final fitting with Markle, Keller and the bride’s friend, Jessica Mulroney, whose twin sons served as the adorable, scene-stealing pageboys that guided Markle’s veil down the aisle.
The gown was kept under tight security until the big day, but one very important member of the royal family got a sneak peek. Just like her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, before her, Markle showcased her dress for Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, in a private audience just a few weeks before the wedding.
“It’s not for approval,” a friend of Markle’s told Harper’s. “It is to share a special moment with the Queen, and possibly get a few words of advice before the wedding itself.”
The wedding party held two rehearsals at St. George’s Chapel in the days prior to the royal nuptials on Saturday, May 19, and Markle reportedly used a mock veil that was the same size as her actual headpiece so that the pageboys and flower girls could practice walking the bride down the aisle.
“There are always things you think about, but I have to say [the party was] very good at rehearsing... It was important that they placed themselves in the right spot,” Keller recalled. “On the day, the boys felt very confident. They were just loving the moment. They did a fantastic job.”
Finally, it was the big day for Markle and her stunning gown. The bride was joined by her mother, Doria Ragland, at Cliveden House Hotel in Berkshire, and prepared with Keller, hairstylist Serge Normant and her longtime makeup artist, Daniel Martin.
“She was just glowing,” Keller said of the moment that Markle finally put on the stunning gown. “There's so much emotion on a day like that, but I think particularly when it all comes together, it's tremendous. She was absolutely radiant."
However, the designer noted that the bride made it easy on her makeup artists, and didn’t shed any tears as she prepared for her walk down the aisle. “She was incredibly composed. It was really quite extraordinary.”
Then, Keller traveled to St. George’s Chapel ahead of Markle, to make sure that the bride's arrival, and the dress’ first public appearance, went off without a hitch.
“It was an important part of the moment when she walked out of the car, for me to really be there and make the veil absolutely perfect,” Keller said of the moment the Duchess-to-be emerged from the Queen’s maroon 1950 Rolls Royce Phantom IV. “I knew that the dress as she went up the steps would make this beautiful line. With the veil being so long, I wanted to make it absolutely spectacular. So I handed it to the two [page boys, Brian and John Mulroney] and they did an amazing job.”
The rest is fashion history! See more on Markle’s stunning gown, and the rest of her royal wedding day look, in the video below.