French Elegance: Dazzling in Dior and Other Fashion Highlights From Queen Camilla and King Charles’ State Visit
Queen Camilla, King Charles III and French President Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Macron at the state dinner at the Chateau de Versailles on Wednesday evening. Photo: Christian Liewig/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
No one gives a more stylish dinner party than the French. But the state banquet thrown for King Charles and Queen Camilla at Versailles this week served up glamour at a level that exceeded expectations. Hands down, Camilla has never looked better. In a feat of diplomatic dressing, she wore Dior in honour of the host country: a midnight blue silk crepe caped dress created for her by the house’s design director Maria Grazia Chiuri herself at the haute couture atelier. It featured a very regal train on the cape, with braided trim to keep it from flying up in the wind.
In a masterstroke of co-ordination, Brigitte Macron also wore a navy dress, hers by Louis Vuitton, with a column style with voluminous voile sleeves and glitter detail at the collar and cuff. Camilla pulled out a jaw-dropper of jewelry herself: the sapphire necklace and earring suite given to her late mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth, on the occasion of her wedding by her father, Georges VI.
Camilla is not known for her fashion. She has done a tremendous job of always looking perfectly appropriate for every occasion, and has negotiated aging in the public eye very well. But fashion was never her “thing,” in part because her priorities were always athletic country pursuits and in part because it was so much her predecessor Diana’s thing. Diana was a fashion icon. Really, it has been smart of Camilla not to compete with Diana’s memory.
Madame Macron, however, is one of the world’s best-dressed women. Throughout her husband’s term in office, she has favoured Louis Vuitton and wears custom designs from the label often in her official capacity. The choice of Dior for the women’s twinning moment is also inspired: it calls to mind great royal Dior moments, from Princess Margaret, who favoured the French house from the moment its founder debuted his New Look; it nods to past choices by Diana and Meghan Markle. It also deftly avoids any connection to Kate, this generation’s working royal fashion star, who is not known for a connection to the label.
The state banquet drew a very select group of French and British celebrities to the famed palace’s Mirror Room. Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is both British and French, is the ambassador for Saint Laurent, and she wore a sleek black minidress with a long train at the back that fluttered behind her on the red carpet on the windy evening. Mick Jagger arrived with his signature skinny scarf around his tuxedo collar, with American ballerina girlfriend Melanie Hamrick on his arm, in a black strapless column dress with a scarf-like silver cape.
Hugh Grant was seated next to the Queen. He brought his partner Anna Eberstein, who wore heaps of pearls that draped down her back. Bernard Arnault, founder and chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company, was also present; the day after the banquet the King and Queen met with both him and the chair of Chanel,
Alain Wertheimer, closing the loop on fashion diplomacy for this visit.
Camilla otherwise reverted to her usual styles for the official visit. For the couple’s arrival, she chose a pale pink coat dress by British designer Fiona Clark with her favourite milliner Philip Treacy contributing a matching hat. The pink was a nod to the colour Queen Elizabeth wore on her last trip to France in 2014. Camilla prefers fit-and-flare styles with midi lengths, and generally she chooses sensible walking shoes.
She upgraded those shoes on the second day of the tour with some Chanel flats and a matching Chanel bag alongside an unnamed white coat over a black and white blouse dress. The Chanel accessories were to honour her host that afternoon. Chanel and King Charles’ foundation, The Princes’ Trust, created a joint artisanal training program for fine needlework and textile adornment. Camilla and Brigitte toured the French studio of the project. They also went together to the Bibliotheque Nationale for a tour and to launch a joint initiative to promote reading.
The tour was crafted to reflect all of the couple’s interests, from Charles planting a tree with Macron to a tour of the flower market that was renamed for his mother following her last visit. The royal pair also checked in on the repairs underway at Notre Dame following 2019’s devastating fire, which no doubt brought to mind Charles’ memories of the Windsor Castle fire of 1992.
Paris, of course, is also the scene of Diana’s tragic and untimely death in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in 1997. The images of Charles arriving to accompany her flag draped coffin back to England are indelible, and add a poignant note to his relationship with the City of Lights.
This marked Charles’ 38th official visit to France, as Macron pointed out during a speech, and his first one as King. The importance of this first major state visit of his reign underlines the weight that the British government gives to the monarchy’s ability to bring some soft diplomacy to the relations between the two allies, especially following the fallout from Brexit. The goal is not just goodwill, but to improve trade and commerce prospects. The timing of this visit was important for Macron as well: the tour was originally planned for March, but France was on fire with protests at the time due to his proposed pension reforms, and the whole thing had to be postponed. The success of the visit now reflects a return to normal for the French presidency.
Perhaps most strikingly, Charles’ easy command of the French language stands out. His ability to give speeches in the language, both in the French Senate (a first) and at the state banquet, was a very chic touch.
After his many decades preparing for the role of King, his thoroughbred training shows in these little touches. It also helps that the causes he has championed for so many decades, from the environment and agriculture and the food supply to the resurrection of artisanal skills and architecture, now all fit so neatly into modern concerns. His old-school way of looking at the world is a particularly good match for areas of French pride, as well.