We can blame Disney if we want, but the truth is that the princess fantasy has been around far longer than the prevailing House of Mouse. Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and other tales of royal and mythical personages have existed for as long as humans; Disney only mastered the art of marketing them. But, while we may have grown up obsessing over Cinderella or Aurora or Belle, as adults those obsessions often mature naturally into Grace or Diana or Kate.
On Saturday May 19, 2018, Meghan Markle joined those ranks; an American, biracial actress who overnight went from small screen stardom to living out the princess fantasy Disney staked its name on more than 80 years ago. True, Meghan isn’t technically a princess, she’s merely a duchess, but she married a prince, 6th in line to the British throne, which is closer than most of us will ever get and befitting of a wedding fit for a queen.
Ironically, this royal romance started in a most unromantic way: a blind date. Fashion designer Misha Nonoo, who is good friends with Markle was at the time married to Alexander Gilkes, an old schoolmate of Harry’s. Nonoo set the couple up in July of 2016, but news of the relationship didn’t get out until October.
Since then, the couple has faced intense media scrutiny and, in Markle’s case, harassment so extreme the prince felt obligated to appeal to the public’s better judgment in November 2016, pleading with them to respect the privacy of his girlfriend and her family.
But, after weathering the unrelenting public attention for nearly two years,
Markle shut the naysayers down with a perfectly executed wedding of the year; a floral fantasy fit for a princess.
Coming from Hollywood, Markle made it clear with her engagement photos that she’s not afraid of a little glamour. So it was no surprise that for her big day she chose a custom Givenchy gown designed by the label’s British artistic director, Clare Waight Keller.
According to the statement released by the Palace, “True to the heritage of the house, the pure lines of the dress are achieved using six meticulously placed seams. The focus of the dress is the graphic open bateau neckline that gracefully frames the shoulders and emphasizes the slender sculpted waist. The lines of the dress extend towards the back where the train flows in soft round folds cushioned by an underskirt in triple silk organza.”
The gown was “classic and simple,” per Meghan’s stated preferences, with the only bit of embellishment coming from her cathedral length veil. The 16-foot veil was embroidered along the edge with the 53 flowers that represent each of the British Commonwealth countries. Prince Harry is the Commonwealth Youth Ambassador and according to a Palace statement, “Ms. Markle wanted to express her gratitude for the opportunity to support the work of the Commonwealth by incorporating references to its members into the design of her wedding dress.”
Florist Philippa Craddock leaned into the fantasy aspect of the royal wedding by turning the entrance of St. George’s Chapel into an enchanted forest. The old world style installation featured natural blooming, in season flowers such as branches of beech, birch and hornbeam as well as white garden roses, foxgloves and peonies. Peonies are reportedly a favorite of Meghan’s, however the white garden roses were chosen to honor Harry’s late mother, Princess Diana. In fact, last year, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Diana’s passing, Kensington Palace opened a temporary garden called “White Garden,” filled with an assortment of white roses.
Many of Harry and Meghan’s blooms were sourced directly from the Crown Estate and Windsor Great Park. Following the festivities, the arrangements were donated to hospice patients.
To set off her dramatic gown and tiara, Meghan chose to keep her bouquet small, simple and more whimsical than the archway. But, however unassuming the bouquet seemed, it was packed with tons of meaning and tradition.
According to a statement from the palace, the bouquet was created in a “gentle, ethereal, relaxed” style and included scented sweet peas, lily of the valley, astilbe, jasmine and astrantia, and sprigs of myrtle all bound with a naturally dyed, raw silk ribbon.
Myrtle has been a popular royal flower since Queen Victoria planted myrtle at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in 1845. Including a sprig of myrtle, which is an emblem of love and marriage, has been a royal wedding tradition since Princess Victoria wed Frederick III in 1858. The myrtle in Meghan’s bouquet was from a plant grown by the same myrtle used in Queen Elizabeth’s wedding bouquet in 1947.
Beyond tradition, Meghan’s bouquet also boasted emotional touches. Ahead of the ceremony Prince Harry hand picked flowers from the couple’s private garden at Kensington Palace to add to her bouquet. The couple also used another of Diana’s favorite flowers, forget-me-nots, as a tribute to her memory on their big day.
While many aspects of a royal wedding are tied to tradition, Harry and Meghan chose to show off some of their personal tastes with a unique cake. Claire Ptak of the London-based bakery, Violet Cakes, created a lemon and elderflower cake as a way to add the flavors of spring to the wedding luncheon. The cake consisted of tiers of lemon sponge cake drizzled with elderflower syrup and topped with an Amalfi lemon curd. The frosting was a Swiss meringue buttercream, also infused with elderflower.
Keeping in theme with their locally sourced flower arrangements, elderflowers, which grow on elderberry bushes, are native to the U.K. and bloom from late May to early June.
According to the Violet Cakes website, the bakery is “committed to using seasonal, organic and low intervention produce.” In keeping with that seasonal, organic theme Ptak prefers to decorate her cakes with real flowers. For the royal wedding cake Ptak utilized 150 fresh flowers, including roses and peonies.
Fresh flowers atop a wedding cake are clearly much more photogenic than a typical wedding topper, but Ptak is quick to remind us that the flowers should be removed prior to digging in.
Given Harry’s place within the hierarchy of the royal family, this wedding was rather subdued (for a royal wedding), but through their inventive uses of flowers in so many aspects of the day, Harry and Meghan have made an indelible contribution to princess fantasy weddings for generations to come.