Branding Queen

Alexander McQueen fall 2013 runway queen Elizabeth I style
Alexander McQueen Fall 2013
Queen Elizabeth I continues to be recognized as one of the greatest leaders of her time. She ruled as a single woman on the throne of England from 1558-1603 in what has been labeled the golden era. While serving as Queen, she revolutionized the religious system by establishing the English Protestant church, resisted expectations to marry simply based on protocol, helped the arts blossom, expanded the territory and led one of England’s largest military victories. 
Alexander McQueen fall 2013 runway queen Elizabeth I style
Though historians can look back on leaders and analyze what they did to make them memorable or worth studying, Elizabeth was recognized within her lifetime and soon after her death for her greatness. What about her leadership style helped people of the Elizabethan era see the strengths of their Queen? 


Alexander McQueen fall 2013 runway queen Elizabeth I style
Elizabeth did not leave her image and legacy to chance. Centuries before social media and advertising, she cultivated her brand through fashion, art, jewelry and daily objects like coins. Just as 21st century celebrities use Instagram or red carpet style choices to shape the public’s perception, Elizabeth commissioned a high volume of paintings so the public would know their Queen and what ideals she represented. 
queen Elizabeth I coronation portrait 1559
Shortly after taking the throne in 1559, “The Coronation Portrait” (above) was created to memorialize the historic occasion. Elizabeth was painted holding the orb and sceptre, both symbols of authority as pointed out by the National Portrait Gallery. Though young and unmarried, it was important for Elizabeth to quickly establish herself as a strong Queen. Even before actions could be established to solidify her position, she was able to harness the power of branding through symbols to let others know she was stepping into this authoritative position without hesitation. 

queen elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575
The “Darnley Portrait” from 1575 features Elizabeth in a heavy brocade dress with the period’s iconic neck and wrist ruffs. The doublet style bodice featured details similar to those on a military coat. The National Portrait Gallery notes that the masculinity of the doublet “helps create an image of a woman equal to her male counterparts in other European countries.” Her dress was not simply a dress, it was a symbol of her status and position on a global stage of rulers. Additionally, the painting includes things like a fan and jewels, most likely gifts from her courtiers. Just as Instagram influencers and celebrities note that their shoes or skirt were gifted from a particular brand, Elizabeth featured symbolic gifts to not only communicate meaning to the public, but to also let her supporters know they were still in her inner circle. 

Queen Elizabeth I Armada Portrait 1588
When Elizabeth had a success to celebrate, she memorialized the event with fashion and art. Following the massive defeat of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth commissioned the “Armada Portrait” in 1588. She knew that her military victory would strengthen her position as a global leader and force to be reckoned with, regardless of marital status or gender. To make sure everyone knew of her success, art was once again the best form of communication since an interview with Oprah was not yet an option.   

Queen Elizabeth I Ditchley Portrait 1592
"The Ditchley Portrait" by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, 1592
Symbols often seen in her clothing choices included the neck ruff, pearls and ermine. Each fashion detail became a part of her brand and image. 

Alexander McQueen fall 2013 runway queen Elizabeth I style
The neck ruff was a core accessory in the Elizabethan era. Its design instantly created distance and a barrier between the wearer and audience. By wearing these decorative pieces, Elizabeth was in some ways separating herself from those nearby while putting a focus on her face as a pivotal piece of her brand. 

Alexander McQueen fall 2013 runway queen Elizabeth I style
Just as they are now, pearls were used by Elizabeth to communicate purity. These were the perfect accessory for the Virgin Queen to continue to position herself as the untouched Queen married only to her country. 

Queen Elizabeth I Ermine Portrait by William Segar 1585
"The Ermine Portrait" by William Segar, 1585
The use of ermine to line dresses or cloaks instantly spoke of luxury. Fur of any type has historically been worn by the wealthy. But ermine specifically was used by royalty to showcase “moral purity” since the ermine would “rather die than be defiled/soiled.” By wearing this fur, Elizabeth supported her branded image as true royalty and a Queen that would work on behalf of her people without compromise. 
Alexander McQueen fall 2013 runway queen Elizabeth I style


Alexander McQueen fall 2013 runway queen Elizabeth I style
Taking a cue from the original Queen of branding, you too can harness the power of symbols and media to communicate your personal brand. Though your picture may not be worn as jewelry or found on coins, you can utilize things like fashion choices, social media and your LinkedIn profile to help cultivate your brand image.  
Alexander McQueen fall 2013 runway queen Elizabeth I style

Sources and Further Reading: 
1. National Portrait Gallery, “The Queen’s Likeness: Portraits of Elizabeth I” 
2. All Elizabeth I portraits via Wikipedia  
3. Runway images via Vogue for the Alexander McQueen Fall 2013 Collection   

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