Princess Diana’s penchant for shopping has given British merchants a new reason for living. And the future will be even brighter once Di—like Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, the Queen Mum and Prince Charles—is allowed to grant a royal “warrant.” These are stamps of monarchic approval issued to merchants who have been patronized for at least three years by at least one of the big four. There are some 800 royal warrant holders around the world, and British author and graphic designer Nina Grunfeld has included more than 300 of them in her new book, The Royal Shopping Guide.
Some of the companies Grunfeld writes about have been purveyors to the royals for years. Others are Diana’s designers and favorite shop owners, who are waiting for the moment her mother-in-law gives the Princess the nod to issue warrants (this could be years away). They will then apply to the Lord Chamberlain’s office and, they hope, be granted the right to display the royal coat of arms for a period of 10 years. Their right to a warrant is reviewed twice a decade. A warrant holder can be reprimanded if the Lord Chamberlain feels the merchant is commercializing the crown by advertising what the royal family has bought from them. Hence the standard bearers tend to be a proper, low-key bunch.
A peek inside their shops is a peek at the tastes and habits of the Queen and her family. In the following excerpt from her book Grunfeld tells how and where to shop like a royal:
When fair Prince William made his first steps in public at Kensington Palace on 14 December, 1983, he was snugly outfitted in a hooded $68 padded blue snowsuit with an ABC motif. It came from Bimbo and was made by the French firm Colchika.
Bimbo—an affectionate name for a baby in Italian—was the brainchild of Omar Elawadi, an Egyptian, and his ex-wife, an Italian. The shop opened on Kendal Street in 1978. They sell designer wear for children from birth to 16 years old.
Bimbo says its policy is “never to allow the customer to walk out without having bought something.” The Princess has purchased a number of items, including the snowsuit for William. It is one of the shop’s cheaper items.
The Peruvian Indians who made the Princess of Wales’ brightly colored sweater with llamas on it were “absolutely delighted” when they were shown photographs of her wearing it. So were Luisa Porras and Isabel Norman, the owners of Inca. Within three days of the photograph appearing in the paper, they had had more than 400 orders for the sweater. The colors used in Inca knitwear have changed: they used to be bright, but now the Indians—descendants of the Incas—have been asked to dye the yarn with vegetable dyes, such as lichen, moss and cochineal, to achieve subtler effects. The Indians can’t understand this at all. “They like bright, violent colors all mixed together.” The two ladies give work to thousands of Peruvians, both those living in the mountains and in the slums of Lima.
Kirkness & Gorie, Kirkwall, Scotland
In November 1979 Mr. Bruce Gorie, royal supplier of honey, wrote a letter to one of his regular clients in reply to her request for the “lovely Orkney honey.” He wrote: “I regret to have to inform you that for the first time I shall be unable to supply you with your full order of six jars. The weather over the past two years has been totally against the poor little bees to the extent that many of the producers have lost most of their bees, and my total stock this year is only 24 jars. I will send you four jars, and we have to hope for some good weather.”
For many years Kirkness & Gorie has been the main supplier of Orkney honey, renowned for its crystal-clear, very light gold color when it is new and very white color once aged and its delicious taste. The bees are mainly located in a half-mile patch of land on the rich Orkney farmlands. Their honey is extracted in September or October. By January the honey is normally sold out.
J. Salter & Son, Aldershot
The royal polo stick maker, Raymond Stanley Turner, began working for J. Salter & Son, sports outfitters, in 1942. “I started there when I was 14 at the bottom, bottom, bottom,” Mr. Turner told me. “Today I am the proprietor and one of the few bosses who still wears an apron.”
Polo players, including Prince Charles, who was introduced to Mr. Turner by former customers the Duke of Edinburgh and Lord Mountbatten, come from around the world for their sticks.
Mr. Turner and an assistant make all the sticks by hand, with each stick taking an hour and a half. The cane used for the sticks comes from the Far East, and Mr. Salter works on it doing “as many things to it as a cook might do to a pound of flour.” He still uses natural woodworking glues, and most of the sticks are made to customers’ requirements. “The characteristics of the person is what’s important.” The best sticks are made “when you’ve got the right sort of material for the right person at the right time.”
Messrs Driscoll, Eastbourne
Mr. Driscoll was head cutter and fitter at Norman Hartnell before he started his own couturier business with his wife. While at Hartnell, Mr. Driscoll made Princess Elizabeth (today the Queen) her first suit. He continued to make many of her informal clothes, such as her skirts and kilts—some of which, says Mrs. Driscoll, are still in use.
Today Mrs. Driscoll, now 77, still oversees the making of the clothes, although her husband died 20 years ago. She is regarded by the royal family as a “sewing nanny.” For years she has advised, looked after and (occasionally) gently chided the royal family about their dress sense. The Driscolls made Princess Anne her first tailored suit too. Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones was confirmed in a dress made by them, and they continue to make evening clothes for Princess Margaret. In return, the royal family looks after Mrs. Driscoll. When she visits London she is frequently invited to lunch, and she is often asked to the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.
Kay Kiernan, London
Kay Kiernan describes herself as a “pain therapist.” She has been treating royal aches and pains since she set up her practice in 1972. A signed photograph from Princess Margaret adorns one of the walls in her clinic and reads: “For Kay—Margaret, January, 1975.” Then Kiernan was asked to treat the Queen’s shoulder, which had been severely strained by chopping logs at Balmoral. The Queen’s injury was treated in two 90-minute sessions.
Kimbolton Fireworks, Huntingdon
The idea of a vicar owning a fireworks factory might sound odd but the Reverend Mr. Ron Lancaster, who started Kimbolton Fireworks in 1964, is quick to point out the relationship between fireworks and the church. “All over the world fireworks are used for religious festivals.”
Kimbolton Fireworks has been in charge of the fireworks displays for many royal occasions, including the anniversary of the Queen’s coronation celebrations in 1978 and at her Silver Jubilee. They also arranged the displays for the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday in 1980.
Fireworks were always one of Rev. Lancaster’s great hobbies. Today he runs the factory along with his work for the church and his job as a village schoolmaster. In school term he must be telephoned before 8:45 a.m. or after 4 p.m. between which times he is teaching religion and chemistry at the local boys school.
Cornelia James, Brighton
The Queen’s 295 public appearances last year took their toll on the royal hands. Since 1945 Elizabeth II’s hands have been protected by Cornelia James gloves. The firm is grateful to Her Majesty for having made fabric gloves respectable. At one time, notes Peter James, Cornelia’s son and sales director, ladies wore leather gloves but, put to thorough use, the gloves “would rapidly become uncomfortable to the wearer and would quickly look tired. Fabric gloves are ideal,” he says, “because they absorb all the perspiration, yet remain soft and delicate and still look smart. What’s more, they can go in the washing machine.”
Today the company sells more than 250 styles of gloves. It made the shiny galaxy gloves used in Star Wars, as well as the gloves for the royal family.
Barrow Hepburn Equipment, London
Maundy money is specially minted silver coinage ceremonially distributed by the Queen every year to the “deserving poor.” The ceremony is usually held in Westminster Abbey and takes place on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. There are as many recipients as the years of the Sovereign’s life and each receives two of the purses, one containing shillings (as many as the years of the Sovereign’s reign) and the other holding pence (also as many as the years of the Sovereign’s life). One purse is of white sheepskin tied with red leather. They are made in batches every seven years by loyal ladies toiling in Barrow Hepburn’s factory in Battersea. The firm has other special commissions. It makes the red dispatch boxes in which the Queen is sent her daily government papers.
Vacani School of Dancing, London
As toddlers, the Queen, Princess Margaret, Prince Charles and Princess Anne were all taught the art of graceful movement and curtseying (or bowing) at Vacani’s.
Vacani’s was established in 1914 by Marguerite Vacani, and the school was taken over in the 1930s by Betty Vacani, Marguerite Vacani’s niece. It was she who first introduced the classes for children for which Vacani’s acquired its reputation. Betty Vacani also taught the royal family and began sending teachers to boarding schools to teach the Vacani dance skills and deportment. At West Heath in Kent, where Lady Diana Spencer was studying, Betty Vacani awarded Lady Diana first prize at a dancing competition. Later Diana briefly returned to Vacani’s as a student teacher.
In 1982 Madame Vacani retired, and the school was taken over by Elfrida Eden, niece of Sir Anthony Eden. Ms. Eden is a tall, former professional dancer and actress who herself went to Vacani’s as a child. She runs the children’s classes—12 a week for children age 3 and under. With Ms. Eden they learn knee bends, how to stand on tiptoe and games like ring-a-ring-a-roses. From the age of 4½ to 5, children are taught ballet—at which point most of the boys leave.
W. Moir, Aberdeen, Scotland
Every July William Moir packs his bags and takes a fortnight’s “busman’s holiday” at Balmoral Castle. His job is to service the 70 clocks that will be needed for the royal family’s summer visit. “The royal family are very time conscious,” he reports.
In his workshop high above Aberdeen’s main thoroughfare, Mr. Moir always has a backlog of clocks and watches to repair. He started working on clocks over 40 years ago after an apprenticeship of making clocks—”I even used to cut wheels.” Today he is so much in demand by his customers that there is always more work to do than there are hours in a day. Mr. Moir, who works alone, services all the town clocks in Aberdeen, and in his workshop also sells a few watches and straps. He charges $9.75 to clean a watch and from $60 to overhaul a grandfather clock.
Dragons of Walton Street, London
The names “William” and “Harry” appear on some of the hand-painted children’s furniture on display at Dragons. It could be coincidence or a shrewd hint at who their most important little customers are. But it is rumored that the day nursery at Highgrove, the country residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, is decorated from top to toe with little woodland characters—the sort of service Dragons provides. Dragons’ customers are mummies with nanny—”Nannies telling Mums what to buy,” says owner Rosie Fisher. Dragons can make any style and piece of furniture you want. You can buy their standard styles and designs ready-painted from the shop or commission one of 21 illustrators—each with his own style—to carry out your requests. “One mother came in with bags of teddies and asked us to copy them on to toy boxes for her child.”
Kleen-Way (Berkshire) Company, Bracknell
As is to be expected, the busiest time for chimney sweeps is the Christmas season—not necessarily in anticipation of Father Christmas’ arrival but due to the long, cold winter nights. Between September and February, John Gamble cleans five to seven chimneys a day, charging $10.50 or more. It’s not a job Mr. Gamble especially enjoys, so he works fast, taking only an hour per chimney, deriving satisfaction from the clean chimneys he leaves behind him. If Mr. Gamble finds a bird’s nest in the chimney, that is hard work.
Mr. Gamble took over the chimney sweep business in 1977 from his father, who had received his warrant 14 years earlier when the royal household spotted his advertisement in the local paper. Mr. Gamble remembers being taken to Windsor Castle to watch his father cleaning their chimneys when he was a little boy. Today he cleans them himself, visiting the castle once a month. He also cleans the chimneys at the Royal Lodge in Windsor for the Queen Mother. When John Gamble’s father was working, he used to do “lower class work,” Mr. Gamble said. At least today there’s one consolation. “Due to the vogue for real fires, we’re now so busy we can pick and choose.” Mr. Gamble cleans all the private chimneys himself: “You can’t employ other people—nobody does the job as you would.”