Behind the scenes of The Crown Auction with Bonhams Head of Fashion Meg Randell

8 minutes

More than 630 props and costumes from the multi-award-winning Netflix TV series to go under the hammer, from Princess Diana’s ‘revenge dress’ to a replica of the Buckingham Palace gates.

Netflix had a big budget, but they still spent more than expected on The Crown and now the series has set a precedent for what people expect from historical dramas. When we put on this exhibition of auction lots, we also knew we needed to achieve a ‘V&A standard’ when displaying the costumes and props – I think we have achieved that.

The costumes are just amazing and every visitor has been blown away by the detail which, overall, is haute couture created by a huge team in the Elstree Studios workshop.

A lot of the outfits were inspired by originals worn by the Royal family so they're not direct copies but all hand-designed, made-to-measure and sometimes hand-embroidered. The designers were all British and at the very top of the skills tree: Michele Clapton (Season 1), Jane Petrie (Season 2), and Amy Roberts who worked with Sidonie Roberts, Associate Costume Designer (Season 3 to 6).

When I hear the actors talking about their costumes, they say as soon as they put on these outfits they felt ‘now I am the Queen’, ‘now I am Diana’ because they were wearing something that was just as beautiful as they would have worn.

It was so interesting talking to the wardrobe team, who were the most organised group of people I have ever met. They said they were ‘creating a world’ – as if they were dressing the Queen in a wardrobe that she could wear all the time. For example, the Queen, in the first couple of seasons, re-wears outfits two or three times to echo post-war austerity. Whereas Margaret never wore the same dress twice!

So, the designers had the personality of the characters in mind, too. The detail was so granular. And of course, when you're watching the series, you're thinking that's a beautiful dress, but not that it might have taken someone two weeks to embroider!

“Princess Margaret's Coronation gown was originally designed by Norman Hartnell and it has seed pearl embroidery and margarites and roses because her name was Margaret Rose. It was hand-embroidered all the way around, even though she's wearing a cloak and sitting down, somebody had spent ages embroidering the back of a dress which would not be seen.

How it all began

Bonhams first spoke to Elstree Studios and Left Bank Pictures almost a year ago and we went along to be shown everything – warehouses full, full, full of rails. We went through all of it and made our selection on costumes. We took a tiny percentage, perhaps 10 per cent of the costumes, mainly the key characters.

Sometimes we’d find stunning haute couture masterpieces and the dressers might say ‘Oh, that didn't make the cut’. How heart-breaking.

The temptation was to take everything, but we needed to create an auction of the very best items. We could have run 10 online sales with the rest of it, and it would have all sold, but the magic would be lost.

We went to Elstree armed with a hit list of things we liked and items that we really wanted to see. Some came off the list, often more were added so the sale features both magnificent and memorable costumes worn by the cast playing the wider Royal Family over the course of the series.

At the top of our list were the Queen’s Coronation robes. The wardrobe team told us there were eight sections and it took almost the entire morning to look at them. The detail, the time, the effort and the money that went into creating them was extraordinary as they had to be more historically accurate than other costumes.

You see quite a bit of the robes on the show, but not all because the costume she wears is so key to the ceremony – entering as a princess in an anointing gown and, essentially, changing her outfit to leave as Queen. The designers wanted to faithfully recreate the robes, so we saw pages and pages of research they'd done. Almost nobody watching The Crown would really know if they skipped a step but they skipped nothing. They faithfully recreated all of it.

(Image: Claire Foy (as The Queen). Coronation ordaining dress, gold mantle and red cloak Season 1 Episode 5 A replica of the coronation garments designed for and worn by the Queen. £20,000-30,000.)

We definitely wanted the dress inspired by Princess Diana’s ‘revenge dress’. The off-the-shoulder black cocktail dress from Season 5 Episode 5 has an estimate of £8,000-12,000. The Lady Diana engagement ensemble was another must – a royal blue crepe outfit with white pussy-bow blouse depicting blue flying birds. Don’t we all remember February 24, 1981, when Prince Charles and Lady Diana announced their engagement?

(Image left: Elizabeth Debicki (as Princess Diana). The 'Revenge' dress, off the shoulder black cocktail dress Season 5 Episode 5 Based on the design by Christina Stambolian. £8,000-12,000. Image right: Emma Corrin (as Lady Diana). Engagement announcement blue ensemble with pussybow shirt Season 4 Episode 3 £1,500-2,000.)

We also wanted a Margaret Thatcher outfit and what the Queen was wearing at the same time when they were in discussion, so the props team recreated the audience room in the exhibition complete with audience bell. Both women carried Launer handbags, and they are in the auction, too. I love the dichotomy between Margaret and the Queen because on the face of it, they're similar women, at the same age, and often they dressed quite similarly including carrying the same handbag, but Thatcher's is bigger.

Who will be bidding?

It will be museums, private collectors, stylists and institutions ¬– a mix of real collectors, and I think it will go global. We have already had a lot of interest in the UK and from America, as well as Europe, particularly France and Spain. There’s been so many registrations and lots of bids being left.

Some of the costumes are quite affordable, such as a silk skirt suit that Olivia Colman as Queen wore that starts at £300. Someone could buy it and wear it, which would be really cool. Other items such as the Gold stagecoach for the Coronation, the 10 Downing Street facade and the Buckingham Palace
gates are intriguing.

(Image: A reproduction of the Coronation carriage £30,000-50,000.)

Not only is this an incredible opportunity to own pieces from the series which started eight years ago, it is also the closest anyone can come to owning the real thing – be it the wrought-iron Buckingham Palace gates or the then Lady Diana’s engagement ring.

There's been so much bidding on the gates, which is brilliant. I love the idea of someone having an incredible manor house and these totally functional gates, and then someone saying, ‘oh, I like your gates’. And answering ‘Yes, they’re Buckingham Palace gates!’.

(Image: Wrought-iron replica Buckingham Palace gates at The Crown auction.)

For valuations, we looked at the importance, the appeal and the workmanship. They were a big discussion. We expect plenty of interest in Prince Charles’ and the then Lady Diana’s engagement rings. They’re costume jewellery although in the programme when actor Emma Corrin is choosing the engagement ring, The Crown producers rented a real ring from jewellers Garrard so when she was looking in the box, it was a real sapphire.

Apart from the iconic pieces there are smaller items for fans of The Crown to consider, including Beswick porcelain models corgis and wicker dog beds with tartan cushions!

(Image left: Emma Corrin (as Princess Diana). Engagement ring £2,000-3,000. Image right: Two Beswick models of corgis Together with a framed photograph of a corgi (and other corgi related photographs and props), the models 17cm wide, 7cm deep, 14cm high (6.5in wide, 2.5in deep, 5.5in high) (qty) £200-300.)

Everything in the sale is in the order they appear in the series, and we start with the first clapperboard and end with the final clapperboard. We didn't want to do a Queen section, a Diana section and so on. It is six seasons in chronological order.

Putting the exhibition together

We again worked closely with the wardrobe team at Elstree and Left Bank Pictures who had spreadsheets upon spreadsheets as they have been going on different sets around the world and they were able to tell us every element of an outfit, from the socks, the wellies, the skirt, every single part of it. And if it was available, we would keep them together as much as possible.

It's been fascinating work and quite an unusual thing to do. We have an entertainment and film department who regularly sell gowns but not a whole standalone sale. There aren't many TV programmes that have had such an impact to warrant a full sale.

Training the next generation

Proceeds from the live auction will go towards establishing a new stream of funding for the National Film and Television School (NFTS) giving rise to the Left Bank Pictures – The Crown Scholarship programme. This will support several students at the NFTS over the next 20 years, enabling them to receive the specialised training in sites across the UK in Buckinghamshire, London, Leeds, Scotland, and Wales.
Every item in the sale has been created by top craftsmen and women. These skilled people don't just exist, they have to be highly trained, so the proceeds from the sale will go towards training the next generation who can continue to do these things to this new high standard. That's what's really special.

Tempting lots

Among the costumes and props on view are:

  • Dress inspired by Princess Diana’s ‘revenge dress’, estimate £8,000-£12,000
  • Lady Diana’s engagement ring, estimate £2,000-£3,000
  • Lady Diana’s engagement ensemble, a royal blue crepe outfit with a white pussy-bow blouse depicting blue flying birds, accompanied by a pair of navy leather low-block heeled shoes with bows by Nazareno Gabrielli. Estimate £1,500-£2,000
  • Green 1987 Jaguar XJ-SC 3.6-Litre Cabriolet, estimate £15,000-£20,000
  • Replica of the Queen’s Coronation ordaining dress, Imperial Mantle and red Coronation robe, estimate £20,000-£30,000
  • Recreation of Number 10 Downing Street façade and front door, estimate £20,000-£30,000
  • Two Beswick porcelain models of corgis on Queen’s bureau, estimate £200-£300
  • A selection of Queen Mother character bar props, estimate £60-£80
  • Replica of Buckingham Palace’s wrought-iron gates, estimate £6,000-£8,000
  • The world’s only reproduction of the Gold State Coach, estimate £30,000-£50,000
  • Reproduction of the Coronation Chair (Saint Edward’s Chair), estimate £10,000-20,000

The Exhibition of The Crown Props, Sets and Costumes at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, London is open to the public until February 5, Monday to Friday (9.30am – 4.30pm) Saturday and Sunday (10am – 4pm).

Admission is free. Tickets can be booked via

A live sale of 161 lots will take place on Wednesday, February 7 at Bonhams. There is also an online auction of around 473 lots which started on January 11 and ends on February 8. Visit

Insurance advice

If you are thinking of buying from an auction or already have a collection of interesting film/TV/theatre costumes or props remember the importance of regular valuations. You should review your collection at least every three to five years but always keep an eye on the market. It’s also important to decide upon the basis of valuation, most times it should be for retail replacement but you may be able insure at auction value. If this is the case do bear in mind that what you agree is what you will get back.  Ensure the items are photographed, kept in good condition and your documentation is kept safely which will help in the event of a claim.

We are frequently asked to organise cover for collections, both large and small. To speak to our specialist team call 020 8256 4901 or email

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