In a surprise announcement on December 31, 2023, Queen Margrethe of Denmark revealed her abdication after 52 years on the throne. Here, Vogue reflects on Queen Margrethe’s vibrant, playful eye for clothes – and why, for the Danish, her reign will never go out of style
In her traditional televised New Year’s address to the nation, the Danish royal announced that she would be passing on the title to her son, Crown Prince Frederik, noting that a surgery earlier this year had played a part in her decision and that she would be stepping back from her role in a matter of weeks, despite her high approval ratings within Denmark. Much of Queen Margrethe’s popularity can be attributed to her creative streak, which was expressed not only through her work as a self-taught artist, but also her love for fashion that went beyond the strictures of European royal protocol.
Below, read fashion critic Anders Christian Madsen's thoughts on her singular style and reign.
The first official photograph of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, daughter of King Frederik IX, after her accession to the throne, 1972. Photo: Getty
I once showed Demna Gvasalia an old photo of the Queen of Denmark in a mad floral raincoat she had transformed from one of those waxy outdoor tablecloths our grandmothers had in their gardens. An eccentric at heart, she thought it would brighten the grey summer days when she’d have to disembark her royal yacht in the rain. Needless to say, the Balenciaga designer approved. At his former brand Vetements, Gvasalia made a similar raincoat so perfectly subversive it helped seal his cult stardom. As a Dane, I cannot count the number of times I’ve sat at the most avant-garde catwalk shows, wishing the fashion world was more familiar with the style of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.
On 16 April 2020, she turned 80. The coronavirus put a stop to the planned celebrations, but it didn’t prevent the royal families of Europe from sending Instagram video greetings to their beloved “Aunt Daisy”, as she is known to her relatives. Weeks before, the Danish queen had been the first monarch to address the pandemic on television. “Sadly, not everyone is taking this seriously. Some are still hosting celebrations and birthday gatherings. This is not acceptable behaviour,” she reprimanded the nation. “It is thoughtless, and first and foremost inconsiderate.” Unprecedented as it sounds, the Danes delight in watching their most unusual constitutional monarch balance the tightrope between parental and political guidance.
Addressing the Danish nation on the occasion of her 80th birthday. Photo: © Kim Refslund, DR
“She was like a stern mother telling the Danish people to stay at home,” says Julie Brøgger, the Danish designer behind the London-based brand Brøgger, who devoted her spring/summer 2019 collection to the Queen’s style. “Like many of her New Year’s speeches, she isn’t afraid of telling people off a bit. It only adds to her popularity and respect.” In those addresses, televised live on New Year’s Eve, she has lifted a regal finger at xenophobia, solipsism and narrow-mindedness – to name a few issues – to ever-increasing approval ratings.
Queen Margrethe attends the Ringsted horse ceremony at Grasten Slot during the summer vacation on 16 July 2017 in Grasten, Denmark, in her famous raincoat. Photo: Patrick van Katwijk/Getty Images
How does she do it? You can find clues in that waxy floral raincoat. It represents a queen who uses to her advantage what many royals try to tone down: her most authentic personality, grand and eccentric and opinionated as it is. “Be yourself” really works for Queen Margrethe. A self-taught artist, who also holds a degree in archaeology, she has fashioned a royal wardrobe suspended between fantasy and history.
Wearing the Mogens Eriksen Elizabethan dress for the state visit to Japan in 2004. Photo: Julian Parker
In portraits and balls, she has appeared as Elizabethan ruler in an armour-like gold brocade sari by Mogens Eriksen, as Medici doyenne in a wild, gigot-sleeved teal gown by Erik Mortensen (Balmain’s couturier in the 1980s), and as couture queen in a flamingo pink taffeta dress with jaunty propeller sleeves by Jørgen Bender.
Photographed in her Jørgen Bender gown during the state visit of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan to Denmark, on 2 June 1998 in Fredensborg, Denmark. Photo: Julian Parker
“She outshines everybody. She doesn’t care what anybody thinks. She has this dramatic vision of how you can affect the public’s perception of you through your clothes,” Brøgger says. “Her interest in the history of both her family and the monarchy shows in her gowns. My favourite Bender dress is a yellow silk brocade gown with a fur-edged jacket. In an interview, she said it was inspired by an old painting of a relative,” the designer recalls, referring to a royal look worthy of Catherine the Great.
At the wedding of her son, Crown Prince Frederik and Mary Donaldson, Copenhagen Cathedral, 14 May 2004. Photo: Tim Rooke/Shutterstock
“Her Majesty is probably the Jacqueline de Ribes of her caste,” says Gilles Denis, editor-in-chief of Le Point in Paris. While studying 19th-century French diplomatic history at La Sorbonne, Denis developed an interest in royal culture. “Like the vicomtesse back then, [Queen Margrethe] likes to imagine her own clothes, whether it’s her most colourful raincoats and overcoats – a love of colours she also expresses in her painting – or in designing her more regal atour for official photographs,” Denis notes. Rather than excusing her inherited privilege, Queen Margrethe celebrates it – and lets the public in. (Without ever losing sight of protocol, mind you. “I don’t think we went to school together,” she once scolded a young journalist, who didn’t address her correctly.)
Photo: Anwar Hussein
In the documentary marathon that dominated Danish TV in the days leading up to her 80th birthday, the Queen lectured us on Danish royal history, toured her palace gardens, and allowed cameras to follow her works in the arts. Multi-talented, the Queen dabbles in painting and decoupage, has translated works by Simone de Beauvoir, illustrated Tolkien, embroidered copes for the clergy, and created scenography and costumes for the ballet. (An unapologetic smoker, rumour has it the Royal Opera House turned off all its smoke alarms while she was working on one such staging in London.)
Visiting the Danish Food Centre in Manchester during the ‘Denmark in Britain ’68’ festivities. October 1968. Photo: Mirrorpix
In one documentary, the Queen showed us around her four wondrously decorated palaces in Denmark, one of which has a drawing room fitted with a stuffed white deer fashioned into a unicorn with the spiral tooth of a narwhal. It was commissioned by her late husband, Prince Henrik, a fabulously flamboyant French count with a penchant for poetry, sculpture and Dachshunds (and quite a larger-than-life dresser himself). His grandchildren, who include Prince Nikolai (you might recognise him from modelling forays for Dior and Burberry) knew him as “Grand Papa”.
Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik at the wedding of Prince Joachim and Marie Cavallier in Denmark, 24 May 2008. Photo: Tim Rooke/Shutterstock
They made a vivacious pair. “Royals are often partial to colour, but Queen Margrethe’s take on royal style is very bold,” says Brøgger. “Because she’s an artist, she has a totally different understanding of colour. She’s a tall woman of a different stature than most other queens, so she’s able to carry more dramatic shapes. She’s a bit sprightlier than her royal peers, perhaps, but she’s also queen of a completely different monarchy than England, for instance,” she continues, acknowledging the diminished scrutiny that comes with life on the throne in a small kingdom like Denmark.
Photo: Action Press/Shutterstock
Denis says his love of the Danish Queen, who spends summers at Cayx, her French château and vineyard in Cahors, is rooted in a “Francophile” disposition connected to her late husband. “She speaks the most wonderful French, with this beyond chic accent that only royals have,” he notes. “More than the Grimaldi in Monaco or even the French-speaking Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in Belgium, Queen Margrethe is the epitome of the queen we would love to have. Her Majesty seems very French to the French in her unpretentious, very sophisticated style and ways.”
Case in point: on her 80th birthday, the Danish court released a picture of staff serenading their monarch with birthday songs from the banqueting hall of her summer palace, the Queen distanced on a ballroom balcony in a huge Victorian nightgown, her hair let down from its signature chignon. “She has the most perfect instinct for appropriate clothes, whether spectacular – for example, her official portraits in long evening gowns for state dinner and balls – or more low-key, like her cotton dresses for going to the local markets in France; her favourite check ensembles, her flat shoes,” Denis says. “This art of mastering the proper clothing with the proper occasion, and yet adding to it a personal touch, makes her unique amongst royalty, whose choices can be challenging in both fields.” Brøgger says the secret to Queen Margrethe’s popularity lies in her understanding of her position. “She gives us more than just duty. She shows us a full life.”
As her time on the throne draws to a close, the Queen of Denmark serves as an uplifting reminder to young generations of royals that authenticity pays off; that a royal wardrobe doesn’t have to be predictable; and that gestures of grandeur aren’t always such a bad thing.
At the gala banquet on the occasion of the Crown Prince’s 50th birthday at Christiansborg Palace Chapel on 26 May 2018. Photo: Utrecht Robin/Action Press/Shutterstock
Originally published on vogue.co.uk