83 years after: Homage to Duke of Windsor, from King of England to king of style
"You must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry out the heavy burden of responsibility and discharge my duty as King as I would wish to do, without the support of the woman I love"
Thus said former King Edward VIII now Prince of Wales on 11 Dec. 1936 through radio, hours after he gave his throne to his younger brother George VII, ending his reign as the King of England publicly, but started another reign as king of style, which still continues, 83 year after he gave his famous abdication speech.
Edward VIII (Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David was born on 23 June 1894, and he called himself David, the last of his long seven names.
When he was still Prince of Wales, David already showed the sign of a rebel. He was not on time for meetings, even if it was meetings with his father King George V; he wanted to fight as a soldier when the First World War broke; he was the first royal to ever learn flying; he was always involved with married women and hated the idea of being married; he liked to dress as he saw fit instead of following the Royal protocol.
Decades later, in his memoir, Duke of Windsor described how one morning, still Prince of Wales, walked into the breakfast-room, late as usual, wearing a pair of turned up trousers, his father the King looked at him with disgust, and asked: "Is it raining outside?"
And then Prince Edward fell in love with Wallis Simpson, a married American woman who was once divorced.
Even when he became king, Edward VIII continued being a free spirit. He wanted to be exposed to and close to his subjects, including the humble mine workers; he wanted his left profile on the coinage instead of the right one (According to the royal protocol, the succeeding King's profile should be opposite to that of the previous King).
And he wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, now twice divorced, with both husbands alive.
Thus the "Constitutional Crisis", because the government did not want a divorcee and commoner with suspicious and unflattering past to be Queen of England, never. But King Edward VIII wanted to marry Wallis Simpson at any price.
After all attempted persuasions and negotiations between the two parts failed, King Edward VIII made the decision that shocked the world and history: He would gave up his throne to marry the woman he love, and abdicate, ending his 325 days of reign, the shortest in British history.
Within hours after his abdication speech, the former king and emperior, now just Prince of Wales again, was requested to leave his native land, once his kingdom, and was never allowed to go back, except for his mother Queen Mary’s funeral.
In March 1937, Prince Edward was officially titled His Royal Highness Duke Of Windsor, and 3 month later, the Duke finally married Wallis Simpson, now Your Grace Duchess of Windsor.
And for the rest of life, Duke of Windsor lived in permanent exile with his wife in France, apart from 5 year in Panama when he was appointed Governor there.
Some historians call his life empty, frivolous and meaningless, but for fashion history and fashionistas, it could be a blessing in the curse. As Duke of Windsor, he became a style icon, or perhaps the style icon of 20th century for men.
Hollywood actor and dancer Fred Astaire(1899-1987), who was born just a few years later than Duke of Windsor and shared the Duke's physique copied the latter's style enthusiastically and publicly, and became a style icon in his own sake.
Then for Ralph Lauren, the man who created a fashion empire by recreating his own version of New England, Duke of Windsor was his ultimate inspiration for his menswear. Even Giorgio Armani, the Italian who created the "Power Suit" for women with extremely wide shoulder, did something completely different for man's jackets: he made them unstructured and even unlined, just like Duke of Windsor did decades ago with his own jackets.
Even today, the best suit brands in the world, like the ultimate Neapolitan suit maker Kiton, almost always has some Windsor like soft suit in their collection.
The world at large was fascinated by Duke of Windsor and his story, a man who had everything but gave up all for love.
In October 1969, three year before his death, Duke of Windsor agreed to give an interview together with Duchess of Windsor conducted by Kenneth Harris for BBC, and when the interview was broadcasted in 1970, it was watched by 12 million people.
And the theatrical world has never stop fantasizing and dramatizing the life of Duke of Windsor on both small and big screen. Time and again, some creative minds would go back to him, telling his story with a new perception and new cast, so this extraordinary man, born and raised as Prince, reigned as King, and died a Duke, will stay forever in our collective consciousness.
But even without all these creative endeavors, Duke of Windsor has become part of our cultural heritage, at least in the world of fashion. The Prince of Wales Checks and Duke of Windsor Knot(which has nothing to do with him), the soft-collared shirt and soft-shouldered jacket, the disappearance of top hat and persistence of turned-up trousers, all remind us the existence of a man who loves and understands style.
In the same 1970 BBC interview, Kenneth Harris asked Duchess of Windsor what she thought about Duke of Windsor, she said: "He is ahead of his time."
Duke of Windsor died on 28 May 1972 at his home in Paris France of throat cancer.
And so much has changed after his death.
On 9 April 2005, when another Prince of Wales, Duke of Windsor's great nephew Prince Charles married Camilla the divorcee, the Archbishop of Canterbury endorsed the marriage, and Queen Elizabeth II, mother of Prince Charles and niece of Duke of Windsor, blessed the reunion of "My son" and " the woman he loves."
And on 19 May 2018, Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, an American commoner and divorcee, just like Wallis Simpson had been more than eight decades ago.
And yet, something has never changed.
In 1997, when Princess Diana was chased to death by the crazy French paparazzi in a Paris tunnel, it was like a replay of another group of French paparazzi hounding down Wallis Simpson in south France when she was trying to escape the British press, 50 years earlier.
And Duke of Windsor's hat maker The Lock & Co. is now making hats for other Dukes of his family: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall, as well as the newer generation like Prince Williams, Prince Harry, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle.
What will change and what will not from now on?
Let's just wish the legend and style influence of Duke of Windsor, an extraordinary man who knows what he wants and has the courage to pursue it regardless what others would think, will live on as long as The Lock & Co. , the oldest hat maker in the world, continues to make hats.
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