Hello, and happy Friday! I am so excited to expand my royal coverage with this look at Spain's Queen Letizia. Her wardrobe is impeccable and her name comes up all the time in my Instagram DMs. So many styles to gush over! From double-breasted suits to dramatic ball gowns, Letizia is setting a new bar for how a modern queen can embrace fashion.
I have always wanted to better understand Letizia’s background and the royal family she joined to fully appreciate her clothing choices. I hope the primer below can serve as a starting point for us all to discuss her fabulous fashion more.
As always, I would love to hear what you think. Please hit “Join the discussion” at the bottom of this email and leave a comment on my Bulletin page about Letizia, her fashion, and/or the Spanish Royal Family.
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Queen Letizia is the 49-year-old queen consort of Spain. She is the wife of King Felipe VI and mother of their two daughters: Leonor, Princess of Asturias (the heir presumptive) and Infanta Sofía of Spain.
The current iteration dates back to just 1975, when Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos, became king. Before then, the throne had been vacant for more than four decades after Juan Carlos’s grandfather fled the country following the election of anti-monarchy forces. According to the Associated Press:
Before becoming king, Juan Carlos married Princess Sofía of Greece and Denmark. The couple have three children: Elena, Cristina, and Felipe.
Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano was born on September 15, 1972 in Oviedo, Asturias, in northwest Spain. She is the oldest daughter of María de la Paloma Rocasolano Rodríguez, a nurse, and Jesús José Ortiz Álvarez, a Spanish journalist.
The future queen followed in her father’s footsteps and became an accomplished journalist before marrying into the Spanish royal family. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Complutense University of Madrid and a master’s degree from the Institute for Studies in Audiovisual Journalism.
Letizia first worked in newspapers, including at the Spanish daily ABC, and then transitioned into broadcast news with stints at Bloomberg and CNN+. In 2000, she became a correspondent and anchor at Televisión Española, the Spanish national broadcaster. Her reporting took her around the world, including to cover the war in Iraq, the 2000 U.S. presidential election, and Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Much like Prince Charles and his sons, the love life of Felipe — the tall, handsome Spanish heir — was the source of much media interest for years. His previous relationship with Norwegian Eva Sannum raised eyebrows because she was “not only a non-Catholic but a former lingerie model,” according to Agence France Presse. The pair parted ways in late 2001 after several years together.
Letizia and Felipe reportedly met at the dinner party of a mutual friend and then later reconnected in the fall of 2002. Letizia was reporting on a sunken oil tanker off the coast of Spain and Felipe visited the scene to survey the damage and offer support.
Their courtship was brief and private; the pair surprised the public when they announced their engagement in November 2003. Felipe was 35 years old at the time, and Letizia was 31. Letizia wore a white pantsuit (trousers! LOVE) for the subsequent photo call. Her engagement ring veered from the usual center-stone style, instead featuring 16 baguette-cut diamonds set in white gold.
Two factors set Letizia apart from her royal predecessors: she was divorcée and a commoner. Her first marriage, to a literature professor, ended in 1999. But because they were wed in a civil ceremony, the marriage was not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church and therefore her re-marriage was not opposed.
Letizia was also the first commoner to marry a Spanish heir. Previous Spanish royal spouses had come from royal or aristocratic backgrounds, like Felipe’s mother, Queen Sofía, who was born a princess in Greece. But Letizia’s background, personally and professionally background, became cause for celebration. El País, a Madrid daily, gushed about her in its editorial about the engagement:
According to the Associated Press report in the lead-up to Letizia and Felipe’s wedding, a survey in El Mundo said “66 percent believe [Letizia] will be a good queen.”
Tens of thousands lined the streets of Madrid on a rainy day in May 2004 to celebrate the wedding at the Almudena Cathedral. Although the nuptials were a cause for national celebration, the mood was tempered significantly by the Madrid train bombings that happened just a few months earlier, killing more than 190 people. Certain aspects of the celebration, including the shower, bachelor party, and fireworks, were cancelled.
Letizia chose famed Spanish fashion designer Manuel Pertegaz to make her bridal gown. It is said to be one of the most expensive wedding dresses of all time, with a staggering $8 million price tag. Real gold thread was used in the extensive embroidery on the ivory silk. The designs, featured on the high collar, long sleeves, and heavy train, were inspired by the Prince of Asturias crest. Queen Sofía leant Letizia the Prussian Tiara, a 1913 piece she had inherited from her mother and worn her for own wedding to Juan Carlos.
The couple appeared very much in love at moments during the ceremony. According to lip readers, at one point during the festivities Letizia asked Felipe, “Are you happy?” He replied, “I love you, I love you, beautiful.”
However, when the couple appeared on the balcony afterwards, they disappointed crowds by not kissing on the lips. Felipe instead gave his bride a hug and a peck on the cheek. El Mundo called it, “A decaffeinated kiss.”
In the summer of 2014, after nearly four decades on the throne, King Juan Carlos abdicated. Felipe, Juan Carlos’s third child and only son, became king at the age of 46; Princess Letizia became Queen Consort.
Juan Carlos’s decision to step down signaled a dramatic shift for the once-beloved king, widely celebrated for restoring democracy. According to the Times:
The Guardian noted in a 2020 piece that since Juan Carlos’s abdication “the scandals have refused to die down. Felipe stripped Juan Carlos of his annual stipend in March and renounced his personal inheritance from his father after reports that he was in line to receive millions of euros from a secret offshore fund with ties to Saudi Arabia.”
In August 2020, Juan Carlos left Spain and moved to the United Arab Emirates. The Times said recently that he is hoping to return to Spain, eager to live out his final days there, although “Felipe and the Spanish government appear reticent to allow it.”
It’s unclear. One recent-ish moment, at church on Easter in 2018, is often cited as proof of tension between the two queens. The New York Times has video of the exchange, which begins with Sofía putting her arms around her granddaughters to pose for a photograph. Letizia stepped in front of them, making small movements that many saw as an attempt to block the cameras. As Letizia reached to touch Leonor’s hair, the young princess brushed her grandmother’s hand away — twice. Felipe was there, too, trying to smooth things over. It is awkward at best, and resulted in a slew of speculation about their relationship. The family later posed for a photograph together.
Queen Sofía remained in Spain after her husband’s exile and has appeared publicly with Felipe, Letizia, and their daughters. Whatever ill will there might have been between the women seems to have dissipated — at least when it comes to fashion. Twice in the last six months, Letizia has worn one of her mother-in-law’s dresses for a public engagement. Last September, for a meeting with the Chilean president, Letizia wore a pastel floral embroidered dress that Sofía wore on a trip to Rome in 1981. Earlier this month, for a reception of the accredited diplomatic corps, Letizia wore a pink blouse and green skirt that Sofia had sported on a 1977 visit to Germany. These rewears are widely celebrated by the press. Perhaps they are a sartorial olive branch?
Felipe and Letizia welcomed Leonor in October 2005, and Sofia in April 2007. In 2014, with her father's coronation, Leonor became Princess of Asturias and heir presumptive. If she ascends to the throne, she will be the first queen regnant of Spain in two centuries. Last fall, at age 15, Leonor moved to the U.K. to attend school in Wales.
Whenever I see the Spanish royals together in public, I am reminded of pictures of Queen Elizabeth II as a child with her family: her father, King George VI; her mother, later known as the Queen Mother; and her sister, Princess Margaret. Watching Leonor take on more public duties, I wonder if this is what it felt like to follow a young Princess Elizabeth? I can see how it would build affection for the monarchy.
It is, in a word, flawless. She has certainly found her footing in the last 18 years of royal life. I’d say her range is particularly impressive, wearing an array of colors and silhouettes, jumping from high-end luxury names on one appearance to budget-friendly labels the next.
Letizia’s choices are thoughtful, too. On a recent visit to Sweden, she paired her statement tiara with a $305 gown from H&M, the Swedish High Street brand. But my favorite Letizia gown moment would have to be on her visit to England in 2017. Queen Elizabeth hosted a state dinner for the Spanish royals and Letizia wowed in an off-the-shoulder bright red dress. A nod to the Spanish flag, perhaps?
One pandemic style note I have to shout out: Letizia is almost always photographed in a mask in these COVID times. Early on, it was a surgical one but lately it's been a mask with even more protection. No matter how formal the occasion or how fashionable the outfit, she is wearing her mask. We love to see it.
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Friends, I have to cut myself off! There is *so much more* to say about Letizia, her royal work, and her fashion. I look forward to continuing this discussion here and on Instagram.
If you have thoughts on Letizia, I would love to hear them. Hit “Join the discussion” and leave a comment. You can also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll see you back in your inboxes on Tuesday. Have a wonderful weekend.
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