During Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebration this month, many BBC viewers were offended by its coverage of some of the tackier souvenirs and royal memorabilia available in London. There were temporary tattoos of corgis, a solar-powered waving doll of Elizabeth and a gelatin mould in the shape of her face. What really seemed to upset people was a Jubilee “sick bag” for those who overindulged in the festivities.
Now, plenty of designers created pricey commemorative items that were fairly tasteful, including coronation crowns for Harrods, crystal-encrusted shoes with a Union Jack theme, cuff links with the queen’s image and, predictably, dog collars. De Beers created a crown with 974 diamonds; Prestat made a box of truffles. But it is, truly, the lowbrow that fascinates.
During the recent men’s collections, which for many editors included an actual sighting of Elizabeth, along with Prince Harry and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, when their procession along the Mall happened to coincide with the runway show of Lee Roach on Saturday, finding whatever remained of Jubilee merchandise became something of an obsession. Already, in the tourist stalls along Leicester Square, much of it has been pushed aside by Olympics-themed souvenirs.
In shops lining the Columbia Road Flower Market in London, there were collectible teacups and plates with Charles and Diana, William and Kate, but little that looked contemporary. One shop displayed a Waving Queen Wiper Wagger for the back windshield of a car. Suck and Chew, a candy shop, had piles of “Elizabeth tins” filled with toffee.
The monarchy itself is not without a sense of humour, or merchandising. The official Queen’s Gallery gift shop at Buckingham Palace sells palace-themed bath towels, aprons, champagne, corkscrews, wine stoppers, neckties, tea bags, tea towels and, for “Downton Abbey” fans, a book called A Butler’s Guide to Gentlemen’s Grooming. An umbrella lined with the Union Jack (£25) was tempting, but bringing it back on an airplane would have been a pain.
Ultimately, what came home was an unexpected find in the gift shop of the National Portrait Gallery. For an exhibition called “The Queen: Art and Image”, the museum sold a canvas tote bag that shows a Chris Levine portrait of Elizabeth, with her eyes closed to just this sort of display.
© 2012 The New York Times