The late Queen Elizabeth II touched countless lives during her 70-year reign—often in gloves made by Cornelia James. The glove maker’s creative director Genevieve James recently opened up about her experiences working for the late monarch.
The Queen’s Iconic Accessory
When you picture the Queen, it’s hard not to picture gloves. They were at the forefront of every royal wave, and like her hat and handbag, the queen was rarely seen without them. For more than 70 years, many of those gloves were made by Cornelia James. Started by its namesake after World War II, the glove maker is now helmed by Cornelia’s daughter, Genevieve.
Genevieve shared her experiences working with the queen in a recent interview with Hello Magazine. “I will best remember the Queen sitting in a black Daimler with her white-gloved hand waving out the window,” she says. “I felt immensely proud when I saw her wearing our gloves. I remember when she went to London Fashion Week and sat next to American Vogue Editor Anna Wintour—two Queens together—and all the pictures were about the Queen. She was above everybody. She wasn’t trendy, not anything, simply the Queen.”
The glove maker has worked with many big names over the years. But nobody, she says, compares to the Queen. “I always think, we work with many different people—our gloves are worn by Rihanna, by Madonna, by all sorts of celebrities—but the Queen is the one that really counts for me. She was special. It was quite an honour.”
The Women Behind the Gloves
The story of how Cornelia James became glove maker to the Queen reads like the premise for a Netflix mini-series. Its namesake founder fled the Nazi regime in 1939 before arriving in England as a refugee. Cornelia caught her big break when the then-princess Elizabeth commissioned gloves for her wedding to Phillip Mountbatten.
“The Queen first began wearing our gloves in the 1940s when my mother started the business, and she stayed loyal to the brand ever since,” Genevieve says. “Over the years she must have had 40 or 50 pairs of our gloves and she’d always have a spare pair in her handbag. Sometimes the Queen would wear her older gloves; she’d send some back for repairs on occasion.”
Working with the queen was about more than business, Genevieve says. “I always remember that when my mother was dying (my mother had cancer and was in a hospice), the palace rang up and said the Queen wanted to know how my mother was,” she says. “I thought that was really quite thoughtful. We were just making her gloves really, but she wanted to know how my mother was doing. She cared about people. She had no airs or graces; she was very humble.”
The Queen’s White-Glove Treatment
Genevieve shared a profound sense of loss in her tribute to the queen posted on the Cornelia James website.
“Pens finer by far than mine have described the extraordinary sense of loss that so many of us are feeling in the wake of the Queen’s death,” the second-generation glove maker wrote. “In an uncertain world she was one of the fixed points by which many of us, unconsciously, navigated our way through life. To lose that fixed point leaves us suddenly all at sea, without a compass.”
Like many tributes to the late queen, the glove maker goes on to share her experience meeting the queen in person. The “chance meeting that was almost magical” occurred during a Christmas Fair held at Buckingham Palace.
“In the afternoon of the second day of the fair, there was a rumour of a Royal visit,” she recalls. “A sense of expectancy went round the room and, at a certain moment, I spied the familiar figure, small in stature and suited in emerald green, at the end of a long aisle. To my consternation, she appeared to be making a beeline straight for me.”
Seconds later, she says she found herself face-to-face with Her Majesty. With no time to prepare, she “managed only a poorly executed and clumsy movement that was part curtsey, part bob” before introducing herself to the queen.
“Your Majesty, I am your glove maker,” she recalls saying. “‘I know exactly who you are’ came the response.”
The glove maker and gifted storyteller spoke of the chance meeting in her interview with Hello Magazine. “I was nothing to her, but she made me feel like I was quite important,” she says.
“That’s the sort of knack that she had. She was so much a people’s person. When you talked to her, she made you feel like you were the only that counted. I don’t think there will ever be a Queen like her again. I think we all thought that she was going to live forever. She was on the ball till the end.”