The fifth season of The Crown presented a new set of challenges — and actors — for its Primetime Emmy Award-winning costume designer Amy Roberts to grapple with, as well as a colourful new character in the form of businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed.

Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in 'The Crown' season 5

Source: Keith Bernstein

Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in ‘The Crown’ season 5

For the Queen herself, a more muted palette seemed appropriate for a period in the late monarch’s life — the years 1991 to 1997 — that saw three of her children part from their partners, the decommissioning of her beloved yacht Britannia and a devastating fire wreak havoc at Windsor Castle. “There’s a melancholy to her world that needs to be suggested in colours,” says Roberts, who won a Primetime Emmy for outstanding period costumes for her work on The Crown’s third season and received a nomination in the same category for the Netflix drama’s fourth. “Each season has a flavour to it, and this one is quite autumnal and sombre.”

There are exceptions, of course, with one notably in the episode in which Princess Margaret, played now by Lesley Manville, is reunited at a function with the RAF officer, Group Captain Peter Townsend, she was prevented from marrying back in season two. “We thought Margaret had balls and would have gone out with all guns blazing to meet this man who she once loved,” says Roberts. “So, we put her in the brightest pink we could find that made her look like an extraordinary butterfly in this wood-panelled room full of old guys in uniforms and blazers.”

Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret and Timothy Dalton as Peter Townsend in season 5 of 'The Crown'

Source: Keith Bernstein

Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret and Timothy Dalton as Peter Townsend in season 5 of ‘The Crown’

And then there is Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw), the flamboyant Egyptian-born tycoon whose son Dodi came to play such a pivotal role in Princess Diana’s later life. Introduced in the Mou Mou episode Netflix is submitting for Emmy consideration this year, he is a man of humble origins who is determined to make his mark on British high society. “I learnt so much about Fayed, his culture and why he was so driven to want something more for himself,” says Roberts. “So, to get to mix those wonderful shirts he wears with classic English tailoring was amazing to do. The look of Egypt in the 1950s was very exciting and we were very keen to get it right. And we have Madame Ritz [who sold the Ritz Hotel in Paris to Al-Fayed in 1979] as well, in a fabulous chic suit.”

Salim Daw as Mohamed Al-Fayed in 'The Crown' season 5

Source: Netflix

Salim Daw as Mohamed Al-Fayed in ‘The Crown’ season 5

With Imelda Staunton making her debut as the Queen in The Crown, Elizabeth Debicki taking over as Diana and Dominic West entering the fray as Prince Charles, Roberts found season five both “rewarding” and “refreshing”. “Imelda is sensational and disciplined and wonderful to work with, while you can give Lesley anything to wear and she just owns it. But they are all individual people, and that in a way is part of the challenge for a costume designer. I’d have arguments with Dominic frequently about the choice of ties and pocket squares but it’s all in good humour. I always say to Martin [Childs], our production designer: ‘The table is not going to argue with you when you put a tablecloth on it, whereas I might have to put a bit more effort into it.’”

Luckily Roberts can count on the support of daughter Sidonie, who has been her assistant throughout her four years on The Crown and before that on programmes such as Cleaning Up and Babs. “Sid and I have similar aesthetic tastes so that is very helpful. It’s fantastic working with her and we balance very well. When I read a script, I’ll have a picture of it; I can paint a big picture and say, ‘This is what I want.’ Sid is so clever at specifics and proportion; she does the fine detail that makes the costumes so perfect.” 

With season six of The Crown now completed, Roberts can look back with satisfaction on a job well done. “I’m in the studio at the moment, where we have two huge hangars with rail upon rail of costumes. I look at it and I can’t believe we did so much. Right now, I feel relief, a sense of achievement, and a bit of sadness. But I think it is healthy to put it to bed, see what’s next and move on to something else.”