When Meghan Markle’s close friend, actress Janina Gavankar, was getting ready for the royal wedding, she didn't intend to draw attention to herself. But her arrival at Windsor Castle, and her striking dress, a modified vintage piece from Western Costume, prompted a bit of intrigue: headlines were calling her the “mysterious woman in orange.”
“It’s so funny that a moment where I didn’t care if people noticed me is strangely the moment that people noticed the most in my life,” she told me over phone just a few days after the royal wedding.
“I certainly didn’t really want that. But now that we’re here, I will very happily tell you the real story.”
The truth is that Gavankar's stylist Niki Schwan found designers and showrooms to be unresponsive when she approached them about dressing Gavankar for the day, so in a pinch, they went to Western Costume, a costume supplier in Hollywood with a 100-year-old history.
“Niki pulled a rack, and we tried on every single piece,” Gavankar tells me. She eventually went with the orange dress because of the “built-in cape with the fringe sleeve down to my ankles. It was fantastic.”
They modified the dress, adding pleats. And while the final product prompted some to reference vintage Dior, Gavankar prefers a different comparison: Carmen San Diego.
Gavankar wasn’t the only one who struggled to find something appropriate for the royal wedding ceremony. "Many of the Americans commiserated over how difficult it was to find dresses that fit all the requirements," she says.
Women were required to wear closed-toed shoes, to have their shoulders covered, and to wear a dress that was knee-length or longer. Hats, of course, were mandatory.
“We were told panty hose at some point but many American didn’t wear them,” Gavankar said. “I did-I was so afraid of screwing up that I just followed all protocol, but there were some rebels in our group.”
In addition to her attire, the “mysterious woman in orange” descriptor stemmed from the fact that reporters didn’t know she would be there. Despite her ties to the bride, Gavankar made a very conscious choice not to speak publicly about being invited before the ceremony.
"In the end this was a wedding, an actual wedding, between two people, who are real people that fell in love. And people who know them know that this is a private moment that was not allowed to be private," she tells me.
"It wasn’t a priority for me to have my publicist announce I was going. My priority will always be my friend. I’m not there for you, I’m there for her."
In fact, when asked what she hopes for Meghan in her new life as a newlywed royal, Gavankar said simply, “I hope for as much privacy as possible. As much as the world will allow them, I hope for more. Truly.”
Gavankar did say that she found herself unexpectedly touched by how meaningful it was to have the 1,200 members of the public, many of whom were selected as outstanding members of their community, right outside the church to share in the day’s excitement.
“Once I was there, I got to see the people that were on the grounds with us. Sharing that with them was unexpected and heartwarming. I really thought that I would be shaken by how public the whole thing was, but I wasn’t,” she said.
Gavankar also revealed that they could hear the crowd outside cheering inside the church, and during the vows, that’s what made the guests erupt into laughter.
"One thing that made many of us giggle was that we could hear the wonderful people outside. When the vows were happening, they would cheer, and we could hear them. It was a very quiet chapel. We all followed the Queen’s lead,” she said. “But we could hear everyone cheer and it was so heartwarming. Really, it filled our hearts.”
In spite of the cheering, she was surprised by how intimate the ceremony felt. The chapel’s quire, where Gavankar was seated along with Meghan's closest friends, her mother, and the royal family, “was actually quite small, there were only a few of us in there. So in many ways, it felt like a small wedding. If you were in the chapel, it felt like a small wedding because we didn’t see Meghan’s massive walk up the church aisle that preceded the [quire]. It felt like we were just right there with her, with both of them."
While it felt intimate, Meghan's friend acknowledges that the bride and groom were well aware of the public impact of the wedding's union of cultures.
"As long as it’s going to be public, you might as well make the best of it and show the world what you stand for together, and they did that. Even just in who they chose as musicians. They chose to include parts of both of their cultures," Gavankar shares.
"I love that they’re not ignoring that this is an unusual moment in history, and celebrating its sweetness is something that they did."
According to the actress, the culture blending extended beyond the ceremony to the evening reception, a party hosted by Prince Charles at Frogmore House with a slimmed down guest list of only about 200 people. "Family and chosen family," as Gavankar described it.
"We all danced until the wee hours. We partied and celebrated and ate sliders at 2 in the morning," she said. "It was such a beautiful day and a carefree night, and it was a very powerful day in history. And I think everybody felt it across the world."
Understandably, she was tight-lipped about the event, but eventually shared one adorable detail: each table was named for a food that is said differently in America and the U.K. "Potato, potato, tomato, tomato, oregano, oregano," she said. "It was so sweet. There were so many nods to the beautiful mashup of two cultures."
But cute names aside, it was Prince Harry's emotional speech for Meghan that left the biggest impression on the bride's close friend. She was unwilling to share specifics, but did say this: "The speech that Harry gave was so funny, self deprecating, filled with love, and that guy just has her back. I left feeling so solid for them."
"I walked away feeling so confident that these two will put their combined power into the world for good," she continued. "They did it apart. They’ve done it apart their entire lives. Imagine what they can do together."
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