Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Blake Lively’s Red Carpet Looks Go on Display at Kensington Palace
You have possibly never imagined that the glamorous Met Gala or Grammys red carpets have much in common with 18th century British royal court. But the two worlds have been spectacularly brought together for a new exhibition set to open at Kensington Palace next week.
Crown to Couture, which is open to the public starting April 5, 2023, showcases outfits from the modern-day red carpet alongside high society fashion from the Georgian era (1714-1830) when the west London Palace was in its prime. Laid out across several State Apartments within the Palace are more than 200 items which demonstrate how the roles and rituals of high fashion today remain remarkably similar to 200 years ago. Notable modern-day items on display include the show-stopping gold outfit that Beyoncé wore to the Grammys in 2017, Lady Gaga’s green dress and dramatic mask for the 2020 MTV VMAs and the gold and turquoise gown that Blake Lively chose for the Met Gala last year.
“The red carpet is about winning and going to court is about winning, so we set up these parallels,” Curator of Collections at Historic Royal Palaces, Polly Putnam, told T&C today at a preview of the exhibition. “The idea of the red carpet is probably a lot more familiar to people…yet this quite niche period of history has parallels with something that’s quite ubiquitous.” Her colleague, Curator Claudia Acott Williams, agreed. “Both of these spaces are the foremost spaces for the showcase of high fashion,” she pointed out. “In the 18th century to see the best fashion in the world you come to court, in the 21st century to see the best fashion in the world you look to the red carpet…In both spaces you are here to progress your career in one way or another. In eighteenth century terms that’s an advantageous marriage, a knighthood, being noticed by the monarch. In contemporary terms that’s being noticed by the world; the media or the public.”
Indeed, the similarities that have been woven through the exhibition are startling. First, the visitor is introduced to the way in which wealthy and influential women in the Georgian era would invite people to their chambers to watch them get ready to form friendships or allegiances, with parallels being drawn between the modern-day trend for creating social media content out of preparing for a red carpet appearance. “People watched the monarch dress in the morning—people would think this was a totally bizarre anachronism, until you kind of introduce the idea of the Vogue getting ready with videos, and this whole notion of slightly kind of performed intimacy that’s created by inviting people into a seemingly-personal space,” Claudia said.
Then there is the idea of the stylist, with the exhibition showcasing a painting of “original stylist” Francis Abington, who was a Georgia actress who also earned money advising high-society women what to wear. This sits alongside specially-commissioned portrait of contemporary Stylist and Creative Director Sam Ratelle, who has put together some of Billy Porter’s most iconic red carpet looks. One of these looks, Billy’s arrival at the 2019 Met Gala carried by six gold-clad men, is likened in the exhibition to the Sedan Chair that Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, used to make an entrance.
In the Palace’s King’s Gallery, a red carpet of modern-day looks, including Lady Gaga, Blake Lively, and Billie Eilish’s recent red carpet looks are shown. “In the Georgian court you would have arrived here in your absolute best dress because you were coming to see the King,” Aileen Peirce, Head of Interpretation and Design at Historic Royal Palaces told T&C. “The modern equivalent is arriving on the red carpet. It’s all about spectacle, it’s about making the biggest impact.”
Beyoncé’s 2017 dress is given its own moment in the King’s Presence Chamber. The final series of mannequins in the exhibition show how Georgian style itself—with intricate embroidery and wide skirts—has influenced many modern-day celebrity outfits.
“The customs of the Georgian court might seem distant and anachronistic,” Claudia Acott Williams said. “But we hope that Crown to Couture will provide a new and familiar lens through which to understand the palace’s spaces and the court’s traditions."
For more information visit hrp.org.uk.
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