Red-carpet couture and historic royal fashion will collide next spring in a fascinating new exhibition at Kensington Palace. Entitled Crown to Couture, the installation will feature everything from a Met Gala gown worn by Lizzo to glittering regal dresses worn at 18th century Georgian court.
The palace, itself famously a stage for historic royal fashion, will open up the doors to its beautiful state apartment rooms, in which visitors will find more than 200 objects on display, including a whole host of dazzling dresses and gilded gowns. The exhibition will follow everything from the preparation and styling required for certain events, as well as the 'fashion rules' that must be followed, to the final grand arrivals at both royal court and the red carpet. Ticket-holders will learn the lengths that stars and royals go to to get noticed, as well as the more subtle messages that clothing can deliver, and discover sources of design inspiration for designers and couturiers.
The experience will be created by Historic Royal Palaces – the charity that cares for Kensington Palace, among other royal residences – in collaboration with Emmy-winning production designer Joseph Bennett, known for his work on Alexander McQueen's headline-making fashion shows.
"We’re thrilled to be collaborating with a wide variety of well-known fashion houses and emerging designers to showcase some of the most iconic red carpet looks of recent years and celebrate the wonderful diversity and creativity we see there today," says Claudia Acott Williams, curator at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP). "By bringing these familiar looks into the palace and placing them in conversation with spectacular 18th century court dress, we hope to provide a new perspective on these historic spaces and the seemingly distant customs of the Georgian Court, and allow visitors to experience the palace as it was meant to be experienced: filled to the brim with the most fashionable and influential names of the day."
Specific pieces to be featured include the dramatic Thom Browne gown that Lizzo wore to the 2022 Met Gala, as well as the voluminous green Christopher John Rogers dress worn by Lady Gaga to the 2020 MTV VMAs. The scale and silhouette of both these designs are not dissimilar to the size and style of dresses that would have graced the Kensington Palace state apartments centuries before.
Alongside the contemporary looks created by the designers of today, the exhibition will pay homage to the intricate design of the Georgian age, from the distinctive mantua to the delicately embroidered court suit, with pieces donated from the HRP's Royal Ceremonial Dress collection – including a fabulous array of accessories such as fans, dress swords, hats and even a wig-curler. A particular highlight is the world-famous Silver Tissue Dress, on loan from the Fashion Museum Bath, which will form the opening to the exhibition and is an example of the type of royal fashion worn during the court of King Charles II. The fine silk gown, handwoven with silver thread, is believed to be one of the very few complete dresses remaining from the 17th century.
"Just as the designers of today dress celebrity royalty for important public events, Kensington Palace was home to the original red carpet of the Georgian court," says Polly Putnam, curator at Historic Royal Palaces. "Crown to Couture will demonstrate the similarities in the fashion 'rules' set out by high-society designers, drawing fascinating comparisons between the present day and the 18thcentury, when the palace was at its most busy, exciting and politically and culturally important."
Crown to Couture opens to the public on 5 April 2023 and is included in palace admission.
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