New fashion exhibition brings the Met Gala to Kensington Palace

The Peter Dundas ensemble worn by Beyonce for the Grammys 2017 (Historic Royal Palaces/Peter Dundas for DUNDAS/PA)
The Peter Dundas ensemble worn by Beyonce for the Grammys 2017 (Historic Royal Palaces/Peter Dundas for DUNDAS/PA)

Outfits once worn by Beyonce, Blake Lively, Billy Porter, Nicola Coughlan and Katy Perry populate the rooms of Kensington Palace, as part of a blockbuster new fashion exhibition.

Crown To Couture explores the similarities between fashion and celebrity in the 18th-century court and the red carpet today.

Nearly four years in the making, it’s the biggest exhibition ever put on at Kensington Palace. It brings together over 200 items – ranging from gowns to handbags and jewellery – many of which are instantly recognisable.

There’s the intricate gold embellished outfit and matching headdress by Peter Dundas that pregnant Beyonce wore to perform at the 2017 Grammys; the bright green Christopher John Rogers gown Lady Gaga donned – complete with a face mask – at the 2020 VMAs; and the intricate gold dress actor Billy Porter wore to the 2020 Oscars. Designed by Giles Deacon, the pattern of Porter’s dress was actually inspired by one of the rooms in Kensington Palace.

These are side-by-side with similarly extravagant outfits from the Georgian era – including the gown worn by Lady Helen Robertson in around 1760, which has a nearly three-metre wide skirt.

“We wanted to examine the 18th-century court through the lens of contemporary fashion – because there are so many similarities across the centuries,” Carol Swords, creative programming and interpretation manager at Historic Royal Palaces, told PA Media.

“As we dug deeper, we realised the Georgian era and the contemporary 21st-century – in terms of spectacle, in terms of life, in terms of how things are perceived – the red carpet and the Georgian court, there are so many connections.”

Each room is dedicated to a different aspect of attending a big event – from getting ready, to attending court or the red carpet, through to the after-party.

The similarities between the two eras are stark. In the room dedicated to getting ready, Georgian beauty products sit next to a table of modern make-up.

In the 18th-century, upper-class women would invite others to watch them get ready – which could take five or six hours – similar to the way ‘get ready with me’ videos have exploded in popularity on social media.

The King’s Gallery was the place where you wanted to look your best and be seen by others in the 1700s, and now it’s home to some of the most extraordinary outfits of the exhibition.

Many come from the Met Gala. Known as fashion’s biggest night, it’s one of the most important events for celebrities to be seen at every year.

Singer Billie Eilish’s romantic pink Oscar de la Renta gown – inspired by Marilyn Monroe and worn to the 2021 event – is the first thing you see walking into the room, and is followed by a stream of recognisable looks.

These include singer Lizzo’s structural Thom Browne ensemble (worn to the 2022 Met Gala), model Iris Law’s Moschino gown (2022) and actor Blake Lively’s jaw-dropping Versace homage to New York architecture – worn when she was co-chair of the event in 2022.

Throughout the modern aspects of the exhibition, there’s an emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

Sword explained the curators were keen to make it feel “as relevant as we possibly can”.

She said: “Those questions about diversity, gender, race, everything – we’ve embodied them, we’ve taken them on and we’ve taken that challenge – but we’ve tried to do it in a really sensitive way.”

Sword points to Beyonce’s Grammys outfit, displayed in the King’s Presence Chamber, flanked by Yeoman Warders either side.

In Georgian times, this is where monarchs would have received courtiers, ministers and foreign ambassadors, and Sword said placing Beyonce there was an opportunity to highlight her “black excellence”.

Sword wants visiots to see “that the connections across the century are more profound than we imagined.

“We always think the past is just the past, but human beings are human beings.”

Crown To Couture runs at Kensington Palace from April 5 to October 29.