We visited Kensington Palace's Crown to Couture and this is what we thought...
First look at Kensington Palace's new fashion exhibition
Kensington Palace has launched a new exhibition, Crown to Couture, so I took a trip to see it, along with my co-editor Maria from The Royal List.
We at The British Travel List and The Royal List love history and fashion, so we were excited to head to Kensington Palace for the launch of its biggest exhibition ever. Here’s what we thought*:
Kensington Palace is one of our favourite royal palaces and has been the scene of many popular exhibitions in the past, including the sell-out Diana: Her Fashion Story in 2017. This year, it’s gone in a glittering new direction and turned over the State Apartments – the historic part of the palace - to the huge exhibition, in a kind of Met Gala-takeover.
It starts with a beautiful entrance sign which seems to rise out of the floor, with the statement, “Your outfit is your entry into a world of power and intrigue. What you wear, how you move, and who you meet all tell a story. It’s a high stakes game. There are prizes to be won, careers to be made, and fortunes to be lost.”
You then wander through the exhibition, which aims to marry the excesses of the Georgian court with modern red-carpet dressing. It’s the largest exhibition ever at Kensington Palace, with around 200 items on display, including in the King’s Gallery, to emulate what it would have been like in Georgian society at the time.
Curator Polly Putnam said, “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. Crown to Couture demonstrates the similarities in the fashion ‘rules’ set out by high-society designers, drawing fascinating comparisons between the present day and the 18th century.”
Highlights include the historic Silver Tissue Court Gown – the earliest-known English court dress from the 1660s, with its wide skirt, alongside Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy dress she wore in Roman Holiday, plus the widest-surviving gown in Britain, a yellow court gown from 1760, with a three-metre wide skirt. You can see the enormous silver beauty kit Georgian ladies used to pamper themselves, plus fans, swords, jewellery, shoes, stockings, and corsets.
Alongside the historic items from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, are modern-day red-carpet looks such as Blake Lively’s Versace gown she unfurled at this year’s Met Gala, Kendall Jenner’s Givenchy dress from the 2021 Gala, Lady Gaga’s 2019 chandelier dress and – appropriately in the throne room - Beyonce’s Dundas goddess dress she wore to the 2017 Grammys.
There are stunning gowns on display and fashion fans will enjoy seeing them, but if we’re really honest, we’re not sure the balance works as well as the curators hoped. It’s much more couture than crown and by emptying out the State Apartments, all the history has gone, too. We would have liked to have seen more of the Georgian excess, balanced with the Met Gala.
First-time visitors to Kensington Palace emerge without knowing anything about the palace they just walked through and if you’ve travelled a long way, this might be especially disappointing. It would probably work better somewhere like the V&A. Stewards seemed a little confused shepherding the crowd around, with a complicated locking us out, then in the cafe, which was a bit frustrating, too.
The last word went to the American family, who, as they duly completed the tour, went up to a steward to ask where Diana’s dress was…
For tickets, visit hrp.org.uk
*This review also ran in The Royal List. For more royal content, head over to our sister site.
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