Stars of old: they’re just like us! Or just like today’s celebrities, in any case.
Outfits and jewels worn by Audrey Hepburn, Lizzo, Lady Gaga and Rihanna take center-stage alongside Royal ceremonial dress and other historic items, in a new fashion exhibition which opened this week in London. The largest exhibition ever staged at Kensington Palace, home to the Prince and Princess of Wales and their children, Crown to Couture brings together over 200 items spanning five centuries. It opens with a dress worn to the 1954 Oscars by Audrey Hepburn, alongside the Silver Tissue gown worn to court by a British aristocrat in the 1660s, and goes on to explore the parallels between historical fashion and modern red carpet dressing. The exhibition includes a dazzling collection of jewelry both historic and contemporary, curated by writer, curator and Responsible Jewelry Council Executive Director Melanie Grant.
“The customs of the Georgian court might seem distant and anachronistic, 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,” says Claudia Scott Williams, curator at Historic Royal Palaces. “By placing historic court dress in conversation with contemporary red carpet fashion and modern celebrity we begin to see that they are perhaps not so alien after all. “The State Apartments, once the glittering hub of the Georgian Court and 18th century London’s equivalent of the red carpet, have been transformed for the event by Alexander McQueen’s production designer Joseph Bennett. The work of modern-day super stylists and designers — like Oscar de la Renta’s 2021 gown worn to the Met Gala by Billie Eilish and Beyoncé’s look for the 2017 Grammy Awards by Peter Dundas, above, — are on show alongside examples of 18th century dress, like the widest surviving court gown in Britain. The nearly 3-meter-wide yellow mantua ensured Lady Helen Robertson of Ladykirk turned heads when she made her court debut in 1760.
The exhibition explores the similarities between the rituals of dressing for the Georgian court with the way celebrities prepare and are styled for modern red carpet events. From ‘the original stylist’ Frances Abington, a famous London actress known for her fashion-forward style sense who dressed 18th century women for their court appearances, to stylists like Sam Ratelle, who masterminded Billy Porter’s Sun God look for the 2019 Met Gala, stylists are spotlighted as the real stars of the red carpet, the extent of whose work is often underplayed. Alongside the couture gowns, court suits, handbags, accessories and even underwear, Grant’s special curation of jewelry takes visitors back to a time when the diamonds and gemstones of extravagant jewels would have come alive in the candlelit apartments. “Crown to Couture for me is about drawing fascinating parallels between traditional royalty who sat between church and state – and celebrity, a modern-day royalty on the red-carpet who sit between fashion and culture,” says Grant.
Several pieces in the jewelry selection were originally worn at the Met Gala, including the Rebel Black ring (top), created by Thelma West and worn by Rihanna to the 2021 event: “what I find interesting, is how much black style is being recognized and celebrated, because in the past it was referenced but rarely acknowledged. In my curation of contemporary jewellery, The Rebel Black really demonstrates this,” continues Grant. “Even the five-carat center stone is from Botswana, and a jewel of this type shows how much things have changed.” Grant is also behind the Sotheby’s Brilliant & Black events, the first of their kind to showcase Black jewelry talent. Also on show, are Fernando Jorge’s Disco earrings worn by Emily Blunt to the Palm Springs Film Festival in 2019, and Cindy Sherman via LizWorks Pensive cameo earrings, as well as pieces by Chopard, Schiaparelli and Fred Leighton. Exhibition sponsor Garrard, the former Crown Jeweller, has several pieces on display, including replicas of the diamond and sapphire Marguerite necklace and earrings worn by Beyoncé in 2013, and the celebrated Feather Headdress tiara made for American philanthropist Betsey Cushing Whitney on her presentation to the Court of Saint James in 1957.
Many of the pieces on show illustrate political and cultural statements made by celebrities on the red carpet, like Lizzo’s ‘Vote’ dress by Christian Siriano, worn during the 2020 presidential elections, and the rainbow cape by Carolina Herrera worn by Lena Wraithe to the 2018 Met Gala. Not far away, are items worn by members of two opposing British political parties in the 1760s, a court gown worn by the wife of the British Prime Minister and Garter robes worn by the former Prime Minister John Stuart. Whether for a red carpet, or a plush palace interior, fashion has always been used as a mouthpiece for different causes, and cemented the status of its wearer in the eyes of the audience. “We also have the replica Marguerite suite worn by Beyoncé and the Cullinan V brooch worn by Queen Elizabeth II,” says Grant. “Both made by Garrard for two queens of juxtaposing cultural significance. I love how the two are presented within the same exhibition as different but equal. I think it’s the future.”
The exhibition is open at Kensington Palace, London, April 5 – October 29, 2023, and is supported by Garrard, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Cunard.
Original article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/katematthams/2023/04/07/fashion-exhibition-in-london-palace-shows-the-royal-courts-were-no-different-to-the-met-gala/?sh=5a23911e22bb
This article appeared on 7th April 2023.
Written by Kate Matthams.
The earrings worn by Emily Blunt are by Fernando Jorge.