Kensington Palace and its surrounding gardens are peaceful in comparison to the paparazzi-lined red carpets, but the royal residence has also been a backdrop to many of its own historic fashion moments. The new Crown to Couture exhibition, which will run from 5 April until 29 October, merges celebrity culture with royal fashion, showing how the palace functioned as an early red carpet in the Georgian court. The tulle Oscar de la Renta gown that Billie Eilish wore to the Met Gala in 2021 is displayed alongside a mantua worn by Helen Robertson of Ladykirk to a ball at Holyrood in 1760, to draw comparisons between the modern red carpet and 18th-century court dress – the overarching theme of Crown to Couture.

Crown to Couture “compares, contrasts and ultimately celebrates the culture and fashion” of Georgian and contemporary settings, according to curators Polly Putnam and Claudia Acott Williams. This theme is explored via 200 artefacts placed around the State Apartments, marking this the largest exhibition ever held by Kensington Palace. Here, Vogue brings you a guide of what to look out for.

Putnam and Acott Williams introduce the exhibition and the concept with a case containing the historic Silver Tissue gown, believed to be worn by Lady Theophila Harris to the court of King Charles II in the 1660s, alongside the dress that Audrey Hepburn wore to the Oscars in 1954. Hepburn’s historic dress was designed by Edith Head for Roman Holiday and altered by Givenchy for the awards ceremony. Both are fashion relics of their respective eras, made to fulfil the exact same purpose: to impress.

After taking in Hepburn’s Oscars look, viewers are invited to look closer at the underpinnings worn beneath dresses during the 18th-century and now – from Dita Von Teese’s encrusted Mr Pearl corset to padded stockings (c.1700); nipple covers and fashion tape. The section also explores the ritualistic aspects of preparing for a major event, and Vogue’s ‘Getting Ready With’ video series is likened to the levee, a custom that invited courtiers to watch the monarch get dressed. As outlined by the curators, the Vogue franchise “gives us a privileged insight into the creation of and inspiration behind red-carpet looks and a sense of a closer relationship with the wearer.”

In the same room, the Alexander McQueen suit that British Vogue’s editor-in-chief Edward Enninful wore to receive his OBE is on display – courtesy of Vogue’s style director Dena Giannini, who helped source and network for the exhibition – seen alongside the Oscar de la Renta dress worn by Anna Wintour to the Met Gala in 2021. “One of the most rewarding and interesting aspects of the exhibition for us has been the creative collaborations,” say Putnam and Acott Williams. “In the 18th century, the palaces showcased works by the best of both new and established artists and creatives, and it only felt right that this exhibition should do the same.”

Billy Porter can always be trusted to deliver a spectacular red carpet moment, so he naturally makes multiple cameos throughout the exhibition. Porter’s former creative director and stylist, Sam Ratelle, provided a visual breakdown of his client’s “Sun God” 2019 Met Gala look, designed by The Blonds, while the velvet litter that the star glided on at the event – complete with mannequins clad in the same bejewelled fringes and gold trousers by Nicolas Putvinski that the attendants wore on the night – looks gargantuan compared to Queen Charlotte’s Sedan chair it is displayed alongside. Look out for Porter’s Kensington Palace-inspired Giles Deacon dress in the Cupola room, too (scroll on to read more).

The lights are lowered in the exhibition’s jewellery room, which houses contemporary treasures and historic tiaras. Amidst the dazzling selection on offer is a special ring by Thelma West, called the Rebel Black, which was worn by Rihanna to the Met Gala in 2021. This 5-carat pear-shaped diamond from Botswana is set into black ceramic and gold and was designed for Sotheby’s Brilliant & Black exhibition in New York in 2021. Melanie Grant, who curated the jewellery seen at the exhibition, also highlights the significance of the replica Marguerite suite worn by Beyoncé and the Cullinan V brooch worn by Queen Elizabeth II, both designed by luxury fine jewellery house Garrard. Meanwhile, Beyoncé’s gilded headpiece by House of Malakai (and look by Peter Dundas), which she performed in at the Grammys in 2017, take centre stage in the Presence Chamber.

From the ground floor, visitors are led up a staircase to the soundtrack of red-carpet commentary playing out on speakers, preempting the subject of the next room: the “spectacle”. In the very space that 18th-century guests mingled at court, a red carpet provides a backdrop for a line up of iconic celebrity looks. Paapa Essiedu’s velvet Off-White suit and Lizzo’s elaborate Thom Browne dress and cape (and gold flute!) both from last year’s Met Gala are on display, alongside an archive copy of the vivid Christopher John Rogers gown and Lance Victor Moore mask that Lady Gaga wore when she performed at the 2020 VMAs.

Journey on, and you’ll discover the “Politics, Fashion and Power” segment in the Council Chamber, dedicated to looks that have doubled up as statements beyond style. The Ozwald Boateng suit Santan Dave wore to the Brit Awards in 2020 and Lizzo’s 2020 Billboard Music Awards minidress by Christian Siriano – emblazoned with “vote” – both feature, as well as the rainbow cape worn by Lena Waithe to the Met in 2018, designed by Wes Gordon for Carolina Herrera. “Tonight, this cape is not imaginary, it’s rainbow-coloured,” she said on the night. “And we got the black and brown, you know. I’m reppin’ my community, and I want everybody to know that you can be whoever you are, and be completely proud, and be doin’ it, so… Wear the damn cape.”

Looking up is strongly encouraged – especially in the Cupola room (its ceiling is designed by William Kent), which inspired the ornate dress that Billy Porter wore to the Oscars in 2020, designed by Giles Deacon, on display in this space for the first time. A commissioned film directed by Milo Bennett, with style and creative direction by Rose Forde – which stars Royal Ballet principal dancers Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé wearing Stefan Cooke – is projected onto the grand historic walls, while Hayward and Sambé also star in special photographs by Justin French.

Remember to look down, too: this room features some famous footwear, like Rihanna’s buckled Borli Manolos (2016 Billboard Music Awards) and the Louis Vuitton X Nike Air Force 1s that Virgil Abloh (who designed the shoe) wore to the Met Gala in 2021. An array of fashion talents make up the collection in the final space. The curators focused on designers whose work has directly referenced 18th-century dress, including Erdem Moralıoğlu, Simone Rocha, Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, Kenneth Nicholson, Jeremy Scott and Richard Quinn.


Original article:

This article appeared on 309th March 2023.

Written by Alice Cary.





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