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Kensington Palace to showcase red carpet couture alongside historic fashion

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Image: Historic Royal Palaces; Rockingham mantua

Kensington Palace will stage its largest exhibition to date in April when the world of the Georgian court comes head-to-head with the red carpet glamour of the modern-day.

‘Crown to Couture’ will run from April 5 to October 29 and will draw parallels between contemporary couture worn by celebrities including Lizzo and Lady Gaga, and the historic fashion worn by the Royal Court in the eighteenth century.

Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that cares for Kensington Palace, has tapped Emmy award-winning production designer Joseph Bennett, who is best known for his creation of Alexander McQueen’s famous catwalk shows, to create the exhibition, which will feature more than 200 objects across the state apartments.

The exhibition will take visitors on a journey, from the preparation and styling required to attend one of the hottest tickets in town and the “fashion rules” that must be followed, to the grand arrivals at both the court and the red carpet.

Highlights will include Thom Browne two-piece ensemble worn by musician Lizzo to the 2022 Met Gala, featuring a plain black corset gown and billowing jacket with intricate gold detailing, alongside the luminous green gown by Christopher John Rogers that Lady Gaga wore to the 2020 MTV Awards.

Image: Historic Royal Palaces; Court suit detail - Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Claudia Acott Williams, curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said in a statement: “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.

“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.”

Kensington Palace to stage largest exhibition to date with ‘Crown to Couture’

The exhibition will also pay homage to stunning designs of the Georgian era, from the distinctive mantua to the intricately embroidered court suit. Among the pieces on display will be examples of some of Historic Royal Palace’s own collection, the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, which is cared for by a team of experts at Hampton Court Palace.

Image: Historic Royal Palaces; Rockingham mantua detail

Looks will include the Rockingham Mantua, which is brocaded in silver thread and silver lace trim and believed to have been worn by the wife of British Prime Minister, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, in the 1760s. Curators state that the large dress, which was worn over wide hoops is “synonymous with the era” and will be showcased alongside an array of accessories, including fans, dress swords, hats, jewellery, shoes, stockings, stays and even a wig curler.

Other historic items set to be unveiled include the world-famous Silver Tissue Gown, on loan from the Fashion Museum Bath, which will form the opening to the exhibition. A rare example of fashion worn at the court of Charles II, the handmade gown perfectly encapsulates the origins of Georgian court culture and fashion. It is believed to have been worn to court by a young Lady Theophila Harris, who later went on to become the wife of MP Sir Arthur Harris of Hayne. As one of the very few complete dresses from the 17th century, it forms just one of many treasures set to bring to life this opulent era.

Polly Putnam, curator at Historic Royal Palaces, 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 will demonstrate the similarities in the fashion “rules” set out by high society designers, drawing fascinating comparisons between the present day and the 18th century, when the Palace was at its most busy, exciting and politically and culturally important.”

Image: Historic Royal Palaces; Spitalfields mantua
Image: Historic Royal Palaces
Kensington Palace