Crown to couture: an exciting new fashion exhibition is coming to Kensington Palace

william and kate   royal gowns
A fashion exhibit is coming to Kensington Palace

Red-carpet couture and historic royal fashion will collide next spring in a fascinating new exhibition at Kensington Palace – the largest ever staged there. Entitled Crown to Couture, the installation will feature everything from a Met Gala gown worn by Lizzo to glittering regal dresses worn at 18th-century Georgian court.

The palace, itself famously a stage for historic royal fashion, will open up the doors to its beautiful state apartment rooms, in which visitors will find more than 200 objects on display, including a whole host of dazzling dresses and gilded gowns. The exhibition will follow everything from the preparation and styling required for certain events, as well as the 'fashion rules' that must be followed, to the final grand arrivals at both royal court and the red carpet. Ticket-holders will learn the lengths that stars and royals go to to get noticed, as well as the more subtle messages that clothing can deliver, and discover sources of design inspiration for designers and couturiers.

lizzo at the 2022 met gala
Lizzo wearing Thom Browne at the 2022 Met GalaJohn Shearer - Getty Images

The experience will be created by Historic Royal Palaces – the charity that cares for Kensington Palace, among other royal residences – in collaboration with the Emmy-winning production designer Joseph Bennett, known for his work on Alexander McQueen's headline-making fashion shows.

"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," says Claudia Acott Williams, curator at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP). "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."

lady gaga at the 2020 mtv vmas
Lady Gaga wearing Christopher John Rogers at the 2020 MTV VMAsKevin Winter/MTV VMAs 2020 - Getty Images

Specific pieces to be featured include the dramatic Thom Browne gown that Lizzo wore to the 2022 Met Gala, as well as the voluminous green Christopher John Rogers dress worn by Lady Gaga to the 2020 MTV VMAs. The scale and silhouette of both these designs are not dissimilar to the size and style of dresses that would have graced the Kensington Palace state apartments centuries before.

"The sheer scale of the contemporary couture gowns that are showcased in the exhibition – including the corseted black satin dress and ornate gold-embroidered cape designed by Thom Browne for Lizzo... are a match for the vast hooped skirts of the Georgian era," writes Justine Picardie in Harper's Bazaar's April issue. "The setting in the sumptuous state apartments could not be more suitable, for these were the backdrop for lavish royal events during the reign of the Georgian monarchs (while the palace later became the fashionable home for generations of royal families, including Diana, Princess of Wales, and her sons)."

An array of spectacular jewels will also be joining the line-up, with Garrard displaying pieces including the Marguerite earrings and necklace worn by Beyoncé in 2013, and the brooch worn by Queen Elizabeth II when she graced the front row at London Fashion Week.

queen at fashion week
The Queen at London Fashion Week in February 2018YUI MOK - Getty Images

Alongside the contemporary looks created by the designers of today, the exhibition will pay homage to the intricate design of the Georgian age, from the distinctive mantua to the delicately embroidered court suit, with pieces donated from the HRP's Royal Ceremonial Dress collection – including a fabulous array of accessories such as fans, dress swords, hats and even a wig-curler. A particular highlight is the world-famous Silver Tissue Dress, on loan from the Fashion Museum Bath, which will form the opening to the exhibition and is an example of the type of royal fashion worn during the court of King Charles II. The fine silk gown, handwoven with silver thread, is believed to be one of the very few complete dresses remaining from the 17th century.

crown to couture exhibition
The Silver Tissue DressⒸ Fashion Museum Bath
crown to couture exhibition
The Rockingham mantuaIan Serfontein

"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," says Polly Putnam, curator at Historic Royal Palaces. "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."

Crown to Couture will run from 5 April to 29 October 2023 and is included in palace admission.

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