'Crown to Couture': New exhibition puts event dressing through the ages on display

A view of the Queen's Gallery displaying costumes at the Crown to Couture exhibition
A view of the Queen's Gallery displaying costumes at the Crown to Couture exhibition Copyright Copyright Historic Royal Palaces
Copyright Copyright Historic Royal Palaces
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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London's Kensington Palace plays host to their largest ever fashion exhibition 'Crown to Couture', which looks at Georgian court looks to contemporary red carpet high fashion


London’s Kensington Palace’s State Apartments were historically the hub of royal court occasions and lavish parties and have seen numerous style icons pass through in the years since.

The Apartments are now playing host to a huge display of red carpet couture alongside historic treasures in new fashion exhibition "Crown to Couture".

It’s the largest exhibition ever staged at Kensington Palace and showcases a wide variety of styles, from impressive Georgian court dresses to far more modern red carpet high fashion.

The exhibition, which features over 200 individual pieces, from ball gowns to court suits to handbags and jewellery, aims to explore the similarities between the rituals and customs of dressing to attend a Georgian court event and the modern day practice of preparing for a red carpet appearance.

Polly Putnam, curator at Historic Royal Palaces, explained: “From your choice of designer and materials to the subtle messages your dress communicates, this exhibition demonstrates the parallels between the world of the Georgian court and the modern day red carpet as they have never been seen before”.

Claudia Acott Williams, curator at Historic Royal Palaces, added, “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. 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”.

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The Peter Dundas-designed ensemble worn by Beyonce for the Grammys in 2017Copyright Historic Royal Palaces

As part of the exhibition, the palace's Presence Chamber is displaying the Peter Dundas ensemble worn by Beyoncé for her performance at the 59th annual Grammy Awards in 2017. The singer was nominated for nine awards that year, but only won two - best urban contemporary album and best music video for 'Formation'.

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Beyonce in the outfit while performing at the 59th annual Grammy Awards in 2017Copyright 2017 Invision

The King's Drawing Room at Kensington Palace has the chandelier dress and head-piece by Jeremy Scott for Moschino worn by Katy Perry to the Met Gala in 2019 on display. The stunning piece lit up all over and was perfect for the 'Camp: Notes on Fashion' theme of the Gala that year - and looks just the part surrounded by other chandeliers in the Palace. 

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A Moschino chandelier dress and head-piece worn by Katy Perry to the Met Gala 2019 on display at the exhibitionCopyright Historic Royal Palaces
Copyright 2019 Invision
Katy Perry wearing the chandelier dress at the Met GalaCopyright 2019 Invision

The Pigott Gallery at Kensington Palace has on display a 1660s silver tissue gown worn by Lady Theophilia Harris next to a dress designed by Edith Head and worn by Audrey Hepburn in the the film Roman Holiday.  Hubert de Givenchy, Hepburn's favourite designer, adjusted the dress and the actress wore it to the 1954 Oscars when she won the Academy Award for her role in Roman Holiday. In the middle of the two dresses - made nearly 300 years apart - is the Oscar Statuette presented to Edith Head at the 1954 Academy Awards for Costume Design for Roman Holiday.

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A 1660s silver tissue gown (L) displayed with a dress worn by Audrey Hepburn to the 1954 Oscars (R)Copyright Historic Royal Palaces
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Audrey Hepburn poses after winning the Oscar for her role in 'Roman Holiday' in the Edith Head / Givenchy dress featured in the exhibitionCopyright 1954 The AP

A modern version of the mantua - or puff - dress is on display at the Crown to Couture exhibition. This garment hails from the Moschino Ready to Wear Autumn/Winter 2020 collection and is inspired by dresses worn by women in the late 17th century and 18th century, usually featuring an narrow bodice and exceptionally wide hips. The anime-printed Moschino version is significantly shorter than those worn by modest women from those centuries.

Copyright Historic Royal Palaces
Inspired by Georgian styles, this mantua dress from Moschino's RTW 2020 collection is on display at Kensington PalaceCopyright Historic Royal Palaces

Also on display at the exhibition is a couture dress and coat designed by Thom Browne and worn by Lizzo to the Met Gala in 2022. The theme for that year's spectacular was 'In America: An Anthology of Fashion' and the outfit is shown at Kensington Palace alongside a gold flute that the musician played on the red carpet.

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The exhibition features a couture dress and coat by Thom Browne, worn by Lizzo to the Met Gala in 2022Copyright Historic Royal Palaces
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Lizzo attends The 2022 Met Gala which had the theme 'In America: An Anthology of Fashion'Copyright The AP

On display at the Palace in the Pigott Gallery is a traditionally Georgian mid-brown fine corded silk coatee with floral embroidery from c.1770. It's part of a court suit ensemble and is displayed with a Bicorn hat from c.1780 to c.1810). It's shown next to a court mantua dress of white silk brocade, made in Spitalfields in east London and possibly worn by the illustrator Mary Flaxman around c.1750-53.

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A court suit c.1770 with a Bicorn hat c.1780, next to a court mantua from c. 1750 on displayCopyright Historic Royal Palaces

In display in The Queen's Gallery is a Monique Lhuillier gown worn by Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the Emmys in 2019. The dress is displayed alongside the two Emmy gongs won by Waller-Bridge for outstanding writing for a comedy series for Fleabag and outstanding lead actress in a comedy series also for Fleabag at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards.

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The Queen's Gallery displaying a Monique Lhuillier gown worn by Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the 2019 EmmysCopyright Historic Royal Palaces
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Phoebe Waller-Bridge wearing the dress after winning two Emmys in 2019Copyright 2019 Invision

A wide shot shows a number of impressive outfits on display in the King's Gallery, including an Oscar de la Renta gown worn by Billie Eilish at the 2021 Met Gala. A part of the 'In America: A Lexicon of Fashion' theme, singer Eilish channelled pop culture icon Marilyn Monroe in her 1950s-inspired peach tulle dress.

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A wide shot of the King's Gallery displaying an Oscar de la Renta gown worn by Billie Eilish at Met Gala, amongst other works of artCopyright Historic Royal Palaces
Copyright 2021 Invision
Singer Billie Eilish attends The Met Gala in 2021Copyright 2021 Invision

Another area of the vast gallery, The Cupola Room, puts on display a Giles Deacon-designed corset gown, said to be inspired by the room itself. It was worn by actor Billy Porter to the Oscars in 2020, for the 92nd Academy Awards.

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On display, a Giles Deacon corset gown, worn by Billy Porter to the 2020 OscarsCopyright Historic Royal Palaces
Copyright 2020 Invision
Billy Porter arrives at the 2020 Oscars in the Giles Deacon designCopyright 2020 Invision

"Crown to Couture" is open now at Kensington Palace in London and runs until 29 October 2023.

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