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Royal Style in the Making

Start Date 03 June 2021
End Date 02 January 2022
Venue Kensington Palace, Historic Royal Palaces
Location London, U.K.
Curator Matthew Storey

Exhibition in partnership with Garrard and generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

As Kensington Palace reopens to visitors, a new temporary exhibition set in the newly-conserved historic Orangery will explore the unique relationship between fashion designer and royal client. Titled Royal Style in the Making, the display will feature never-before-seen items from the archives of some of the most celebrated royal couturiers of the 20th century, set alongside examples of the glittering gowns and stylish tailoring created for three generations of royal women.

The exhibition will offer visitors a sneak peek into the rarefied world of the atelier, unpicking how some of Britain’s finest designers rose to the challenge of creating clothing destined for the world stage. From the symbolic power of a coronation gown to the romance of a royal wedding dress, the designs on show helped shape the public image of the British monarchy, and promoted the British fashion industry on a truly global scale. Using original sketches, fabric swatches and unseen photographs from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection – a treasure trove of over 10,000 items of dress and design history cared for by Historic Royal Palaces – Royal Style in the Making will consider the unique attributes each couturier brought to the royal wardrobe, set alongside examples of their most famous work.

Among the star items going on display will be a rare surviving toile for the 1937 coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother; consort of King George VI. Created by London based court designer Madame Handley-Seymour – a favoured couturier of the dowager Queen Mary with an innate understanding of the rules and tradition of royal dress – the silk satin gown with its golden national emblems was the perfect choice to embody continuity at the start of an unexpected new reign. The toile is an extraordinary full-size working pattern of the completed gown, and features the stunning design for the embroidery hand-painted onto it, highlighting the attention to detail required in planning for such an important state occasion.

Visitors will also be able to experience Diana, Princess of Wales’s wedding dress displayed complete with its spectacular sequin encrusted train, which at 25 feet dramatically filled the aisle of St Paul’s Cathedral, and remains the longest in royal history. The dress, on loan from The Duke of Cambridge and The Duke of Sussex, is now among the most famous in bridal history, and features a fitted bodice overlaid at the centre both front and back with panels of antique Carrickmacross lace that had originally belonged to Queen Mary, the groom’s great-grandmother. Its gently scooped neckline and large puffed sleeves are trimmed with bows and deep ruffles of taffeta, a style popularized by the Princess in the early 1980s, while the full skirt is supported on a mountain of stiff net petticoats to create its famous silhouette.

Matthew Storey, exhibition curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said,

‘Our summer exhibition at Kensington Palace will shine a spotlight on some of the greatest talents of British design, whose work has been instrumental in shaping the visual identity of the royal family across the twentieth century. We’ll be exploring how the partnership between each designer and client worked, and revealing the process behind the creation of a number of the most important couture commissions in royal history. While one of the highlights will undoubtedly be Diana, Princess of Wales’s showstopping Emanuel designed wedding dress, – which goes on show at the palace for the first time in 25 years – we’ve got some real surprises up our sleeve for fashion fans!’