Crown to Couture at Kensington Palace
The largest exhibition to be held at Kensington Palace, Crown to Couture is a fascinating look at the history of dressing up for high-profile public events – from the Georgian court balls that were once held at the palace itself to present day red carpets. The exhibition draws parallels between the rituals and fashions of court frequenters and those of modern day celebrities, demonstrating how clothing has been used throughout history as a tool for attaining status and power.
Before formal invitations to court events became the norm, it was the visitor’s attire that would determine whether the person in question would be allowed in. Appearance was therefore of vital importance, as it could make one’s career, lead the way to substantial gains or facilitate an advantageous marriage. Nowadays, celebrities present themselves at galas and awards shows with the same eagerness to impress and gain prestige. Aside from precious court garments of the past, one can admire the intricately decorated creations worn by celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, Dita Von Teese, Beyoncé and Billy Porter (who features a lot due to his notoriously flamboyant outfits).
Kensington’s royal residence is the perfect venue for the regal and glamorous ensembles on display. From the earliest known English Court dress worn in the times of Charles II to Katy Perry’s chandelier dress donned at the 2019 Met Gala, the eras placed in comparison seem worlds apart, and yet it becomes clear through the curators’ efforts that the whole ado surrounding red carpets is simply an updated version of pre-existing customs. For instance, “behind the scenes” videos showing stars getting ready for a special function are likened to a practice dating back centuries, of inviting intimate guests to witness the lengthy dressing ritual before a court event. It’s interesting to consider that the voyeurism surrounding celebrities (enjoyed and encouraged by many of them) is evidently a tendency that has always been inherent to social life.
There is much to be learned at the exhibition about past customs and trends, and even the immersion in the shallow glitz of today’s stars becomes valid and instructive social commentary, thanks to the overall context. Glamorous and insightful, Crown to Couture succeeds in its goal of demonstrating that royal traditions, even historically, are not so far removed from modern generations, and the proof is in the diversity of the crowds it has been attracting.
Photo: Richard Lea-Hair
Crown to Couture is at Kensington Palace from 5th April until 29th October 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the exhibition here: