As the world of museums prepares to emerge from lockdown, Historic Royal Palaces have announced an exciting new royal fashion exhibition to be held at Kensington Palace. Royal Style in the Making will feature never-before-seen items from the archives of some of the most celebrated royal couturiers of the 20th century, including the late Princess of Wales’ wedding dress.
The wedding dress, worn in July 1981, is on loan from The Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex, and will be seen with its sequin encrusted 25-foot train that filled the aisle of St Paul’s Cathedral; it remains the longest wedding dress train in royal history.
Designed by the Emmanuels, it 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.
Its gently scooped neckline and large puffed sleeves are trimmed with bows and deep ruffles of taffeta, a style popularised 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.
Diana’s gown had been on display for a number of years the Spencer family home, Althorp. It belongs to her sons, Prince William and Harry.
Kensington Palace was the Princess’ home for the entirety of her royal life, and has regularly hosted displays of her clothes; however, this showstopper is certainly a first and will delight royal – and fashion history – fans.
Alongside it, visitors will see the rare surviving toile for the 1937 coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Created by 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 is embroidered with golden floral emblems of the UK and Commonwealth.
The toile is an extraordinary full-size working pattern of the completed gown, something of a practice piece. It shares the stunning design for the embroidery of the real thing, but instead of stitched, it is hand-painted, highlighting the attention to detail required in planning for such an important state occasion.
George VI was crowned with his wife by his side in May 1937 at Westminster Abbey.
The display will be held in the Orangery, whose renovation was announced in 2017. It was built in 1704 for Queen Anne, the last Stuart Monarch, who wanted an elaborate greenhouse for her citrus trees.
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!”
The display is supported by Garard, who made Diana’s – now The Duchess of Cambridge’s – engagement ring, and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.
Royal Style in the Making is scheduled to open at Kensington Palace on 3rd June 2021, and will run until 2nd January 2022. Book here.