Fashion Rules Restyled - a curator's view

Libby Thompson, Historic Royal Palaces curator


Fashion Rules: Restyled - open at Kensington Palace until January 2017 – is a ‘restyling’ of our popular Fashion Rules exhibition, featuring items of exquisite dress from the collections of HM The Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales. The display is the product of an entire year of work by Historic Royal Palaces curators, textile conservators and interpretation specialists, and I’ve had the enviable task of looking at how we expand our look at the ‘rules’ guiding royal style to help us tell a new story for our visitors.

 Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that looks after the historic state apartments at Kensington, also cares for the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, an incredible treasure trove of over 11,000 items of dress covering everything from a hat thought to have been worn by Henry VIII to couture dresses created for Diana, Princess of Wales. As such, selecting objects for display is always a challenge! Each of the items in the collection has its own conservation needs, whether that’s strengthening of historic fabrics to help preserve them for future generations, or slowing down the degradation that naturally occurs in organic textiles. or Fashion Rules: Restyled, our textile conservation team created a bespoke ‘invisible mount’ for each dress, made to its exact measurements, which helps to ensure the fabric receives the support it requires while providing a real wow-factor.

 The finished display is a real feast for the eyes, from the ‘New Look’ glamour of Princess Margaret in the 1950s to the elegance of HM The Queen in the 1970s and the tailored drama of outfits created for Diana, Princess of Wales in the early 1990s.  As the Queen’s younger sister, Princess Margaret experimented with fashion, and a gorgeous late 1940s candy striped dress created in the Paris style by royal couturier Norman Hartnell is on display at Kensington for the first time, alongside silk scarves and sunglasses from designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Hermes.

 By contrast, items from the richly decorated wardrobe created for HM The Queen in the 1970s by Hardy Amies showcase a century-long royal trend of diplomatic dressing, rendered elegantly across the finest silk, satin and delicately woven chiffon suitable for even the warmest of foreign tours. Formal dresses created for state visits to France and the Middle East reveal the special considerations in dressing as a monarch.  Even the wearing of insignia is considered in their design, in a long-standing tradition of diplomatic dressing which continues to this day.

 For Diana, Princess of Wales, the early 1990s signalled a move towards a more slim-line, tailored look, and the outfits on display explore the rules of her much-imitated style. From a tartan and black velvet evening gown designed for an evening of Scottish dancing at Balmoral, to the double-breasted styling of a bottle green silk velvet halterneck worn privately by the princess - and later made famous by Mario Testino’s iconic photographs – the display explores how Diana’s wardrobe had the power to set trends both at home and abroad, and represented a truly modern royal style.

 Alongside Her Majesty, both Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales have strong links to Kensington, so where better to explore their unique style than at a palace they both called home?

To visit Fashion Rules: Restyled, visit the website.