Red carpet and royalty make perfect partners at Kensington Palace’s new exhibition – Royal Central

© Historic Royal Palaces / Giambattista Valli Paris

In recent years there’s been plenty of talk about whether royal power can combine with star power but a new exhibition at Kensington Palace underlines that the mix is far from modern. Crown to Couture, which opens on April 5 2023, brings red carpet fashion face to face with regal outfits and the result is a stunning show of style and ceremony.

Crown to Couture is the biggest exhibition ever staged at Kensington Palace with over 200 items spread throughout the royal residence. But this is more than a walk through history. Visitors are being invited into a world where everyone is on show and no one wants to miss out on the power and influence that can bring. This is all about how royalty was the original celebrity and how the the biggest celebrity moments in 2023, from awards shows to glitzy galas, have quite a lot in common with how kings and queens have used image to impress.

© Historic Royal Palaces / Fashion Museum Bath / Courtesy of E-Land Museum / Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences

It doesn’t take long to get into the swing. The first objects on show are Audrey Hepburn’s gown from the 1954 Oscars which sits alongside an elaborate court outfit made centuries earlier. Both are creamy white, both are stunning and both were made to dazzle on the biggest stage of their day. Between them are an Oscar and an Order of the Garter. All that glitter, all that gold, all on show to make a statement.

© Historic Royal Palaces / Moschino S.p.A

And there are plenty of statements throughout the display. Shoes, jewels and even underwear get their own moments in the spotlight. If you think taping it all in is a 21st century phenomenon, think again. The 18th century way of keeping the wobble within is contrasted with the way stars do things now.

The Georgian influence on modern style is noticeable throughout as the spotlight falls on how fashion from the royal court of the first Hanoverians has inspired red-carpet and gala designs in the last decade. Billie Eilish’s fairytale dress is head on with a massive gown made 200 years earlier but the impact of both is clear to see.

© Historic Royal Palaces / Oscar de la Renta Archive

The exhibition is a great way to see Kensington Palace as it’s take over just about every public part of the space. The King’s Gallery is a red carpet filled with famous dresses including that statement dress worn by Blake Lively at the 2022 Met Gala while The Queen’s Gallery is another fashion fest which ends with the celebrated gown chosen by Phoebe Waller-Bridge as she swept the Emmys with Fleabag. They sit next to outfits worn in those very rooms in the 18th century by those who had made it to court and were on show, aiming to impress on what was the biggest and most important stage of its day.

The Presence Chamber displaying the Peter Dundas ensemble worn by Beyonce for the Grammy’s 2017 (© Historic Royal Palaces / Peter Dundas for DUNDAS)

It’s not often you get the chance to see Queen Victoria’s jewels in the same exhibition as a dress from Beyonce although the monarch may be far from amused to know that it’s Queen Bey whose got the golden spot with her 2017 Grammys gown, by Peter Dundas, starring in the Presence Chamber. The room where monarchs used to sit in splendour waiting waiting for courtiers and ministers belongs, for one summer only, to arguably the biggest star in the world right now.

In fact, there’s plenty of star power on show – from Lizzo and Lady Gaga to King Charles II who dazzled a monarchy back into restoration and Queen Charlotte who put a whole new spin on making an entrance. The 21st century meets it match in history.

And that’s the point. Amidst a sea of stunning dresses and waves of wonderful jewels is a quote from Ecclesiastes. ”There is nothing new under the sun” it reads. There really isn’t but this exhibition is a fabulously fresh take on that very idea. It might even change the way you think about royalty and regal history.

Crown to Couture is on at Kensington Palace from April 5th 2023 until October 29th 2023. Admission is included in the price of entry to Kensington Palace.

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