As a new exhibition Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style
from The Queen’s Wardrobe opens at Buckingham Palace today, we speak to senior curator Caroline de Guitaut about how she put it together.
Tell us what we can expect from Fashioning a Reign…
It’s been a year in the planning, and it will display 150 outfits all belonging to Her Majesty. My team and I have been working very closely with The Queen’s dresser. As well as outfits, you’ll see sketches which illustrate the two-way relationship between the designer and The Queen. There are also special films showing the process and the handcraft that goes into making these clothes. It’s easy to look at these beautiful dresses and not realise that every single element is handmade.
What outfits can visitors expect to see?
The exhibition goes through how The Queen dresses for her different roles. She’s our Head of State, which requires a certain dress, our Head of the Commonwealth, so there’s a section that looks at how clothes can be used in a diplomatic way. She’s also Head of the Armed Forces and so we’ve also covered military tailoring. Then there are her ceremonial dresses and outfits worn for family occasions. And of course there’s a special section devoted to hats too!
How would you describe The Queen’s style?
It’s incredibly timeless and considered. She dresses in an appropriate way for her different roles and in a timeless, elegant manner. It really is an iconic look.
What is your favourite piece in the exhibition?
If I had to single out one thing, it’s a black evening dress by British designer Norman Hartnell from around 1948-1949. It’s very simple, beautifully cut and it has an elegance and glamour to it that we associate with The Queen as a young woman. She doesn’t often wear black – normally only when she’s in mourning or for Remembrance Sunday – but she often wore black evening dresses as a young princess. The dress pays tribute to the New Look, the collection designed by Christian Dior which caused a sensation with this nipped in waist and full skirt.
What do you hope people will take away from it?
I hope it gives people a sense of perspective about The Queen’s reign. We’re exhibiting outfits which have a close association with her life and with our nation’s history. These outfits have been worn on some of the most important events of the 20th century. I hope people will get a sense of this support for British design, what goes into making these extraordinary clothes and that they will feel that they’ve seen the best of British couture.
Have you met The Queen?
It’s my 25th year working at the Royal Collection so I’ve had the chance to show her around a few exhibitions which is very special. I know that she finds it incredibly interesting to see what we put together.
See Fashioning a Reign at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, until 16 October; at Buckingham Palace from 22 July – 2 October; and at Windsor Castle from 17 September – 8 January 2017. Tickets cost from £21.50 for adults, book here.