Crown to Couture: so, who’s to blame for modern celebrity show-off culture? The Georgians
Are Georgian courtiers to blame for the celebrity show-off culture that exists today? It’s a question that a new fashion exhibition at Kensington Palace wants visitors to consider.
Crown to Couture, opening on April 5, draws parallels between the modern day theatre that is getting dressed for a red carpet appearance, with the rituals of those glamming up for court in the late 17th century.
There are surprising similarities – from entourages, to “glam squads”, and diva-ish attempts to outdo each other by having the widest Mantua or the most eye-catching embroidery. It is thought-provoking and entertaining to see displays of hoops and corsetry next to Spanx and Skimz – the scaffolding underwear of choice for Mary Delaney in 1756, and Kim Kardashian in 2023, respectively.
With the run of Kensington Palace’s State Apartments, the rooms are themed loosely to make a point about the political or social function the space would have served in Georgian times. In a grand entrance hall, the gilded costume and velvet bed on which American actor Billy Porter was carried into the Met Gala in 2019, is displayed next to Queen Charlotte’s ornamental sedan chair, in a comment on arriving in style.
Some of the comparisons work, others feel far-fetched. There is a celebration of a handful of modern celebrity stylists: a portrait of the original mid-18th-century “influencer” Frances Abington is hung next to Sam Ratelle, Billy Porter’s collaborator. An anonymous display of Pat McGrath makeup, in front of a flash bulb mirror, doesn’t live up to its counterpart, an exceptional silver grooming kit used by Charity Treby in the 1730s.
The outstanding Edith Head and Givenchy dress that Audrey Hepburn wore to the Oscars in 1961 is in the first display case of the exhibition, there to make a point about designers and actresses working together. It is shown next to a silver tissue court gown from the 1660s, the earliest dress of its kind in existence, but with no real correlation to its case mate aside from that both were commissioned to render their wearer ‘glamorous’. Hepburn’s dress is also the only thing on show from the 20th century, which takes away from the ‘then and now’ narrative that the rest of the production serves.
The majority of modern dresses on display come from the 2019 and 2022 Met Galas. There’s Katy Perry’s Moschino chandelier dress, Blake Lively’s Versace-made tribute to the Statue of Liberty, and Billie Eilish’s Marilyn Monroe-inspired chiffon ball gown – examples that do convince you that today’s celebrities are fashion peacocks, or attention seekers of the highest order. No different, then, to Lady Helen Robertson of Ladykirk, who in 1760 commissioned the widest surviving court gown in a sunflower yellow silk, with a skirt-span of almost 3 metres.
The ratio of old to new, understandably, far favours the new. There are items from Kendall Jenner, Beyoncé, Bella Hadid and Lizzo – at points you feel you could be in a designer version of Madame Tussauds. For families visiting London over the Easter holidays, it’s a good bet – unbeatable, certainly, for a game of celebrity dress-spotting.
From April 5-Oct 29; hrp.org.uk