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  • Writer's picturedandelion

Crown to Couture at Kensington Palace REVIEW

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

A born and bred Londoner, I have dismissed the Royal gowns that go on display periodically at Kensington Palace for American tourists and nutcase Royalists who camp out on the Mall for days. As a result of my stubbornness, although it is a fixture of my daily life, (mainly observed on a bicycle) I have never actually set foot inside it.

And then along comes Crown to Couture and Julia, who hasn't missed a Royal Gown exhibition, ever, can't go. I turn up for my 3pm slot without having done any prep and not really knowing what to expect. The queue for pre-booked sessions is 20 minutes long and punters hoping for walk ins are turned away. The line is a rather charming mix of the visitors my pre-conceptions had expected and much younger, mainly Londoners. A guide, attempting to marshal us into different timed lines, explains that this is by far the most ambitious show they have ever staged. The key difference, apparently, from previous exhibitions, is that it runs throughout the palace. And, this is one of the things that makes is such fun. It is a surprisingly intimate palace with a lived-in feel, even in the public areas. Although you start off in a fairly anodyne, marquee-type gallery, soon you are traipsing down uncarpeted stone back stairs and crossing parquet floors. It feels a bit like a treasure hunt. Children will enjoy it.

As will fashionistas of all ages. Moving from the Court of Charles II to the Met Gala, it is a gloriously OTT walk along red carpets ancient and modern. The parallels are not hard to find: here are 17th century hoops and corsets, here they are again three hundred years later. Exquisite gowns could just as easily grace the court of Queen Charlotte (1763) or 'Queen' Anna Wintour (2020). Beyonce flanked by Beefeaters, Katy Perry a walking candleabra in a wood panelled gallery, Lil Nas X as Marie Antoinette are all highlights. Questions about the nature of celebrity, power, politics and influence are all raised but the show is never didactic or preachy. Huge fun. Go!

Crown to Couture at Kensington Palace to 29 Oct. Tickets: £25.40 adults, £12.70 ages 5–15, £20.30 students ages 16–17.


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