This week got off to a good start, with a trip to Bath with my studio buddies Nick and Victoria, to see the Royal Women exhibition at the Fashion Museum.
On display were dresses and gowns from four recent generations of the British royal family, Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret.
For these women it was important to support British designers and materials, as a way to show patriotic loyalty to their new role. “In 1863 Alexandra brought her own beautiful Belgian lace wedding gown, but was forced instead into a blizzard of Honiton lace and swags of orange blossom: the exhibition demonstrates how as soon as she could she had the gown drastically remodelled, stripping off the frills and abandoning the giant crinoline.” (Maev Kennedy, The Guardian 30/01/2018)
By 1910 Alexandra preferred French couture houses, and the dress that I would have taken away was a purple embroidered chiffon evening dress by Doeuillet, Paris. The colour is a deep, regal purple with the most exquisite embroidery and bead work, including tassels of beads cascading from the cuff on the short sleeves.
There were two dresses from Queen Mary, both from the 1930’s, my favourite era, one a floor length fully beaded gown, the other a devore velvet dress with built-in cape.
If you’ve been watching The Crown you will have had a window into the world of the royal family, and looking at the dresses from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother I was reminded that Edward and Wallace called her as Cookie, a reference to her rounded build (like a cook, not a biscuit!).
In comparison Princess Margaret’s dresses were tiny, her Dior dress from the early 50’s practically looks like it’s got a handspan waist.
She certainly seemed to be able to have more fun with fashion, and didn’t feel the need to always buy British, though she did follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and wear Norman Hartnell dresses. In fact Hartnell designed the wedding dresses for both Margaret, in 1960, and her sister Queen Elizabeth, in 1947.
Interestingly, many of these garments have survived because they were passed on to ladies in waiting or friends of the family. Some are on loan from our current Queen and others were purchased years ago by the museums founder, the costume historian Doris Langley Moore, as she discovered them squirreled away in a boutique in London.
The dresses which belonged to Margaret were acquired when one of the curators at the museum was invited by the Queen to come to Kensington Palace, pieces from Margaret’s wardrobe were laid out on a bed and the curator was motioned to pick one or two…well they cheekily asked if they could take them all, and, after some consultation, they did!