Fashion Rules or Rules of Fashion
I visited the “Fashion Rules” exhibition at Kensington Palace on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Appropriately dressed for the occasion in an embellished skirt and hat, I strolled through Kensington Gardens. As I admired the beautiful, landscaped garden I soaked in a “princess for a day” moment, beholding “my” palace, before heading towards the entrance of the exhibition. Passing a café terrace outside, I glanced at the visitors sitting in the sun, there were my minions.
The entrance to “Fashion Rules” is through a dimly lit hall which gives access to a series of rooms smaller than the one I had imagined for a royal residence! One was dedicated solely to Princess Diana’s garments, whilst the other rooms illustrate the evolution of the Queen’s and Princess Margaret’s wardrobes through the years. Each dress of the exhibition is shown on a mannequin housed in a glass case, a note describing the frock and its origin positioned by the foot of the mannequins.
Reading the exhibition notes, it became apparent that royalty takes “dressing for the occasion” to a different level.
The note on a silk satin evening gown designed by Norman Hartnell for Queen Elizabeth ll explains how thoroughly considered the design was. The gown is fashioned in the national colours of Pakistan – the country in which it was first worn. Its front is plain in order to clearly display the Queens insignia worn across her chest.
A frock designed by Catherine Walker, for Princess Diana’s trip to Brazil 1991 after the country lost a World Cup match against Argentina, is another example of well-considered design. Pink and white were the colours chosen to avoid rekindling the memory of the recent game. Walker had strict instructions to avoid colours such as green, yellow and blue, as well as a blue/white combination, as these would bring recollections of the Argentinian victory. In similar style, on a visit to Japan in 1986, Princess Diana wore a pink Zandra Rose dress to evoke the colours of the cherry trees that were in full bloom at the time.
While the heirs to the throne had to appear respectable and dress appropriately, their siblings could have a little more fun!
In the 60’s, British fashion and pop music took the world by storm. This youth culture was fuelled by a generation that enjoyed more disposable income and more leisure time than ever before.
At the heart of this movement was the “Swinging London.” At the heart of the “Swinging London” was Princess Margaret!
As a Dane, I have in fact, limited knowledge of the British Royal Family. An exhibition note and the accompanying press picture were my first introduction to Princess Margaret. In the photo, dressed in a cream satin full-skirted dress reminiscent of the white dress Marilyn Monroe wears in “The Seven Year Itch”, Princess Margaret gracefully smokes a cigarette.
The note describes Princess Margaret’s dress as “more Hollywood glamour than royal wardrobe.” Indeed one could easily imagine Margaret smoking cigarettes and sipping champagne whilst circulating among the jet-set of her time.
The Princess’ wardrobe choices signified a departure from the demure style traditionally associated with the Royal family. Her marriage to fashion photographer Antony Armstrong Jones in 1960, secured Princess Margaret position as fashion first-mover of the monarchy. The fact that she wasn’t heir to the throne gave her the freedom to mingle with the music and film stars as well as experiment with new trends. To an extent, she earned her place in London chic set.
The caftan and turban designed for Princess Margaret in 1976, when she attended a fancy dress party on the island of Mustique, stood out. With all the current discussions on cultural appropriation and its misuse – Native American headdresses banned from festivals and the subject of chola fashion as discussed in The Guardian – imagine the outrage, if a Princess was to wear the fancy dress costume today.
In this way, “Fashion Rules” also speaks of a period in time, of its values and specificities, here of a time when ethnic clothing flooded London boutiques without anyone batting an eyelid. Some of “the greater freedoms of the time” as expressed in the exhibition could now be considered political incorrectness.
The historic evolution of the mini-skirt is ironically apparent when you consider Princess Margaret’s 1960’s “short day dress” on show. Decorated with lace, the dress extends way below the knee; both daring and trendy for a Princess, it looks quite conservative today. It reminds us how the apprehension of the “mini-skirt” has evolved since and demonstrates how the royals can embrace trends only with care. Fashion was allowed – looking indecent was not.
The well-mannered behaviour of the “Fashion Rules” docents, discrete unless the situation required, supported my delusional position as Princess of the Palace. “Wouldn’t you love to know where she wore it?” a docent asked as I discussed with my colleague a very detailed, lace apricot dress. We replied with an enthusiastic “YES” to which she answered “So would I!”
The dress is believed to have been created by Norman Hartnell, but the occasion to which Her Majesty wore it remains surprisingly unknown.
The ambiguity and wit of the title of this Kensington Palace exhibition: “Fashion Rules”, is on point regardless of how you choose to interpret it.Is “Fashion Rules” referring to the way fashion reigns, or should we instead understand it as the rules of fashion?
The exhibition leaves room for interpretation. It shows the evolution of regal fashion over more than three decades and explores the careful thoughts and rules behind the attire of three royals: Queen Elizabeth ll, Princess Margaret and Diana Princess of Wales.
Open now until Summer 2015
Every day, 10:00-18:00 (Last admission 17:00)
Adults £16.50 – Concessions £13.70