#FashionRules – Celebrating fashion in Britain spanning 4 decades

Palace interior and exterior Books for sale at the palace shop

Location: Kensington Palace, London

During a brief stop in the British capital this summer, I decided to visit Kensington Palace which is part of the Historic Palaces group. In one section of the palace I was lucky to come across an exhibition which focuses on fashion and is aptly entitled ‘Fashion Rules’. This can be read in 2 ways: either as the rules of fashion, or how fashion rules society from the royal family to the woman in the street. It was revealing because one could trace where and how certain trends emerged and from to time reemerge and are adapted to suit post-modern times, from the red carpet to the grass roots among people shopping in stores. Here is the rationale of the exhibition (which is found on the website):

‘Fashion Rules spans four decades of recent fashion and features 10 notable designers who had the privilege and the challenge of dressing these royal women in their fashion heydays’.

Photos & quotation  Poster & vogue Princess Diana's era

The dresses/gowns and outfits featured are the work of the following designers. However, the images are grouped according to the decade and, as I did not have much time to alight by the dresses. For example Hartnell and Amies were 1950s designers whereas Bohan and Toms worked in the 60s/70s. Arbeid and Oldfield designed dresses for Princess Diana so that would be in the 80s.

The good news is that the exhibition is now open until summer 2015 so you can visit in conjunction with the palace which is definitely worth spending a morning around the grounds.

For the sake of precision the following profiles were summarized and adapted from the link below:

Norman Hartnell (1901-1979) had his own label back in 1932. His style was characterized by embroidered pieces and a sophisticated elegance. His work caught the eye of the royal family for whom he eventfully created the Queen’s wedding gown in 1947.

Sir Edwin Hardy Amies (1909-2003) was known for his tailored designs for women and men. He went on to become official dressmaker for the Queen in 1950.

Ian Thomas (1929–1993) worked at Norman Hartnell designs and collaborated on the Coronation robes. He was renowned for the dreamy chiffon dresses which went on to influence 1970s fashion.

Marc Bohan (1926- ) was House of Dior chief designer for 30 years. His 1961 ‘Slim Look’ collection was a throwback to the sleek silhouette of the 20s. His clients included Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace of Monaco. His famous slogan “N’oubliez pas la femme” (do no forget the woman) in a 1963 Vogue magazine still stands today.

Carl Toms OBE (1927–1999) aided Norman Hartnell in designing Princess Margaret’s wedding dress in 1960 but was also a major theatre and stage designer.

Jacques Azagury (1958- ) had his own store in Knightsbridge, London. His designs gravitate towards special occasion wear and among his clients was Princess Diana.

Floor-sweeping evening gowns became were a trademark of Murray Arbeid’s work (1935-2011) and unsurprisingly Princess Diana commissioned several dresses by Arbeid.

Zandra Rhodes CBE (1940- ) was Designer of the Year in 1972 and Royal Designer for Industry in 1947. Her area was textile design but she went on to launch the pink-and-black jersey collection featuring holes and beaded safety pins.

Bruce Oldfield OBE (1950- ) started creating couture gowns for Princess Diana in 1980 and that collaboration lasted a decade. His materials of choice included taffeta, velvet, and mink. He was also known for colour blocking and striking colour combinations.

Self-taught fashion designer, Catherine Walker (1945-2010) caught the attention of British Vogue in 1982 as a dress out of the hundreds of outfits (which were created for Princess Diana) made it on the magazine in 1982. Her style was characterized by a palette of primary colours including black, (navy) blue and red, while attention to detail took the form of sumptuous beading and the military style embroidery (known as frogging).

Here is a selection of the main pieces on display:

Dresses 1
The first selection of dresses
Dresses 2
N’oubliez pas la femme’ – detailing is key
dresses & vogue 3
More daring designs and vogue covers complementing the Royals’ pieces

À bientôt!



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