Behind the Scenes: Making Fashion Rules
The 20th century narrative at Kensington
With the recent transformation of Kensington Palace it was decided that a long-term home was needed to represent the 20th century stories of the Royal Family. The Pigott Galleries which are a relatively blank canvas with few remaining historical features were chosen for this purpose and will complete the ambition to tell 350 years of royal history at the palace.
Our dress collections
Our dress collections comprise over 12,000 items of clothing dating from the 17th century to the present day, worn by both royalty and courtiers. Much of the collection is in storage and can be seen by appointment, but as there are so few spaces suitable for its display only a fraction of what we have is visible at any time. The collection is also rich in 20th century material and is the perfect resource for telling the fascinating stories of the monarchy in more recent times.
Making it possible
The Pigott Galleries have been re-designed to make them suitable for showing historical dress - with controls on light levels and bespoke showcases installed so that they can host a series of semi-permanent dress displays over the next 10 years. The first of these is Fashion Rules.
Key to making these displays possible is the new technique for mounting dress, recently perfected by our conservation team. This technique shows the objects in their very best light whilst ensuring they are supported and protected. Each garment is carefully measured and a bespoke Perspex mount is created. The mount is then cut away so that all that is seen is the dress with no distracting neck pieces or dressmakers dummy. These moulds are then padded up and supportive petticoats are added where needed.
This cut-away method is essential for the display of 20th century dress as when you are displaying such recent history it is important to be sensitive to people's memories. Creating a head and face which resembled Diana, for example, would have been inappropriate – it is better to let the dress speak for itself as a beautiful object in its own right.
Curatorial decisions: Who to feature?
For this first exhibition we decided to look at three royal women who have all worn exquisite clothes and all had a personal link to Kensington Palace: HM The Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Both Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales started their families at Kensington and made the palace their home. What many people don’t know is that The Queen and Prince Phillip also spent time here as newlyweds before Phillip went to serve with the Royal Navy in Malta.