Royal Couture @ Fashion and Textiles Museum


2012 was not only the year Britain hosted the Olympic Games, but it was also the Diamond Jubilee. Following a year of decadence and celebration the Fashion and Textiles Museum are playing host to an exhibition celebrating the fashion designers to the Queen: Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Frederick Fox.

Of the 50 or so couture outfits on display, all hold a modest elegance. The garments are exquisitely well made and cut. Where there is embellishment it is subtle, yet finely detailed. Nowhere is there any sign of the ostentatious, purely delicate handiwork and pristine tailoring. On display is not only ball gowns and evening wear but outfits to be worn everyday dating from the 1920s to the 1980s in chronological order.

Norman Hartnell received his first royal client in 1935 following the opening of his Mayfair couture house in 1923. He went on to design both the Queen’s wedding dress in 1947 and her coronation dress in 1953. Hardy Amies also received royal patronage having designed clothes for the Queen when she was a princess. Amies began as a designer for Lachasse which was famous for their tailored suits. In 1959 he staged the first record of a mens catwalk show and became a prominent menswear. Here the exhibition shows strength in showing the public that it was not only the female elite that had an eye for fashion.

On display are sketches by the designers and samples of embroidery work. There is also photography contemporary to the clothes from Norman Parkinson. It is clear that after the second world war their was vast support on British designers from the monarchy. British couture was seen as a rival to designs in Paris for its elegance and timelessness. Support for creatives across the commonwealth is shown in the hats of Australian milliner Frederick Fox who was also popular with the Queen Mother, as well as footwear by shoe-maker Rayne – every aspect of the outfit from head to toe was well considered.

Although small, the display houses a wardrobe full of exquisite clothes, a collection which only a true royal could succeed in possessing. An elegant display of true British craftsmanship, detail and elegance.

Hartnell to Amies: Couture by Royal Appointment is on display at the Fashion and Textiles Museum until 23 February

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine and Reorient.

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