As ever in London there is a wide variety of fashion events happening right now.
Here are some of things that I've seen recently and think you will like.
The Enchanted Palace - Invitations to explore Kensington Palace from a new perspective are open until January 2012.
(C) Historic Royal Palaces.
Kensington Palace has unveiled a fabulous new exhibition 'The Enchanted Palace'. The Palace uses fashion as part of a guessing game to discover which seven Royal ladies are talked about in the Palace's chambers. Leading British based designers have created pieces to represent many of the Palace's former inhabitants. Since the builders have arrived new secrets and discoveries are coming to light and in the midst of these changes Historic Royal Palaces have bravely moved to show the Palace in a unconventional new light.
The tour begins with a journey up the 'Wrong Stairs' decorated with 'un-covered' drawings from little hands that once knew the Palace as home.
The Room of Royal Sorrows shows a piece by Aminaka Wilmont. The dress is worn by a princess suspended over a four poster bed by a ream of material that matches her dress. Perhaps she is suspended in her grief or floating in a sad dream. Here is a picture.
(c) Historic Royal Palaces.
The bold blue theme of this Aminaka Wilmont plays to the theme of tears and references key pieces from the Autumn - Winter 2010 collection shown at London Fashion Week in February '10. Opposite the enourmous bed is large dressing table covered with bottles that where used in the past to catch tears. The idea was that the stoppers where left off and when all the liquid had evaporated it was time to stop grieving.
The Room of Enlightenment is inhabited by statues of Philosophers brought from the temple of sunshine in Kew Gardens and also by more than a dozen millinery pieces by celebrated milliner Stephen Jones.
The pieces by Stephen Jones reference styles of the past and of modern times. There are delicate cloche hats and elaborate creations that would look fitting at a Regency period Ball.
These two ideals meet at the statue of Sir Isaac Newton 'wearing' a Stephen Jones facinator in the form of red diamonte apple complete with green stalk and bite missing. There are several hats that I think could be from Stephen Jones' 'Ascot Collection' that he has just launched for Dorchester Resorts. I would certainly be happy wear one. He has a wonderful way of making hats that use shapes from various periods in history, yet they have a fresh modern look to them. Very interesting.
Under the eyes of Mars and Minerva you
pass through to the Cupola Room now known
as the Room of Palace Time.
This room features an installation by
Boudicca. The dresses, for me
referenced both traditional corsetry
and the cogs and springs of the physical
mechanisms of measuring time. As it's time
measured in a palace they are suspended
They are formed in the colour of Gold,
the eternal metal. Perhaps this is to show
how timeless and unchanging Court life
The light bounces off the Boudicca pieces
and creates a wonderful effect in the room.
I stood there for quite a while just taking
it all in.
Here I can see the theme of Palace
Time measuring the lives of Royal women
who's days where bound by ritual and (C) Historic Royal Palaces
ceremony. The corsetry perhaps shows
how their lives had restrictions like other
women in society.
Many princesses dreamed of a world beyond the walls of the Court that they inhabited. Caroline of Ansbach, the little known wife of George II was one such woman. She explored the wider world through the gifts that where brought to her at Kensington Palace. The Echo Morgan piece, playfully illustrates the places and ideas she 'explored'.
I've been a bit naughty here and
given one Princess away, but I feel she
is not well known enough for such an
(C) Historic Royal Palaces.
Walking through the Palaces rooms I felt like I was attending a contemporary art exhibition. The celebrated performace artists Wildworks are attending to the building renovations with their own unique display. In the room of the Dancing Princesses two couture outfits where displayed in a moonlit forest (formerly the Palace Council Chamber).
The ladies who wore them loved ballet
and the arts and both where known for
their patronage of British designers.
Here is one of their dresses. The
moonlight seems to make the white
shine out more brilliantly.
(C) Historic Royal Palaces.
In the Room of the Dreaming Princess a innovative William Tempest piece is suspended from the ceiling. This avant garde origami-inspired piece is created to give a trompe d'oeil effect as it emerges, like a dream from the ceiling to the bed. If you are lying on the bed, piled high with cosy quilted blankets the dress seems to come out of the moonlit room towards you. A challenging piece and really fun. I wonder what the rooms occupant would have thought of it?
She is still there with her two handsome-faced half siblings looking down at the visitors exploring her room in a new open-plan fashion. The room is decorated to reflect the night that her fortunes changed forever and the life that she knew was turned upside down. Many people believe that she dreamed of freedom, perhaps she dreamed of something else?
(C) Historic Royal Palaces.
The Room of Flight, formerly the King's Gallery is the setting for a beautiful Vivienne Westwood couture dress. This piece is stunning and although it is suposed to symbolise a period in history when this Princess lived, I think it could be worn today to a special event.
The traditional length of the dress (it includes a court train) and the clever gathering in the tayloring add to the effect of movement on the staircase. The dress looks as if she could come to life at any minute and escape as she dreamed of. You really need to stop and look at it for a while to fully take in the intricacy of the folds, cutting and intricacies.
But did this Princess escape?
There are clues to be found
elsewhere in the room, so I won't
spoil it for you. I think her
love of life and vitality have really
been captured in this piece and I
wonder if she would have worn it
herself. To be honest, I would
secretly like to wear it myself.
(C) Historic Royal Palaces
Many women who have lived at Kensington Palace have given important patronage to the fashion and tailoring industries at different points in history. More recently one princess, Princess Margaret-Rose brought fashion into the Palace in a new way by entertaining friends such as Mary Quant, Vidal Sassoon and Fashionista Ballerina Margot Fontaine.
Many people have lived at Kensington Palace and many powerful emotions have been felt within it's walls. I love the way that fashion has been used as the main medium to communicate this but the spirits of those walls communicate in other ways.
The Enchanted Palace has it's own story to tell you and I strongly recommend that you pay a visit. The exhibition is also very child friendly with interactive pieces and performers and a small army in the King's Gallery for little hands to command. Canon's, I'm told, are available upon request.
Grace Kelly: Style Icon
At the Victoria & Albert Museum until
26th September 2010 and kindly
sponsored by Van Cleef & Arples.
Photograph by Erwin Blumenfeld New York, 1955.
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld 2009
The V&A have opened an exhibit which follows the one held several years ago at the Palace Princier in Monaco. While that exhibit in Monaco looked at Grace's life through many different personal things such as letters this exhibit is focussed on the fashion of a lady who lived with grace and style. I think her parents gave her a name that fortold who she would grow to be. It captures her spirit.
The first piece that welcomes you to the exhibition salon is a truly amazing piece by Maggy Rouff from 1959. It's a dusky pink dress of silk, satin and accompanied by a light pink silk-chiffon light waist-tie. This dress has the full skirt of the 1950s and looks very wearable now for a special occasion. This is a signature piece that really caputres the 1950s look that we think of when we think of the most beautiful clothes that where created at the time.
I was lucky to be able to talk with Jenny Lister who curated the exhibit just before it opened. In conversation she explained that she has put this collection together to look critically at the clothes and how they formed part of Grace's life both as an American actress and later as a consort to a European Head of State.
But this is about Grace herself, moving from one setting to the next but maintaining her own recognisable style.
Grace's signature style was developed in her early
years as an Actress in New York where she worked
hard to achieve critical sucess on Broadway. Her
simple chic style was noted when she arrived for
auditions in New York. While her acting ability
brought her Hollywood roles such as Country Girl,
it was her own personal charisma, style and grace
brought her to the attention of casting directors
looking for something very special.
The exhibit shows two pieces from Rear Window
and The Swan that have come from private
collections they where originally created at MGM.
Grace Kelly with her Academy Award for Country Girl, 30 March 1955
© Everett Collection/Rex features
I suppose it's not surprising that studios such as MGM should have their own Ateliers. Grace is notable not just as a client but a lady who had a keen instinct and eye for who had the magic touch and dressed her very well. Their are several pieces in this collection that where made by Helen Rose (including the piece from The Swan) who worked at MGM but who later made clothes for Grace after she left films and acting behind and settled in Monaco.
Hollywood dressed Grace but I have the impression that she styled herself before she got there and it helped her career.
An example of forward fashion planning, or trend spotting as we call it now, I believe can be found in a piece that is exhibited as Grace's Engagement Dress. It came from McCall's Pattern cut Book 1955 and was a piece that she had modelled in her earlier days in New York.
The dress I'm talking about is the first one in the left hand cabinet below. It's pretty and I would wear it now. Around and about in my usual haunts in central London I'm seeing print dresses popping up all over the place and I think it's has a very contemporary appeal.
The dress next to it is the Wedding Dress from the Civil Ceremony that took place in Monaco in 1956. It's the perfect powder pink and is cut close to the body in the higher part of the garment and the lower part flows with generous use of fabric in the skirt.
Images from the display Grace Kelly: Style Icon
17 April – 26 September 2010
As a patron Grace had an important personal role in maintaining the good relations between Monaco and France. Fashion was then, and still is today, one of the most important economic sectors within the French economy. Fashion is a beautifully illustrative, visable way of continuing the special relationship between the two countries. Fashion and diplomacy go hand in hand and many leading ladies in the international diplomatic world today are still keenly aware of how they can represent their country, or underscore relations with other countries, through the clothes that they wear.
But Grace was not just a fortunate client, she was clever in her choices and she continued to collaborate with key figures such as Marc Bohan at Christian Dior when early pieces worked well. There seem to have been a small group of Houses that Grace favoured, Dior, Chanel & Balenciaga that produced chic exclusive formal wear. It should be noted that although she did patronise the best Houses Grace often wore Chanel pieces, coat dresses for example, around Monaco when she was doing ordinary routine things.
I think beyond continuing her former role as a model or client (or unofficial Brand Ambassador as we would call it now) for these Houses she was also being economical, just like many woman. Although exclusive the thick woollen complex knit style was practical in a coastal town. I think that there was a practical approach to the wardrobe and pieces had to earn and justify their place. And as the saying goes, 'when a piece works well, you work it hard'.
The practical side of Grace's Wardrobe was also explores in some of the clothes that she ordered from California before her marriage. Simple Jersey tops, peddle pushers and soft cashmire sweaters to keep warm in the cool nights. There are also some beautiful shoes that Grace ordered from an unknown shoe maker during her visit to the south of France in 1955.
I can also see a Greek influence in some of the pieces. A definate affinity for well cut pieces using drapery to modestly cloth the figure. It's a very demure take on showing the figure in a flattering way. Very appropriate for the role that she took on.
I think if I had to define her style it would be more of a fashion ethos. Always looking tidy, organised and well groomed. Take your packing seriously, and make lists if you're going away for more than a few days. I have seen a picture of Grace packing carefuly before she moved to Monaco with her little Poodle looking on. He looks as if he is waiting patiently to be packed himself. There's something about the tidy methodical approach that I think is pretty key to putting yourself together well. Accessories are also important. They really do complete a look and as long as you buy items that are flexible you can use them over and over. A couple of simple smart bags and key pieces of jewellery will set you in good stead.
Van Cleef & Arples have sponsored this
exhibition and they are a Jewellers with
a special link to Grace and her story.
Her kind hearted future-husband Ranier
bought a special parure for her to
celebrate their future wedding. This
collaboration continued after the
wedding and below is the special
Grace Diademe that was made for her.
Jenny Lister, the exhibit curator was wearing a signature Van Cleef & Arples Alhambra
necklace when I met her before the show opened. And very beautiful it was too. I loved the bold design. I really like the Alhambra range the designs are fun and every one hopes to find a four-leaf clover one day!
After seeing so many stunning pieces worn in public and private I was, of course very impressed. What struck me the most though was the feeling that it wasn't really the designers who where represented here. It was Grace Kelly herself, the choices that she made of those pieces. She was often advised by vendeures from Paris but the collection has the imprint of her and her warmth.
It is true that clothes make you notice the person and I think that this is a skillfull assemblage of pieces that where originally chosen or commissioned by a woman with a clear, simple,
intuitive eye for what was best. There are style points here that you can take away from this exhibition and follow, if you chose, no matter what budget you have.
I think the Grace Kelly exhibit is a collection that reflects part her life and her journey but it's also a lesson in style. Asside from fashion everyone remembers how kind Grace was as a person and I would like to thank the Palace Princier and the V&A for letting us see these pieces in London. It's truly wonderful.
I very strongly recommend that you visit this collection before the end of September 2010. There are so many pieces that capture the moods of high fashion from the 1950s until the start of the 1980s and they all express her.
Stitched Up at the V&A Friday Late on 30th April 2010.
The last Friday of every month is special at the V&A. They usually open late for a themed event known as Friday Late.
I arrived with a couple of friends to discover what the V&A had put on for Stitched Up. Alongside the current exhibits that where open late the V&A was transformed into a craftworking hub for the evening.
The Stitch Surgery sponsored by Coats Crafts gave away starter kits for quilting work. We where each given a sewing kit and material and templates. So in the foyer, with a glass of red wine, you begin to sew. Moving around the V&A there where various stitching booths flagged with the Red Cross flag. Here there was more material available for continuing your design and visitors where encouraged to sit down and continue their creation.
I like quilting as you may have gathered from my piece on the March News Page. It also reminds me of London and my favourite parts of it. Like many cities in Europe and New York and beyond I think London is a patchwork quilt itself. You walk a little way and things change and feel different and you make your London out of your favourite bits of the city.
There where lots of very popular events dotted around the museum. The Girl Racer sewing race drew big crowds through the evening and was highly competitive. This was basically a sewing race in the form of a 2D slalom on paper. The idea was to test the dexterity of the sewer. You may be surprised to know that it wasn't neccissarily the women who where the fastest.
Several installations where created during the evening one was Patchwork Keepsake that took place in the Ornate Rooms. Visitors grouped around the tables and created cross stitch, patchwork and applique pieces that where pieced together to create a giant patchwork quilt. Another was the Giant Textile loom where everyone was invited to come forward and add to the weave.
One of the most popular events was the Monster for London event. Very long queues formed for the chance to create you own monster puppet from craft matriels. I'm not sure if anyone managed to rival the scaryness of King Kong but I saw many monsters on the hands of their proud creators.
(C) Angela Cliffe 2009-10