(All Photos courtesy vogue.co.uk)
The Queen allows her clothes to reflect fashion but not lead it," said Caroline de Guitaut, curator of Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe a new exhibition at The Palace of Holyroodhouse. Celebrating the Queen's 90th birthday, the exhibition explores her support of British couturiers including Norman Hartnell, Ian Thomas and Hardy Amies. The showcase marks the first time such garments have gone on display in Scotland and is followed by exhibitions at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle with over 150 outfits presented across the three palaces.
"The Queen transcends fashion but her clothes continue to reflect it," said De Guitaut. "She is completely involved in her wardrobe and works with leading British couturiers of the day but will reject designer's sketches if she doesn't like them. Consistently elegant, she dresses in bright, visible block colours, often with a complementary hat but note that we rarely see her in pattern."
Highlights of the exhibition include an unusual rich red Oscars-worthy Hardy Amies gown made with complex pleating and folds marking the strapless style that the Queen wore throughout the Fifties and several dresses from British couturier Norman Hartnell, who first worked for the then Princess Elizabeth in the Forties.
For the wedding of her sister Princess Margaret in 1960, the Queen wore an exquisite Hartnell turquoise-blue dress with matching bolero jacket in silk taffeta, a fabric rarely used because it easily creases. The dress marks a turning point in the Queen's wardrobe as the last time members of the Royal Family wore full-length gowns for a daytime event.
Royal Stewart tartan has long been synonymous with the monarchy and can be seen in a sash added to Hartnell's beautifully embroidered duchesse satin evening dress that the Queen wore for the 1971 Gillies Ball at Balmoral Castle. Introduced by Queen Victoria, the Gillies Ball is held for neighbours and castle staff and royal devotees will delight in a rare tartan dress worn by Queen Victoria between 1835-37.
An Isle of Skye tartan shawl is draped over a purple silk wool blend coat and green crêpe and lace dress worn for the official opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Designer Sandra Murray said: "Inspired by the thistle, the frock coat has a purple and bronze taffeta lining and the dress has a lace paisley design with sleeves to the elbow. When I delivered the final outfit to the Queen she saw herself in the mirror and said 'Splendid'. Habitually she has worn a coat to the knee, but this is a longer style and I think she liked the cutaway shape and deep-V neckline."
Highlighting diplomacy within the Queen's wardrobe, a Hardy Amies dress embellished with Californian native poppies "communicates with her audience without having to say anything" says De Guitaut. A magnificent Hartnell evening gown of pale-blue silk faille with embroidered bodice and full skirt worn in 1962 on King Olav of Norway's state visit is typical of the crinoline style that the Queen wore until the mid to late Sixties when silhouettes changed.
"Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe" is at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, 21 April - 16 October 2016, Buckingham Palace from 23 July - 2 October, and Windsor Castle from 17 September 2016 - 8 January 2017.