Friday, 23 September 2016

Fashioning a reign: 90 years of style from the Queen’s Wardrobe

The Queen’s devoted subjects are invited to view some of her sumptuous dresses at three royal palaces

Written by Thomas Blaikie


Now in its 23rd year, the Buckingham Palace summer opening raises millions of pounds annually. But royal openings go as far back as the 1970s, when the Queen admitted the public to Sandringham. ‘Mummy is furious with me for doing it,’ she told friends at the time. ‘I rather agree with mummy,’ one of these friends remarked.

The minute I saw Buckingham Palace I was enchanted by it. The most striking first impression is how small it is. John Nash, the architect engaged by George IV to turn Buckingham House into a palace, had to cram a lot into limited space. There was no question of any corridors between the rooms. The Grand Staircase is incredibly grand but small. The second oddity, as it were, of the building is the outlook from the two state rooms, the Green Drawing Room and the Throne Room, on the courtyard side – a barren vista of asphalt with onlookers in the mall visible. The garden side is another matter. These drawbacks lend charm, giving a delightful, ad hoc improvised feel of an EnglishThomas-Blaikie-colour-176 country house.

None of this is to deny the staggering grandeur and bizarre foreign feel of the rooms themselves. Buckingham Palace would be an important, world-class interior whoever lived there. You will not find magazines or evidence of knitting left lying around, but there is none of that feeling of deadness often found in royal palaces elsewhere, even ones in use.

The presentation varies from year to year and is always fresh and lively, your hostess welcomingly present in photographs and spirit. This year the theme is the Queen’s dresses, but the superb exhibition is confined to the Ball Room and Ball Supper Room, leaving the other rooms uncluttered and magnificently themselves. The Blue Drawing Room was perhaps the winner, particularly on a hot day, with its exotic French windows giving out onto the garden. With its massive vaulted, gilded ceiling, floor-to-ceiling pilasters, elaborate giltwood furniture and four huge chandeliers, the room could be overwhelming. But it isn’t. The secret is the friendly colour scheme, actually a delicious and unusual combination of rich, orange- brown and warm silvery azure.

Sumptuous beading, appliqué and embroidery: so the Queen’s dresses chime in with her palace. Her wedding and coronation dresses are displayed in strange semi-recumbent positions; these and the early Hartnell evening gowns are incredible.

So we passed out of the palace for a light lunch overlooking the garden. What could be more blissful than lunching beside the royal lawns?

At the exit they stamped our tickets, enabling free return at any time within a year, subject to availability. Well, thank you, Your Majesty, we’ll be back.

Fashioning A Reign: 90 Years Of Style From The Queen’s Wardrobe is at Buckingham Palace until 2 October, Palace of Holyroodhouse until 16 October and Windsor Castle until 8 January 2017: www.royalcollection.org.uk


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