Just as Britain and the rest of the world had taken a sigh of contentment and began to relax after the excitement surrounding the Royal Wedding earlier this year, it was announced that the dress of the century, the dress in which Kate Middleton transformed in front of the world from an ‘ordinary woman’ into a Princess, would be exhibited for the world to see in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace.
The dress is exhibited in the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace, which although many people visit simply as a means to view the dress, actually sets the scene for this special exhibition. The grand rooms, hallways and staircases of the palace, create an atmosphere of grandeur and stateliness that perfectly sets the atmosphere in which to view this iconic garment.
The dress itself is presented in the Grand Ballroom, lavish with opulent red and gold decorations and furnishings. The presentation has been criticised by some, most notably by the Queen herself, but there, in the middle of this magnificent high ceilinged Ballroom, elevated on a platform and displayed under spotlights in the middle of the otherwise dimly lit room, the dress appears almost angelic, as if floating. As you make your way into the room and around the back of the dress, the train is splayed out representing an opening flower, flaunting four layers of weighted material which were structured to keep the shape as she walked up the isle. Facing the dress, we can see the true detail. Men and women alike surround the platform, transfixed, quiet, taking in every last detail in awe. A huge arch at the back of the room, on top of which sculptures of angels gaze down from above the Royal thrones, frame the dress giving an ethereal appearance.
Through the areas leading into the Grand Ballroom, we learn about the design and meaning behind the dress and other aspects of the wedding. Kate herself had a great deal of involvement with her dress, working with Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen to incorporate significant themes into its design. It was important to her that British artisan techniques were used. Kate wanted to look to the past, incorporating corsetry, which McQueen is well regarded for, and other Victorian features such as a bustle and the padded hip. She also wanted to look to the future, with a light satin gazar fabric in ivory white and a modern cut. The result was a timeless contemporary Victorian design, creating juxtaposition between the subtlety in the detail, folds and cuts, and the presence of a historical importance. The dress is a feat of engineering. Cut on the fold, Sarah Burton had to ensure it maintained its weightless appearance whilst keeping the structure of the dress in movement. In typical McQueen style, the lace, which covers the hemline, train, bodice and arms, is specific to the dress and was hand cut and sewn onto the silk gazar by the British School of Needlework. Another theme which Kate wished to incorporate into the Wedding, from her dress, to the cake, to her bouquet, was the language of flowers. The lace which details the dress and her bespoke shoes is comprised of roses, daffodils, shamrock and thistle, the four flowers of Britain.
The dress has such significance, meaning and thought behind it, emulating Kate Middleton’s serene yet strong personality, it truly is a work of art, and the silence that it commands from its visitors is a testament to its charm.
The Royal Wedding Dress. A Story of Great British Design takes place at Buckingham Palace from 23rd July until 3rd October 2011.