See this: Fashioning a Reign exhibition, Windsor Castle

Oh my, you are in for such a treat with this amazing exhibition which opened on Saturday at Windsor Castle. I went to the press launch and, not just me, but even the ‘seen it all before’ fashion journos there were agog (great word – not used enough) for ’tis very special indeed!

Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe is an exhibition of over 30 outfits representing key moments in The Queen’s life and reign, from family celebrations to State and ceremonial occasions.

The outfits are on display in the castle’s Semi-State Apartments, originally created for George IV (who loved a bit of gold and brocade!) so they are incredibly lavish rooms decorated in rich reds and golds lit with chandeliers – basically the perfect setting to show off the royal frocks!

Curator Caroline de Guitaut arranging an evening gown in the Crimson Drawing Room, Windsor Castle.

The exhibition’s curator, Caroline de Guitaut, explained how pleased she was to be able to exhibit the outfits in the kind of rooms they would have been worn in, so you can see how the dresses would have sparkled under the light of the crystal chandeliers. And I loved being able to get up so close to the dresses and get a real glimpse at the glamour and beauty of them, and the amazing skill involved in making them.

The intricate beading, rich materials and obvious hours of work and skill that has gone into them is all there right in front of you shining out like a beacon of Britishness! I had to restrain myself from belting out a quick burst of Rule Britannia. The outfits really show The Queen’s support of British couture during her reign, with designers such as Sir Norman Hartnell, Sir Hardy Amies, Ian Thomas and Angela Kelly creating some amazing gowns.

Among the evening gowns on display is this stunning Norman Hartnell gown from 1960, made from Duchesse satin and sewn with pearls, sequins, beads and diamante. His signature embroidery is on many of his dresses – apparently he had his own embroidery studio with at least a dozen people working on the embroidery for his collections…

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It really is a showcase of the designers’ body of work showing off the pleating, draping, beading and more. The mannequins are all bespoke so they fit and show off the dresses to perfection.

From the Green and Crimson Drawing Rooms where the evening gowns and more opulent dresses are on display the exhibition moves into the State Dining Room which focuses more on outfits with a Windsor connection.

Clothes from the Queen’s childhood are here, including her Girl Guides uniform, her riding outfits and even some pantomime costumes worn during a performance of Aladdin in 1943. The children often staged their own Christmas panto at home with the help of friends and the headmaster of the local school.

Pantomime outfits worn by Princess Elizabeth (L) and Princess Margaret (R) in the 1943 production of Aladdin at Windsor Castle.

Riding outfits by the equestrian and livery tailors Bernard Weatherill.

There are also the outfits The Queen wore for various family weddings, including that of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall which took place in St George’s Chapel.

I also loved the series of outfits which Caroline had grouped together under the theme of ‘diplomatic dressing’. The use of subtle messaging through her outfits has been used since the early part of her reign. Such as this dress worn by The Queen during her historic state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 – the bodice of which was covered in 2,091 chiffon shamrocks and a diamanté harp, both designed to pay homage to the host country.

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There is also this gorgeous blue-grey silk-organza evening gown by Hardy Amies worn by The Queen to a dinner at Government House, Nova Scotia in 1959 during her tour of Canada. The dress was embroidered with mayflowers, the regional emblem of Nova Scotia and Caroline said that the people just went wild when they saw it.

Another stunning dress, showing the more floaty and less fitted style of the 1970s, is this blue silk and chiffon dress with long draped sleeves and a flared, panelled skirt, embroidered with sprays of cherry blossom, the national flower of Japan, worn during a state visit their in 1975.

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The final room of the exhibition displays a selection of hats worn by The Queen over the years, including this year’s Royal Ascot hat, which has a sweet story behind it. The Queen wore a striking orange and cobalt blue outfit and matching hat on the day, and (totally unplanned) it just happened to be the colours of the silks of the winning Gold Cup jockey, Ryan Moore. Apparently The Queen had a good giggle about it and anyone shouting, ‘It’s a fix!’ in the crowd was promptly hauled away by some burly looking Beefeaters. Ok, not really.

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The exhibition is a brilliant opportunity to see these beautiful dresses and outfits in situ, many of which are iconic, and you’ll recognise. It’s lovingly and thoughtfully put together with a real sense of story telling – each outfit is set in front of a huge display photograph of the Queen wearing the outfit with a placard giving the story behind it. And it’s proper take your breath away lavishness that I think everyone will appreciate (I definitely think older children would enjoy it) just for the sheer ‘wow factor’ of the State Apartments and the outfits themselves. You have until January, do not miss it!

The exhibition is at Windsor Castle until 8 Jan 2017 and is included in the price of a general admission ticket to Windsor Castle. For tickets and visitor info call: 0303 1237300 or visit the website: royal collection.org.uk

For a fascinating insight into the exhibition you can join Caroline de Guitaut, exhibition curator for a special tour on Tues 11 Oct, 6.30pm to 8pm. Tickets £15.

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