Exhibition in London Links Rihanna and 18th Century Style

In “Crown to Couture,” a show scheduled to open April 5 at Kensington Palace in London, aristocratic fashion from the 18th century is paired with items worn by a different type of royalty: contemporary celebrities such as Rihanna, Billy Porter, Lizzo and Katy Perry.

The exhibition, which runs through Oct. 29, is meant to examine the common ground between the red carpet today and the formal court attire of the Georgian era, a period that began in 1714 and lasted more than a hundred years. (It’s practically a Georgian festival in London these days as the exhibition “Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians” is scheduled at Buckingham Palace from April 21 to Oct. 8.)

The exhibits at the Kensington Palace show are to include clothing, accessories, paintings and jewelry for both women and men, from garter robes worn in 1762 by John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute who was a British prime minister, to the pinstripe Schiaparelli suit and wide-brim black wool hat by Stephen Jones that the actress Jessie Buckley wore in 2022 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala, an annual fund-raiser.

“It’s ‘come for Billie Eilish, learn slightly obscure Georgian court history,’” said Polly Putnam, who worked on the show. She is a curator at Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity that oversees Kensington Palace as well as several other British institutions.

Claudia Acott Williams, another of the organization’s curators who also helped to mount the event, said the red carpet offers “a comparator with the 18th century, in terms of these being spaces for the display of exquisite craftsmanship and the use of clothing as a political tool, as a tool for personal advancement and progress and also as a space for the showcase of the finest example of dress and fashion.”

An Oscar de la Renta tulle dress and Jimmy Choo shoes worn by Ms. Eilish to the 2021 Met Gala are among the show’s approximately 200 pieces, displayed in 22 rooms and organized thematically: from planning an outfit to making a grand entrance. It is to occupy more space than any other exhibition in the palace’s history, organizers said.

The idea for the theme came up the day after the 2018 Gala. “I said, ‘Do you know what, the Met Gala’s very like court,’” Ms. Putnam recalled. “You’ve got all these enormous dresses, and we know that the Georgian dresses were enormous.”

Certainly, there is a sense of pomp in outfits like the winged gold jumpsuit by the Blonds that Billy Porter wore to the 2019 Gala, when he was carried in on a litter by a group of attendants. (Mannequins are used to recreate the moment, with an 18th-century sedan chair — a seat on poles designed to carry a passenger — placed nearby.) Other pieces have a social message, such as the Loewe polo shirt, with a hand-beaded image of two men kissing, that was worn by the actor Dan Levy to the 2021 Gala in support of L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

There is also plenty of jewelry, including a replica of an 18-karat gold necklace, made by Garrard and worn by Beyoncé, that has nearly 400 diamonds, more than 200 tsavorites and a 6.19-carat Colombian emerald. There is also a massive 18-karat white gold choker from Chopard’s Red Carpet collection that features 15 black opals totaling 66.35 carats as well as green tourmalines, blue sapphires, and diamonds; items by jewelry designers including Thelma West and Fernando Jorge; and historic items such as a trio of ornate rings from the mid-1700s.

Like many institutions in recent years, Kensington Palace has often held fashion exhibitions, which tend to have mainstream appeal. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2018 “Heavenly Bodies” exhibit, for instance, drew a record-breaking number of visitors.)

“You don’t need to be an art history expert to appreciate fashion,” said Janice Yablonski-Hickey, president of Museum Revenue Partners, a company in Ridgewood, N.J., that helps museums generate income through programming. “That definitely draws in new visitors, and that’s very appealing for museums who want to have broader-based support.”

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