Fashion & Beauty

‘Costuming The Crown’ at Winterthur

April 30, 2019

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IF YOU can’t wait ‘til Netflix announces the air date for the third season of “The Crown” with its brand-new cast, we can’t help. (This fall, maybe.) However, if you’d like to get a close-up look at some of the show’s royal regalia, stunning gowns and jewelry, we can.

Following up on its successful 2014 exhibition of costumes from Masterpiece Theater’s “Downton Abbey,” Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library is hosting a new exhibit, “Costuming the Crown.” Forty outfits from the Emmy award-winning series are on display in the Delaware museum until January 5, 2020.

Downton Abbey’s costume designers had the freedom to pick and choose from the fashions of the day. “The Crown’s” designers Michele Clapton (Season 1) and Jane Petrie (Season 2), aided by a research team, had to hew to the historical record (TV footage, news photos) to dress their characters. “The designers had to get right the clothing that people knew,” says Kim Collison, Winterthur’s Manager of Exhibitions & Collection Planning. So, Elizabeth’s coronation costume is a detailed re-creation, with the exception that the original was made with real gold thread.

“Establishing Roles” opens the four-part exhibition with Elizabeth’s impressive gold coronation mantle and Philip’s rich red velvet robe. Like the opening section, “Dressing the Part” includes well-known costumes, such as Elizabeth’s and Margaret’s wedding dresses and Prince Philip’s and King George’s military uniforms, replicated based on photographic records and film footage. To make Elizabeth’s 1947 wedding gown, says Collison, “It took a team of six embroiderers seven weeks, working 10-hour days, to help designer Michelle Clapton re-create Norman Hartnell’s original, which was modified only slightly.”  Many of the costumes are paired with historical photos, letting visitors see “how costumes connect people to history,” notes Collison.

You can feel the anxiety of Claire Foy as Elizabeth debating which dresses to wear in anticipation of  President and Jacqueline Kennedy ‘s visit to Buckingham Palace. Though that scene is fictional, photos from the event reveal that the dress Claire Foy wore is almost identical to the one worn by Elizabeth.  The sleek ice-blue long gown worn by Jodi Balfour, who plays Jackie Kennedy, is similar to the one actually worn by Mrs. Kennedy. In any case, the clothes reveal their markedly different personalities.

Because they were imagining private moments of the royals, for the “Creating Character” section, the costume designers could dream up their own designs, while deliberately contrasting the clothing of the two sisters.  In an episode of Season 2, the recently married Margaret is in her new home, wearing a sleeveless blouse and capris. The closest to at-home casual that Elizabeth gets is a wool skirt and sweater or a dark-colored shirtwaist. The exhibition ends with “Capturing the Image,” a look at how the royal family branded itself in actual photos and on television. Notably, the type of camera used by Cecil Beaton, long-time photographer of the family and image crafter, is on display.

And, yes, plenty of tiaras and crowns gleam and sparkle throughout. They come courtesy of Juliette Designs, a company that reproduces famous jewelry like the Cambridge Lover’s Knot for film studios. Supposedly, fakes look better on film.

—Janet Kelly


“Costuming the Crown,” Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, 5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, Delaware.
Hours: 10am to 5pm, Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets: $20 for adults, $18 for students and seniors and $6 for children ages 2-11. More information at Winterthur


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