I’m no royalist. I’m not even a particularly big fan of Kate Middleton – sorry, the Duchess of Cambridge. But I have to admit that I really enjoyed The Royal Wedding Dress: A story of Great British Design, the exhibition currently on at Buckingham Palace. Last Saturday I went down and joined the hordes of tourists, audio guide headset in place, to meander through the supremely opulent State Rooms.
Arriving at the Ballroom, where the dress is on display, a video shows Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton describing the royal wedding dress’s incredibly elaborate design and construction process. Six different types of lace were appliquéd onto the satin gazar fabric by the Royal School of Needlework, an embroidery school that dates back to 1872. Four of those lace motifs were chosen to represent the nations of the United Kingdom – rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock – and to create a unique pattern. The overall design of the dress was intended, Burton explains, to ‘look to the past but look forward as well,’ so the bustle (which I didn’t even notice while watching the wedding) echoed a classic Victorian silhouette but the bodice corsetry was typical of the modern day house of McQueen. From what Burton says it seems that Catherine Middleton was genuinely very much involved in the design process. Apparently she was keen that the dress be made in the best tradition of British craftsmanship, hence the intricate lacework and a skirt pattern shaped like an unfolding flower. The exhibition doesn’t reveal how long the dress took to complete, but the fact that the sewing needles had to be renewed every three hours to ensure they remained sharp enough says a lot about the dedication that was required. I don’t envy those royal needleworkers.
As part of the State Rooms tour, not only can you the see the dress, veil, hand-made shoes and the Cartier tiara that Middleton borrowed from the Queen, you can walk through the throne room where the official royal wedding photographs were taken. And you can ogle the spectacularly intricate royal wedding cake, complete with 900 edible flowers and leaves and an incision still visible where the cake was cut with a ceremonial sword. Which means the royal couple didn’t get to have their cake, nor eat it, but fear not, because William also had a chocolate cake commissioned by those famous digestive biscuit makers, McVitie’s.
Even without all the royal wedding extras, a visit to Buckingham Palace is still a really good day out – and not just for tourists; I’ve lived in London for four years. Tickets aren’t particularly cheap at £17.50 for an adult, but you get the whole State Rooms tour and there’s currently a display called Royal Fabergé on. Plus, allowing time for gift shopping and cream teas in the cafe you’re easily looking at a whole afternoon’s entertainment. Just be sure to book early because it’s currently selling out a week in advance.
The Royal Wedding Dress: A story of Great British Design is open until 3rd October 2011. Visit the Royal Collection website for more details and to book tickets.