26 July, 2011
The Royal Wedding Dress
by Burlington Bertie and Shophound Alexia
With The Queen and family in Scotland for her annual vacation at Balmoral, the doors of Buckingham Palace open to the public and the palace becomes one of London's most popular summer tourist attractions along with the Tower of London. 19 State Rooms and the palace gardens can be viewed from 23 July until 3 October.
A late addition to the remarkable special exhibition of Faberge on display in the State Ballroom is Kate's Wedding Dress which the world admired on 29 April when she entered Westminster Abbey as Miss Kate Middleton and left as the radiant Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, bride of Prince William of Wales, heir apparent to the throne. Look-a-like copies of that dress, designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, will be available in the US through Nordstrom, and in UK High Street bridal shops in the Fall.
The State Ballroom was designed to Queen Victoria's exacting specifications and inaugurated in 1856 with a state banquet to celebrate the end of the Crimea War. At 37 metres long and 18 metres wide, this is the largest state room in the palace. Dominated by the throne dais at one end and a massive organ and minstrel gallery at the other, the room has been the scene of many state banquets and is now also used by the monarch for investitures.
The Ballroom is normally a blaze of light from chandeliers but for this summer exhibition they are dimmed to allow prominence to the lit display cases containing the summer exhibition of priceless Faberge from the Royal Collection.
Pride of place however goes to the stunningly lit ivory and white satin gazar wedding dress reputed to have cost £250,000. Placed on a dais before the regal backdrop of the royal throne and illuminated by 12 spotlights, this will be the star attraction of the 2011 royal exhibition, if not the palace visit, for many tourists. The dress displayed on a headless mannequin appears to float in space and was described by Kate as "surreal" when she accompanied The Queen for a press preview, her first joint engagement with Her Majesty.
Above the mannequin floats the royal bride's wedding veil and 'something borrowed'; The Queen's Cartier 'Scroll', or 'Halo', tiara. This diamond bobby dazzler was originally presented to the late Queen Mother in 1936 by her husband Bertie, then Duke of York, who was to be crowned the following year as George VI following the abdication of his brother Edward VIII. It was passed to The Queen on her 18th birthday and unlike other tiaras in the Royal Collection which are laden with royal symbolism and imperial history, this charming piece is very much a personal family heirloom, having been worn at various engagements by Princess Margaret in the 1950s and Princess Anne in the 1960s and 70s.
Undeterred by The Queen's expressed discomfiture at the surrealism of the display; ("It's disturbing!" she commented), Caroline de Guitaut, exhibition curator said: "The thing that will be a revelation to visitors is how much detail and how much work went into the creation of this dress."
Designer Sarah Burton comments in an accompanying film: "There were a lot of references to Victorian corsetry, the padded hip, the tiny clinched in waist, and also to the arts and crafts movement with all of the hand-work." Visitors will also see the lace-appliquéd McQueen shoes, a silk recreation of the lily-of-the-valley bouquet, and the bride's diamond earrings designed for the occasion to complement the tiara.
To complement the wedding dress, The Duke and Duchess's handmade multi-tiered wedding cake is being displayed in the State Dining Room overlooking the Palace gardens and traditionally used for official entertaining, luncheons and formal dinners.
The first and second tiers of the Royal Wedding cake are traditionally saved for the christening of the firstborn. The third tier which was served at the Palace wedding reception has been replaced by a replica for the display. The cake is a confectionary masterpiece as well as a rich fruitcake. It took specialist cake maker Fiona Cairns and her team five weeks to make. It is covered in cream and white icing and decorated with intricate icing scrollwork and 900 delicate sugar-paste flowers, including 17 different blooms and leaf patterns specified by the bride.
The royal couple are not alone in liking Fiona's fruit cakes. Bands Pink Floyd and Simply Red have been customers, and Sir Paul Macartney orders one for Christmas every year. Stockists of their seasonal cakes and cookies include Fortnum and Mason, Harrods, Selfridges, John Lewis, and Waitrose. Bespoke items can be made to order.
The Royal Collection's exclusive official range of commemorative fine bone china fired and hand decorated in Stoke-on-Trent to mark the Royal Wedding is available in the Royal Collection shop in the Palace grounds. A piece makes a fitting souvenir of your visit to Buckingham Palace. Each comes in presentation box bearing the couple's entwined initials in gold and silver surmounted by the coronet of Prince William and the wedding date. The range is decorated with a pattern of doves, white ribbons and hearts in silver, gold and grey, set against a pale-grey striped background. Each item is handmade and individually decorated and then embellished with several layers of burnished gold and platinum before a final layer of gilding in 22-carat gold is applied by hand.
As a collector of royal commemoratives, I am particularly enamoured of the £35 tankard, which will join my collection of royal memorabilia dating back to a commemorative teacup and saucer celebrating the 1885 wedding of Queen Victoria's youngest daughter Princess Beatrice to Prince Henry of Battenburg.
The Wedding Dress
Venue: State Ballroom, Buckingham Palace, SW1A 1AA.
Date: 9.45am-6.30pm, (timed entry), 23 July- 3 October, 2011.
Tickets: £17.50, (Concessions). Book online.
London Transport: Nearest Tube. Victoria Station, Green Park.
Wheelchair Accessibility & Toilets: Yes.
Time Schedule Give yourself at least two and preferably three hours to see the Palace State Rooms and exhibition, the Palace gardens and Royal Collection souvenir shop. Take the audio guide for essential background to what you see.
The Royal Wedding; a Vogue perspective
British Royal Tiaras; a king's ransom illustrated
Buckingham Palace; the State Rooms
Fina Cairns; the Home of Luxury Baking