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Press release

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother's 'White Wardrobe' to be shown at Buckingham Palace next Summer

Release date: Monday, 13 December 2004

The 'White Wardrobe' designed for Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother by Norman Hartnell will be the centrepiece of a special exhibition at the 2005 Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace (30 July - 27 September 2005).  The theme of the exhibition will be the State Visit to France made by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in July 1938.  Spectacular diamond jewellery worn by Queen Elizabeth with Hartnell's creations and many of the magnificent gifts presented to the King and Queen by President and Madame Lebrun on behalf of the people of France will be included in the display. The soft and impeccably elegant Hartnell look, immortalised in Cecil Beaton's famous series of photographs, was to be the hallmark of Queen Elizabeth's style for the rest of her life.

At a time of political turmoil, the State Visit was intended to reinvigorate the entente cordiale and to reinforce Anglo-French solidarity against Hitler's Germany. Five days before the date of departure for Paris, Queen Elizabeth's mother, the Countess of Strathmore, died and the visit was postponed by three weeks until 19-22 July.  Hartnell had to remake the Queen's wardrobe in its entirety, substituting 'many lovely colourings' with something more appropriate to the period of Family Mourning.  Black was not a practical choice for the height of summer and seemed inappropriate for the mood of the time.  The couturier's last-minute suggestion that white might be a suitable colour met with the Queen's approval.  Accompanying the King, Queen Elizabeth departed from Buckingham Palace in black and stepped from the Royal Train in Paris dressed in white.

Among the seven Hartnell dresses in the exhibition will be the crinoline worn by Queen Elizabeth to the State Banquet at the Elysée Palace, and the lace dress chosen for the garden party in the Bagatelle Gardens in the Bois de Boulogne.  In his memoirs Norman Hartnell describes the daunting task of creating dresses that would be scrutinised by the fashion capital of the world.  The main theme of his designs, the revival of the crinoline, was inspired by portraits in the Royal Collection, particularly those of Queen Victoria and her family by Winterhalter.

The Parisians hailed Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe as a sensation; Hartnell was warmly congratulated by the leading French couturiers and made an officer of the Académie Française.  The Paris autumn collections that year drew heavily on the Queen's personal style - both the State Visit wardrobe and her Scottish ancestry - with Schiaparelli and Molyneux both incorporating plaid and tartan in their clothes.   

Published after the outbreak of war, Cecil Beaton's romantic portraits of Queen Elizabeth in Hartnell's glamorous dresses of tulles, satin, lace and silk projected an image of a confident and happy Royal Family to help uplift the nation.  Beaton recalls in his diaries that the commission from Queen Elizabeth to photograph her at Buckingham Palace took him by surprise.

The telephone rang. 'This is the lady-in-waiting speaking. The Queen wants to know if you will photograph her tomorrow afternoon.'   At first, I thought it might be a practical joke... But it was no joke. My pleasure and excitement were overwhelming. In choosing me to take her photographs, the Queen made a daring work was still considered revolutionary and unconventional.

The beautiful 'Indian' tiara, made for Queen Victoria and worn by Queen Elizabeth during the State Visit, will be shown with the dresses. Containing 2,678 diamonds, the tiara takes its name from the Indian rubies set into it in 1902, when Queen Alexandra had the 'unlucky' opals removed.  Among other pieces of jewellery on display will be the Diamond Garter, created for Queen Victoria and worn by Queen Elizabeth on the arm, and the jewelled Badge of the Legion d'Honneur and sash.

Gifts presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth include a René Lalique glass table service and watercolours by Édouard Vuillard, Raoul Dufy and Maurice Utrillo.  The Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, who did not accompany their parents to Paris, were given two extraordinary dolls, France and Marianne, on behalf of the children of France. The dolls' trousseaux of clothes and accessories were, according to a contemporary observer, 'a fashion document for future generations'.  Created by the most famous Parisian couturiers and designers of the day - Worth, Lanvin, Rochas, Cartier, Vuitton and Hermès, they symbolised the great French tradition of haute couture.

To  mark  the  60th  anniversary  of  the  end  of  the  Second  World  War,  which  falls on 15 August 2005, a small display of decorations and medals instituted during the War, archive material and King George VI's Admiral of the Fleet uniform will also be shown at next year's Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace.

The Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace is from 30 July to 27  September  2005.   Advance  tickets  are  available  from  or 020 7766 7300.

Further information is available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, telephone: 020 7839 1377, e-mail: [email protected] are available from the Royal Collection's folder in the Arts section on PA's Picselect at or through the PA bulletin board.

Note to Editors

There were precedents for the choice of white for Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe.  French queens had worn white mourning until the 17th century.  Mary, Queen of Scots wore 'deuil blanc' as a young widow in France. In Eastern cultures white is also a traditional mourning colour.