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Hats and Handbags: Accessories From The Royal Wardrobe

07/06/2003, By Kensington Palace State Apartments Press Office

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A unique exhibition celebrating HM Queen Elizabeth II’s unique style is now on at Kensington Palace State Apartments until 18 April 2004. "Hats and Handbags: Accessories from the Royal Wardrobe" draws together 100 items of headwear, together with a selection of handbags and gloves, chosen by The Queen and her senior couturiers to complement her outfits.

Beginning with a bonnet worn by the young Princess Elizabeth in 1933 and ending with more recent creations such as the purple silk hat trimmed with glossy black feathers worn at the Opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the exhibition features items associated with significant moments in Her Majesty’s life and reign. The display represents work of The Queen’s principal milliners and includes accessories chosen as particularly fine examples of British craftsmanship.

Opening Scottish Parliament Hat

In commissioning her accessories, The Queen has been concerned to promote the best of British craft and the exhibition represents work of her principal milliners from Aage Thaarup and Simone Mirman, who designed hats for the monarch from the 1940s to the 1970s, to Frederick Fox and Philip Somerville who have provided eye-catching hats for The Queen in more recent years.

At a time when many of us wear hats only at weddings or to shield us from the cold in winter, The Queen’s hats are a vital part of her working wardrobe and are worn with a wide range of dress styles to suit her busy programme of engagements around the world. On foreign visits it is particularly important that local customs are respected and creations for these occasions may even incorporate features derived from local dress.

Major family occasions are the focus of much national attention and the exhibition includes hats worn at these events, including the feathered hat worn at the christening of Prince William in 1982. Hats worn at Ascot and to Garden Parties are also shown, such as a lilac straw hat with flower trimming worn at a Garden Party in 1991 and originally designed for a visit to Singapore.

Smarties Hat

Historic British traditions also have to be observed and the display includes one of The Queen’s most well-known headdresses: the tricorne hat she wore until recently with her uniform of Colonel-in-Chief of the seven Regiments of the Household Division for Trooping the Colour which takes place each June. First worn in 1951 when Princess Elizabeth deputized for her father, King George VI, at this event, it was designed by Aage Thaarup to replace the bearskin worn traditionally, which would have been too heavy and difficult to wear by a young woman.

Visitors to the exhibition are able to inspect at close quarters a range of hats worn by Her Majesty, which together with her handbags, have become much-loved elements of The Queen’s dress style. The exhibits are complemented by displays of sketches and photographs.

Today, many of The Queen’s hats are made by Philip Somerville, a New Zealander who also worked for Otto Lucas before setting up his own company in Mayfair. In the early days he too made hats for outfits designed by Ian Thomas. He has held a royal warrant since 1994 and he continues to make bold, unfussy hats that The Queen wears on many important occasions. Philip Somerville was given the honour of designing the hat The Queen would wear to open the new Scottish Parliament in 1999. He made the large chevalier-style hat made of the same purple figured silk used for her suit and dramatically trimmed with a spray of black feathers.

Jubilee Hat

Most of The Queen’s handbags have been made by two companies, Rayne and Launer. Rayne was founded in 1889 and originally made footwear. For a company with experience of handling fine leather, it was a small step to producing handbags lined with fine suede and carefully fitted out with matching mirror and purse. The white leather bag you can see in the Exhibition is a typically elegant example of the Rayne style.

Launer supplies handbags to The Queen today, if you are interested in knowing more about purchasing their bags, Click Here. Designer Gerald Bodmer made finely crafted bags for Bally and jewellers Mappin & Webb and Asprey before he set up under the Launer label.

Most of The Queen’s gloves are made by Cornelia James. Mrs James arrived in London from Vienna in 1938 carrying a suitcase full of gloving skins. By 1947 she was making gloves for Princess Elizabeth. The company, now run by Mrs James’s son in law, continues to hold the royal warrant.

The Exhibition is on from 23rd May 2003 to 18th April 2004, and details on visiting Kensington Palace - Opening Times and Entrance Charges - can be found on The Stately Homes Guide.

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