Crowds at the Fashion Rules exhibition in Kensington Palace have gathered to see Princess Diana's '80s Dynasty esque numbers and the decadent dresses worn by the Queen in the '50s. However, sitting sophisticatedly between them is the wardrobe belonging to the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, Countess Snowdon. She tore up the royal rule book in the 50's and - as claimed by Picture Post at the time - ‘what she wears is news.’
Famed for her beauty and dramatic sartorial statements, Princess Margaret was THE fashion icon of the late '40s and into the '50s. This mixed with endless column inches detailing her wild partying and the men she entertained only added to the appeal of the Princess. As the curator of the exhibition, Cassie Davies-Strodder explains, ‘Margaret was a distinctive fashion icon because she was so glamorous – with all the beauty of a Hollywood film star, she brought a new kind of style of the Royal Family.’
Princess Margaret in the '50s
As Cassie describes, Margaret had greater freedom to follow fashion closely, unlike her sister, who, as a monarch, needed to patronise British designers, and to dress diplomatically for meetings and engagements. The halter neck gown featured in the exhibition is a clear illustration of this sartorial strategy - the necklines were more daring than the Queen's, the designers more international and the resulting dresses rivalled those of the Hollywood actresses. Becoming the poster girl for fifties fashionistas as a result.
Whilst Princess Margaret continued to wear the elaborate encrusted gowns by British designer, Norman Hartnell, she was one of the key champions of the then-new label, Christian Dior. As well as adopting the 'new look' tailoring, the Princess regularly attended his presentations and chose to wear one of his designs in her 21st birthday portrait, taken by royal favourite, Cecil Beaton. Margaret's strong support of the brand firmly placed Dior on the british fashion map.
With Christian Dior After The Presentation Of His Winter 1954 Collection
By the 1960s with her handsome husband, fashion photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones on her arm, the Princess positioned herself as the most in demand party guest in London. With her purse constantly on the fashion pulse her image went away from the 1950s nipped in waists and full skirts to the ‘slim look’ championed by Marc Bohan at Dior in the 1960s. But the greatest departure came in the 1970s when the Princess regularly holidayed in Mustique, and her clothes took on a new tropical direction. Her vibrant and extensive clothing choices even inspired Christopher Kane's Spring Summer 2011 collection, which he said symbolised, 'Princess Margaret on acid.'
Yet it is the 1950s which really mark the Princess out as one of the most fashion savvy royals of them all. Mixing the fairy-tale with the fashion know how, Margaret positioned herself as a power player whose style, fifty years on, is enchanting a new generation with this new exhibition. It’s hard to imagine the same being said for some of the young royals of our day in the future.
See some of our favourite looks from Fashion Rules in the gallery above and some of Princess Margaret's style highlights - the exhibition runs at Kensington Palace until Summer 2015