Costuming the Crown – Exhibit at Winterthur Museum and Gardens -Delaware

We were celebrating my daughter, Tiffany’s, birthday. The day was perfectly autumnal with bluebird skies and an ever so slight chill in the air. We were here to visit the Costuming The Crown exhibition –  our wonderful friend, Susan’s gift to Tiffany. Being avid fans of the Netflix series, The Crown, an afternoon looking at the costume details and learning about their design and creation was exciting.

Before entering the impressive Winterthur house, we rode a tram where we were treated to a delightfully narrated tour along winding lanes and sweeping vistas. Our tram guide told us about the vision of Winterthur founder, Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) to create gardens of colors and textures to delight throughout the year. She told us about the azalea grove’s “watercolor pastels shades”  of early May, about the tens of thousands of bulbs planted to “carpet the hills with flowers,” the whimsey of the Follies, and about certain special trees.

“The two Sargent cherry trees to the left, were planted in 1918 and are the oldest cherry trees in the United States,” our guide told us. “On the right, we are passing the Enchanted Garden with the Faerie House – see it’s thatched roof? This is the children’s garden.” “The American sycamore next to us is 273 years old and is the oldest tree at Winterthur,” she described as we oohed and aahed.  Someone exclaimed, “Look – there is a hawk in that tree!” Our guide stopped the tram and allowed us to take time admiring and photographing the handsome raptor.

In addition to out arboreal and landscape discussion, we were treated to a conversation about the Follies that dotted the landscape. Follies, we learned, are architectural constructions intended to amuse, delight, and pique one’s curiosity. The Follies Exhibition presents 13 follies. The follies that we passed ranged from the simply charming to the darkly gothic to the reflective and the floating. The garden whimsies were set among the landscape, and true to their intent, captured interest and curiosity. The Chinese Pavilion folly at the entrance of the house greeted us. It’s green structure and garden themed design made a lovely transition from the natural beauty we just experienced to our anticipated adventures.

There was a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers at the check-in desk. Having just heard about “pastel watercolor shades,” the bouquet brought forth a metal image of the azalea grove in springtime. Tiffany enjoyed its fragrant, delicate flowers of cream colored roses, lilac and pink snapdragons,  rose calla lilies, and nectar-colored flowers that we could not name.

At the top of the stairs, was the grand exhibit, “Costuming the Crown.” It was a visual celebration of light, color, texture, design and inspiration. A vast collection of 40 costumes from the first two seasons of the Netflix series, The Crown, beckoned. The exhibit showcases and describes  the costume  similarities and differences of the original garments and their adaptation for the modern audience, the physical attributes of the actors, and their movement on set. The designers’ reflections on their creative process, commitment to details, explanations of fabric selections, detail adaptations, and design specifics gave us a new appreciation.

The exhibit was at once splendid and very personal. The displays were accessible, often, nearly 360°. While observing the detail of the Queen’s wedding veil, we were amazed that a security guard did not ask us to step away.

The great lengths that the designers went to create exact copies or make them as close as possible, is evident in the creation of the Queen’s wedding dress and veil where a team of six embroiderers sewed by hand, for seven weeks – beading and embroidering the gown and veil. This was important to gain the confidence and respect of the audience.

Things that we, as viewers, take for granted include the intricate details and quality of the costumes, the necessary adaptations for the actors versus the actual persons, and even the movement of the actors in relation to  the historic figure(s).

The wedding gowns worn by the Queen and her sister, Princess Margaret, were created as closely as possible to the actual garments. However, the actresses portraying the Queen and Princess presented physical challenges in maintaining the scale of the gowns. Margaret was five feet tall. Vanessa Kirby, who plays her is 5’7”. The dress had to be re-proportioned so that it would look right on the actress. Accomplishing this required additional and various weights of fabric to develop the look and movement of the gown. The Queen’s gown proportions required reworking the sleeves to fit actress, Claire Foy.

John Lithgow who played Sir Winston Churchill is 6’4”. Churchill was 5’6” tall. Lithgow’s scale and proportion challenges were overcome with construction of an undergarment that added bulk to the body and adapted posture –  some “behind the scenes” bits demonstrated the designers’ and creators’ humor.

One of my favorite displays was the Kennedy visit. Both the Queen and First Lady wore beautiful gowns in shades of blue for the state dinner. The video playing above that exhibit is an exchange between the Queen and her designer, “ …one must ask oneself what precisely one wants to feel when wearing it.” The Queen (Claire Foy) replies, “I just think that one doesn’t want to feel . . .second best.” ”Quite.” Replies the designer who continues, “Especially when one is very much the senior of the two individuals. . .  In terms of rank, ma’am. To that end, I have something quite specific in mind. … Mrs. Kennedy may have dazzled in Paris, but let’s not forget France is a Republic – This is a monarchy. And if you’ve got it, flaunt it, I say.” The tension between the Queen and Jackie Kennedy is well documented.

Click to see and compare the actual gowns and setting with those of The Crown.

Costuming goes beyond clothes. It includes jewelry, crowns, diadems, tiaras, hats, shoes, gloves, the smallest of accessories, and the awe-inspiring swords at the sides of the royal men’s formal attire. Distinctions between black tie and white tie were explained. To create the plausibility and reality of the series, it is the details that keep us spellbound. The jewels are breathtaking.

We walked around each room many times, stopping to examine various missed details. “This exhibit is incredible,” said Susan, with a satisfied smile. “It is worth many times its cost of the admission ticket. And we get to tour the entire house and property as well!”  After our last pass and almost memorizing the displays we headed for the gift shop.

We walked back to the Visitor’s Center. We came across a grove of very tall trees. What surprised me was the absolute straightness of their trunks. They were very tall with their branch canopies more than 100 feet above. I wondered if squirrels climbed that high.

Costuming The Crown and Follies: Architectural Whimsy in the Garden, will be on display at Winterthur until January 5, 2020. This is a worthwhile trip for those who appreciate The Crown, architecture, American art, landscapes, trees, breathtaking views, and very nice staff.