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Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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Journey into fashion history through the Brooklyn Museum’s virtual costume exhibit

The Brooklyn Museum is showcasing beautiful costumes from Netflix originals “The Crown” and “The Queen’s Gambit”

You can virtually browse through the costumes from "The Crown" and "The Queen's Gambit"
You can virtually browse through the costumes from "The Crown" and "The Queen's Gambit"

In 1981, Princess Diana dazzled the world in her iconic wedding dress. In 2020, the public can see a near perfect replica of it at the Brooklyn Museum’s virtual exhibition: “The Queen and The Crown.” 

The information tag on the digital rendering of the dress reveals that designers collaborated with David Emmanuel, the maker of the original, and commissioned the lace trim from the Nottingham company that made the original dress. 

The Brooklyn Museum is showcasing historic costumes from Netflix’s “The Crown” and “The Queen’s Gambit” in a free virtual exhibition on their website. With “The Queen’s Gambit” as Netflix’s No. 1 show and everyone talking about the fourth season of “The Crown,” the exhibition is especially timely. 

“The Crown” offers an inside view of royal life, beginning with young Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne while highlighting the tensions and troubles of balancing royal life, the politics of the day and family relations. The fourth season premiered Nov. 15 and has been the talk of media publications ever since. “The Queen’s Gambit” debuted on Oct. 23 and has become Netflix’s top streaming show for several weeks. It follows orphan and chess whiz, Beth Harmon, as she navigates the male-dominated, Cold War chess world and tries to become a chess grandmaster. 

Guests “enter” the exhibit with a grand view of the museum’s columned facade and a sweeping digital replica of the museum’s Beaux-Arts Courtyard, which has a 60-foot ceiling, a large brass chandelier, and a 1920s glass-tile floor. Orchestral soundtracks from both shows play in the background. 

Virtual mannequins costumed in outfits from the shows–– ranging from tea-length frocks from the 1950s to power suits and loud-printed pieces from the 1980s, stand surrounded by the courtyard’s elegant archways. 

Guests can click on the costumes to get a closer look at intricate details like a swooshing metal broach on Margaret Thatcher’s suit, which ties in nicely to her reputation as the “Iron Lady.” A detail tag on Beth’s childhood dress offers a closer look at the sentimental embroidery from her mother which features her name surrounded by sweet little hearts and flowers. 

Each exhibit has an information tag that gives insight into fascinating details of how the pieces were made, with some being based on historical designs, as well as the thought process behind the colors, patterns and structures of the pieces. Every outfit also has accompanying clips from the shows of the actors wearing it, and some even have concept sketches and fabric swatches. 

Since “The Crown” is based on true events, a lot of research went into replicating general silhouettes and color palettes from the 80s, as well as specific looks like Princess Diana’s aforementioned wedding dress. Queen Elizabeth’s uniform for the Trooping of the Colour, a famous military ceremony held on the birthday of the British sovereign, was also nearly perfectly recreated. From the striking blue sash, to the numerous medallions, to the plumed hat, designers did not overlook any minute details.

Character arcs also play a significant role in the costume design. Though one of Princess Margaret’s dresses may look like a typical patterned 80s dress, the designers specifically chose darker colors to represent the difficult life problems she faces on the show and their effects on her. 

The outfits for “The Queen’s Gambit” have just as much significance; many of Beth’s outfits are either black and white or have checkerboard patterns to represent a chessboard. Her final outfit, a white coat and hat, is meant to invoke the regalness of the White Queen chess piece. The chic 50s and 60s outfits show her style evolution as she matures as well as her growing confidence over the course of the series. Alma, the woman who adopts Beth, has one outfit featured, a homemade powder blue dress based on a Dior design, which indicates her thriftiness and appreciation for style.

Alongside some of the outfits, there are other various objects from the Brooklyn Museum to go with topics and ideas from the shows. Near “The Crown” side of the room is “Koh-i-noor,” a multimedia portrait of Queen Elizabeth II made from toys and knickknacks by British-Guyanese artist Hew Locke. “The Queen’s Gambit” section features many exhibits related to chess including an ancient Egyptian senet board, which is a game similar to chess. There are also two examples of the checkerboard print in fashion including an ancient Egyptian fabric swatch and a French fashion sketch from 1919. 

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“The Queen and The Crown” provides an intriguing glimpse into the worlds of “The Queen’s Gambit” and “The Crown” through fashion that defines time periods and characters. Each outfit provides insight into not only the characters and their lives, but also the costume making process itself. For guests who want to learn more, there is a prerecorded panel with some of the costume designers. The exhibition will be on the Brooklyn Museum’s website until Dec. 14th. 

The arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com

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