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Vintage Verdura tiara on display in the 'Crown to Couture' exhibition at Kensington Palace. Photo © Historic Royal Palaces

Books & Exhibitions

Verdura’s Vintage Tiara Visits The Crown

The jewel is on display in the 'Crown to Couture' exhibition at Kensington Palace

by Marion Fasel

April 24, 2023—What does the coronation of King Charles and the Met Gala have in common? More than I thought before learning about the exhibit from Crown to Couture: The Fashion Show of Centuries. The largest exhibit ever staged at Kensington Palace, which will be on display until October 29, showcases Georgian court dress alongside fashion and jewelry worn by luminaries of today.

Many of the items on display come right off the Met Gala red carpet, which makes sense since it is the most dramatic fashion event of our era and drama is a theme of the exhibition. For the last several years the Met has even eclipsed the celebrated Oscars red carpet with its costume dress codes carried out under the direction of Vogue magazine’s editors with lists of ideas (make that strong directives) about what could and should be worn.

As for the coronation link to from Crown to Couture, that’s a little more obvious. It’s the court dress, tiaras and statement jewels we’ll be seeing during the May 6 crowning of King Charles III.

Items on display in the Jewel Room at Kensington Palace as part of the ‘Crown to Couture exhibition including the Verdura tiara in the upper left and the Lorraine Schwartz tiara and earrings worn by Blake Lively at the 2022 Met Gala. Lupita Nyong’o wore the Fred Leighton diamond headband in the center to the 2014 Oscars. Photo © Historic Royal Palaces

Multi-hyphenate expert Melanie Grant, who explored the idea of jewelry as art in her 2020 publication Coveted and currently works as the Executive Director of the Responsible Jewelry Council, curated the jewelry display.

Among items like Fernando Jorge’s diamond Disco Ball earrings that appeared on countless red carpets and Pensive cameo earrings conceived by artist Cindy Sherman and worn by Cate Blanchett at the Venice Film Festival, there is a couple of tiaras. Perhaps a touch ironically both were conceived in America.

Blake Lively at the 2022 Met Gala wearing wearing a tiara and earrings by Lorraine Schwartz which are currently on display at Kensington Palace in the ‘Crown to Couture’ exhibit. Photo Getty

Blake Lively worked with her dear friend, jewelry designer Lorraine Schwartz, on the copper, nude diamond and Paraíba tourmaline tiara, she wore with a coordinated Versace gown to the 2022 Met Gala honoring the exhibit In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.

At the same event, Hamish Bowels, Global Editor at Large of Vogue and Editor in Chief of The World of Interiors, wore the Verdura Feather Headdress created in 1957, that is the centerpiece of the Crown to Couture jewelry display.

Hamish Bowles wore the Verdura Feather Headdress Tiara and a Verdura brooch at the 2022 Met Gala. Photo Getty

The Verdura Feather Headdress was commissioned by the American heiress and philanthropist Betsey Whitney to wear when her husband Ambassador John Hay Whitney was presented at the Court of St. James and met Queen Elizabeth II.

One of the three glamorous Cushing Sisters, Betsey Whitney was a very well-known socialite during the mid-20th century in America. Her younger sister Barbara became ‘Babe’ Paley when she married CBS executive Bill Paley. Her older sister Mary was married to Vincent Astor and became known as ‘Minnie’ Astor.

Betsey Whitney wearing the Verdura tiara as she dances with her husband Ambassador John Hay Whitney. Photo courtesy

The Italian jewelry designer Fulco di Verdura took some design cues for the imaginative Feather Headdress Tiara from American Indian headdresses.

A majestic depiction of a Native American man wearing a feather headdress by American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gauden which appears on a 1907 gold coin is also believed to be one of Verdura’s sources of inspiration. The tiara’s silhouette somewhat echoes a laurel wreath.

The jewel is set with 1,223 diamonds weighing 28.32 carats. It was manufactured in Verdura’s New York City workshop and designed to be worn at the center top of the head.

Verdura Indian Headdress Tiara created in 1957 for Betsey Whitney. Photo Verdura

Shortly before her death, Betsey Whitney offered the tiara to Verdura’s Ward Landrigan who immediately acquired it for the firm’s Museum Collection.

Over the years the jewel has appeared in five previous exhibitions including the Crowning Glories: Two Centuries of Tiaras staged at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2000 and Allegories of America held at the New York Historical Society in 2017.

The display in from Crown to Couture represents a kind of homecoming for the jewel. It’s also making me dream about some American turning up at the coronation in an iconoclastic tiara to shake things up.

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