VIDYA RAM walks through the Ballgowns & Crowns display at Harrods, London, set up to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee

Given the heavy branding restrictions put in place by the International Olympic Committee (covering everything from the five rings to the words “London 2012”) the options for London's biggest retailers - luxury and otherwise - to create themed events around the Games are rather limited, so its perhaps unsurprising that many have chosen to focus instead on “the other” big occasion of the year in the city: the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, marking her sixtieth year on the throne. Shops are stacked with “themed” products from the cheap and tacky, such as giant Union Jack lollipops, mugs or tea towels - to the pricey and more restrained: Swiss watchmaker and time keeper for the official pageant Jaeger-LeCoultre has brought out a limited-edition Reverso watch with the Jubilee emblem discretely displayed (£12,700 for the women's version, £12,200 for the men's).

Displaying delight

Knightsbridge-based luxury department store Harrods is also stepping in, with a range targeted at those with particularly deep pockets: a pop up boutique featuring ballgowns by 13 of its best known international designers, who were all asked to design “exclusive” dresses to commemorate the Jubilee. It has tied in with an exhibition of traditional evening dresses from the mid 50s onwards, down the road at the Victoria & Albert Museum – the idea being that those traditions of ultra top-end dressing that we may tend to relegate to history are part of the current wardrobes of many of the department store's well-heeled clientele, in search of red-carpetable fashion. “The ballgown will always be relevant,” says Marigay McKee, Chief Merchant at Harrods.

The prospect of looking at “sparkly” things was certainly enough to motivate me through an early morning, cold and damp commute. Some of the dresses are up for people to see in the windows (though there are more in the store's fifth floor personal shopping Penthouse, where the consultations on all the dresses will be done) alongside, a display of some rather unusual looking crowns, based on the St. Edward's coronation sadly (for those who might consider such a purchase) not up for sale. Among them is a crown designed by Amrapali, adorned with two elephants and a teapot, a De Beer headpiece replete with 974 diamonds, including a gigantic 73-carat stone, and one by Dom Perignon structured around a blown glass centre. Certainly not your garden-variety diadems.

In-store insight

The dresses, starting at a price of £2,199 for a tea rose pink Jenny Packham number (2 pieces, each in a different size, are available), are a lot more conventional, targeting the fairytale look that seems to be quite popular these days: and there weren't any non-wearable “shockers” (though most of them left me wondering how anyone not a head or so taller than me could get away with wearing them!).There's a beautiful, stiff Valentino dress (£18,000), with a princess-like fullskirt (covered with fine tulle netting, lace and gold brocade that they're pitching as the “Scheherazade” look, though I thought really had something of a Ghaghra-like look to it, and certainly wouldn't be out of a place at an Indian wedding). Also along the same “fairly tale princess” line is the Marchesa dress (£6,825) with a netted full skirt, pinched waist and a heavily brocaded front – one of the few that comes only in one size (many of the others offer several choices) – an ultra-tiny US size 4. There's a particularly stern but stunning dress by Venezuelan-born designer Carolina Herrera, with a high, stiff collar, long black skirt and bejeweled waist that almost wouldn't be out of place in a Velazquez painting, which they're pitching in the Harrods magazine as a Snow White's evil step-mother styled dress. There is a slinky, pale green, floor draping Roberto Cavalli dress (to my mind less impressive than the others on show) priced at a meager £25,000, and at the very top of the range a £28,800 sweeping, bold red piece by a label which is currently a red carpet favourite, Ralph and Russo.

What: Harrods' Diamond Jubilee Ballgowns & Crowns

Where: Harrods, Brompton Road, London

How Much: £2,199– £28,800

On display in-store till 15{+t}{+h} June 2012

(This article was published on May 29, 2012)
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