Memphis designer Pat Kerr Tigrett has helped put the city on the international fashion map with her couture wedding gowns done in antique lace. But more recently, Tigrett is getting attention for her vast and important collection of textiles and royal memorabilia.
This year, a dress from Tigrett’s collection worn by Marilyn Monroe has appeared in two European museums while one of her gowns from Diana, Princess of Wales, is about to be part of a two-year exhibition opening July 4 at Kensington Palace in London.
Tigrett’s Monroe dress appeared as part of an exhibit honoring the actress that opened last year at the Ferragamo Museum
in Florence, Italy. The exhibit moved on May 29 for a five-month stay at the Prague Castle Museum in the Czech Republic.
Kensington Palace, which recently underwent a $19 million restoration, will present four decades of fashions worn by Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana starting July 4 in an exhibition called “Fashion Rules: Dress From the Collections of HM The Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales.”
“Fashion Rules” will include Tigrett’s midnight blue strapless tulle evening gown from the 1980s, designed for Diana by London-born Murray Arbeid; it has never before been exhibited in the U.K. Cassie Davies-Strodder, curator of “Fashion Rules,” commented by e-mail: “We are delighted to have this stunning gown on generous loan from Pat Kerr in ‘Fashion Rules.’” She noted the exhibition “completes the story of 20th century monarchy at Kensington Palace” and celebrates “these modern royal women in their fashion heyday.”
A second dress in Tigrett’s collection is making a less traditional appearance at Kensington as one of several sketched in new palace wallpaper reflecting the life of Diana.
Tigrett didn’t know about the wallpaper until she visited the palace last year and happened to see it as she was walking down a hallway. “I was flabbergasted,” she said. The dress is a black lace-over-magenta design by Victor Edelstein, depicted as Diana wore it with long pearls.
Tigrett began collecting antique laces and textiles when she was only 19 during a visit to the Orient. She later created wedding gowns out of the lace she collected and other special occasion dresses for luminaries such as Sophia Loren and Queen Noor of Jordan.
Tigrett’s collection of royal memorabilia and textiles dates as far back as the 17th century and contains thousands of items, including a pair of Queen Victoria’s knickers as well as her Honiton lace shawl, the Duchess of Windsor’s sable coat and remnants of fabric from Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation robe.
Organizers of both the Ferragamo and Kensington shows tracked Kerr to Memphis to request items for the shows — “which is not your normal place to find a collector,” she said.
Tigrett purchased her four Diana gowns from the famous charity auction of the princess’ dresses at Christie’s in New York in June 1997, just weeks before Diana’s Aug. 31 death.
All of Tigrett’s Diana dresses were requested, but she chose to send the one she felt was most right for the princess’ part of the exhibit, which focuses on the 1980s — the Arbeid dance dress with diamante stars.
It was made for Diana for a private dinner given by former King Constantine of the Hellenes in 1986, according to Christie’s. She wore it several more times in the next two years to the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden and to Paris.
Tigrett lived in London for 20 years, and during the ’80s, when the princess rose to become perhaps the most glamorous woman in the world.
“It was typical of how we all dressed for balls,” Tigrett said. “It was a wonderful time to live there. ... She loved dancing, and she was a great dancer. She was a star, and we watched her evolve as a star. It fit everything for me.”
Tigrett kept her Diana dresses largely under wraps for years after Diana’s death. The feeding frenzy for the auctioned dresses after Diana was killed appalled her.
“It was so macabre to me,” she said. “I went into my shell and didn’t allow my dresses to be shown at anything, with one exception, until the 15th anniversary of her death.” In 2012, she let an Australian magazine photograph her dresses for the anniversary.
The exception came in 2002 when, at the request of then-Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, Tigrett allowed for the first time a sampling of her collection, about 100 pieces from the thousands she owns, to be shown at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. “Royalty & Elegance: Selections from The Pat Kerr Collection” included, also for the first time, her four Diana gowns shown together as well as a Marilyn Monroe dress. She also showed gowns she had designed for Tipper Gore for the 1993 presidential inaugural balls and two state inaugural ballgowns she created for Martha Sundquist.
Lois Riggins-Ezzell, executive director of the Tennessee museum, called the show “a very popular exhibit, and the catalogs sold like hot cakes. People are really interested in dresses and the decades they are from. They fascinate people because they become the images for that period in people’s lives.”
She called Tigrett, one of the first people named to the museum’s Costume and Textile Institute, “a very important and sought-after collector.”
Tigrett acquired some of her Marilyn Monroe items from another Christie’s auction while others, notably bras and head wraps, were given to her by Anna Strasberg, whom Tigrett said is a close friend. Anna Strasberg is the third wife of Monroe’s acting mentor, the late Lee Strasberg.
Tigrett sent the Ferragamo Museum two Monroe dresses — a black cocktail dress designed by Ceil Chapman and a red lace one by designed by John Moore. Only the Chapman dress was exhibited because the Moore dress, apparently a favorite of Monroe’s, was worn many times and had oxidized, and there was not enough time to properly prepare it for an exhibit, Tigrett said.
Tigrett attended the opening festivities of the Ferragamo exhibit and dined with the Ferragamo family in their home in Florence. “The Ferragamo Museum palace is on the river and is so beautiful,” she said. “I hadn’t been to Florence in 10 years. It’s so rich in history and art.”
She noted the Monroe exhibit will move to a Japanese museum after it leaves Prague. Like Elvis, Monroe was an icon, said Tigrett, and popular the world over.
Tigrett also plans to attend the opening festivities of the Kensington Palace exhibit. Meanwhile, she has been occupied with projects closer to home.
She recently donated 100 hats that belonged to her late mother, Margaret Harrison Kerr, to the Tennessee State Museum, and she plans an event around them later this year in Nashville.
Tigrett has also been working with Southern Seasons, an Atlanta-based magazine that recently launched its first wedding issue with a cover and 12 color pages featuring Pat Kerr bridal gowns and the designer herself. Tigrett, always a tireless promoter of this city, noted that her label continues to read Pat Kerr Memphis.
When Tigrett designs a gown, she tells the bride-to-be, “bring me a piece of your grandmother’s handkerchief,” or lace from her wedding gown or other memento, “and let me incorporate it into the gown,” she said.
She recognizes, perhaps more keenly than the bride, the significance such a memento will contribute to the wedding gown in years to come.
“I’m all about heirlooms and continuing family traditions,” she said. “We are our past.”
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Thu May 27, 2010 12:06 pm