Gowns and Crowns: Design Collaborations

Gowns and Crowns: Design Collaborations in Academic Dress

29th November, 2018

Academic dress may have been around for centuries, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be in vogue. Here Churchill Gowns Director of Operations, Ruth Nicholls, gives us a run down of some of the best design collaborations in the UK.

Whilst many academic dress designs have evolved over the centuries, in modern times numerous UK Universities have chosen to collaborate with prominent designers to create new designs and schemes.

As early as the late ‘50s there were rumours that the Queen’s clothes designer, Hardy Amies, had designed the graduation hoods for the new University of Kent. Whilst this was later proved to be false, the idea of universities collaborating with leading fashion designers stuck.

Dame Vivienne Westwood and King’s College London

In 2008 King’s College London was given the power to award its own degrees. This called for a new set of graduation robes for their students, who no longer graduated in the University of London robes. The University commissioned British fashion royalty, Dame Vivienne Westwood to design their new gowns and the result was a very unique style of gown!

Vivienne Westwood with King's College London Graduates
Dame Vivienne Westwood poses with students of King's College London


Most UK students graduate in a plain gown and coloured hood, with the hood colours often denoting the subject studied and level of the degree awarded. The new King’s College scheme incorporated all the colour into the gowns themselves, and did away with hoods and caps altogether. Students graduate wearing a long black gown with brightly coloured stripes on the shoulders and sleeves. Each faculty is represented by a different colour and the masters gowns incorporate a coloured lining into the sleeves as well. The gowns also have a gold button on each shoulder, featuring the University’s lion mascot.

Whilst the design mostly received an enthusiastic response, some students were disappointed to graduate without caps, denying them the opportunity of the all important mortarboard toss. Students even campaigned for a cap in 2016, with a Change.com petition gathering 1,143 supporters!

Dawn French’s Chancellor’s Crown

When Dawn French was made Chancellor of Falmouth University, she decided to shun the more traditional styles of academic dress. In fact she said “I couldn’t be doing with those Tudor bonnets that people wear. Honestly I think they make everyone look a bit like a hobbit.”

Instead she opted for a crown, designed for her by local jeweller Mirri Damer. The crown features plants native to Cornwall in the gold design, and is paired with black robes also adorned with local flora. The robes themselves were designed by students of the University.

Whilst the style of the robes and crown undoubtedly suit Dawn, the University might have to think quite carefully about who they appoint as their next Chancellor… They might not be to everyone’s taste!

Chancellor’s Robes at the University of the Arts London

One design collaboration was not enough for the University of the Arts London who, since 2016, have their Chancellor’s robes re-designed and made each year by their students. The trend began when their Chancellor, British artist Grayson Perry, challenged students to design him a new robe. The project was such a success that it has become a regular fixture.

The latest outfit designed by Yuxuan Yang, a BA Fashion Textile: Knit student from the London College of Fashion. It includes 220,000 pearl beads, which had to be hand stitched onto the garment. This was only achieved with the assistance of 92 other UAL students, who attended various ‘beading parties’!

Whilst we wouldn’t expect this style of gown to catch on with many other Chancellors in the near future, it certainly does reflect Perry’s maverick personality. We can’t wait to see what he chooses next year!

Grayson Perry and Dawn French in Chancellors Gowns
Left: Grayson Perry in his Chancellor's gown, designed by student Yuxuan Yang. Right: Dawn French modelling her Chancellor's robe and crown