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From royal house to fashion house

Queen Maud, wearing a Laferriere evening gown in 1909.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- She was the embodiment of pre-war glamour, a photogenic British princess with a sharp eye for contemporary fashion who became a much-loved queen across the North Sea.

Now a collection of outfits and accessories belonging to Queen Maud of Norway has gone on display at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, celebrating an extraordinary era of fashion history.

The exhibition coincides with the centenary of Norway's independence from Sweden in 1905 and consists of 52 ensembles and 60 accessories on loan from the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo.

The outfits date from Princess Maud's wedding to Prince Carl of Denmark in 1896, via her coronation as queen consort in 1906 after her husband became King Haakon VII by accepting the Norwegian throne, right up to dresses ordered shortly before her death aged 68 in 1938.

Queen Sonja of Norway, who attended the opening of the "Style and Splendour" exhibition, told CNN the collection was important in bringing together costumes across a period in which women's fashion evolved from the cumbersome clothing of the Victorian era to the less restrictive garments of the 1930s.

The wife of Queen Maud's grandson King Harald V, Queen Sonja was entrusted to look after the collection by her father-in-law King Olaf V shortly before his death in 1991.

"I didn't have a clear picture of her in my mind until we unpacked these garments," she said.

"Then suddenly I saw a lady that must have been very artistic because she had beautiful colors and carefully chosen styles. She must have looked quite beautiful.

"We can see what kinds of styles there were before 1910 and how they developed into the 20s with shorter skirts. The collection reflects what was happening in the design world at that time."

The highlights of the collection include Queen Maud's coronation dress from the 1906 and the outfit she wore for the coronation of her nephew George VI on his coronation to the British throne in 1937.

"I think when she arrived she was a fashion icon because people didn't know what grand dressing was," said Anna Kjellberg of Oslo's National Museum, who co-authored a book to accompany the collection.

"They had very few elegant ladies. So I think she really meant something. The newspapers and the magazines just said they had never seen such an elegant lady."

Queen Maud's wardrobe included pieces designed by some of the great couturiers of the day, such as Worth, Redfern and Morin-Blossier.

But as well as lavish state gowns, the exhibition also includes clothes and accessories from Queen Maud's private life, including smart tailored suits, a variety of handbags and sportswear.

"A lot of royal collections mostly consist of ceremonial dresses for grand occasions," Kjellberg told CNN.

"What makes this collection so special is that it covers a very long period. And it's not only the state ceremonial dresses but it's also her daily wear, her sportswear and all her accessories."

As an enthusiastic sportswoman Queen Maud helped popularize leisure activities such as cycling and skiing.

"She was among the first to start cycling in Norway and she also adopted skiing," said Kjellberg.

"Of course many Norwegians love to ski, but when the Queen suddenly did it, I think that meant a great deal to most Norwegian women who perhaps would have been reluctant to take up such a sport."

The collection will return to Oslo in 2006, but Queen Sonja said it was appropriate that her predecessor's contribution to the history of 20th century fashion should be recognized in the land of her birth.

"It was very nice that she could come home after a hundred years," she said.

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