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Deirdre Murphy

This article was previously published in the special edition, ALUMNAE (December 2018).

1975 - 2018

MA 2002

Deirdre Murphy started her career as a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, after gaining a first-class History degree from Dalhousie University. She came to London in 2001 to study an MA in the History of Dress at The Courtauld: it was here that she discovered her love for textiles, and soon after leaving The Courtauld she became a curator for the Manchester Gallery of Costume at the V&A. She went on to join the Historic Royal Palaces team at Kensington Palace in 2003, where for the next decade and a half she presided over the collections as an influential and proactive specialist in royal history.

Photograph by Historic Royal Palaces

Whilst at Kensington, she curated several critically acclaimed exhibitions, famously one for the tenth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 2007 and, the following year The Last Debutantes, a show commemorating the semi-centenary of the presentation of 1,400 young ladies before the Queen in 1958, marking the end of the tradition that had lasted two centuries. In 2012 Murphy was involved with the Palace for Everyone project at Kensington, an innovative new imagining of Kensington Palace and Gardens that put a focus on recreating the royal courts there from the Stuarts through to Queen Victoria and Princess Diana. Her hugely successful work on the project drew international attention, and in 2014 she was elected chair of the Costume Society. After a TedX talk in the Royal Albert Hall (on the cultural impact of Prince Albert himself) and a series of lectures in the US, Murphy became the go-to expert for British television when comment on royal fashion was needed. She recently wrote a book about the early years of Queen Victoria, a subject close to her heart after a career at Kensington, which will be published in 2019.

She was one of the world’s leading experts in the textiles and fashions of the British court, and imparted her great knowledge to many students as an associate lecturer at the London School of Fashion, Central Saint Martins, and Leeds University. In 2016 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and tragically died in July 2018, aged only 42. She is remembered by her colleagues as determined, fierce, and strong, with a wry sense of humour, bravery, and style. Her legacy of 15 years at Kensington Palace shaped the institution to be what it is today, and her work will not be forgotten – in gratitude, Historic Royal Palaces is creating a new annual research fellowship in her name, memorialising her commitment to the raising of young academics in her field.

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