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Enchanted Palace: A very fashionable exhibition at Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace opens its doors with a very fashionable, fairytale exhibition - featuring the work of fashion stalwarts Dame Vivienne Westwood and Stephen Jones, and new fashion talent Aminaka Wilmont, William Tempest, Boudicca, and Echo Morgan…

Written by Matt Bramford

Kensington Palace, illustrated by Aniela Murphy

Kensington Palace has been home to some of the most fashionable and glamorous women who ever lived. From Queen Caroline in the 17th century, who patronised many of the struggling artists and scientists of the time and always looked fabulous, right through to my favourite Royal, Princess Margaret – never seen at a party without a fag in one hand and a glass of mother’s ruin in the other.

So it’s no huge surprise that Historic Royal Palaces, keepers of Kensington, have decided to host a rather fashionable temporary exhibition while it renovates the Palace; temporarily for almost two years, that is.

I took a trip there last weekend with the other half and my parents. My parents are wonderful, I have to say, but they aren’t particularly into fashion; my mum was Miss Butlins 1979 – winning, I’m told, because of her fashionable swagger, but together with my father, they couldn’t care less about fashion. So I was a little concerned as to how they’d react to this exhibition – they dig a historic landmark but aren’t down with la mode.

The exhibition, however, successfully combines historical artefacts and new fashion pieces, created especially to occupy the rooms. All this is, of course, housed in the magnificent splendour of the Palace – it’s a win:win situation. We were even treated to a little bit of period dancing in the gardens, so the folks were smiling with glee before we’d even entered the building.

Several rooms are open for viewing. More traditional guests may be disappointed that the Palace’s most famous rooms and exhibitions, such as the royal dresses, are closed for the time being, but regular visitors and fashion fans will be delighted at this innovative and unique transformation of a landmark.

Attendees are provided with a map and quiz sheet – there are seven princesses to find (all previous residents, so don’t cheat on Wikipedia to find the answers first, you’ll spoil your fun!) You won’t be surprised to hear that the most recent is Princess Di – and one of her ensembles, in which she attended a dinner at Bucks Pal, hangs poignantly in a glass case surrounded by white feathers.

The rooms have been given rather pretentious titles, which at first hearing, sound somewhat superficial. As you spend time in each of the rooms, though, you soon discover that the names have incredible meaning. Take, for example, the first room – ‘The Room of Tears’. The centre piece is a specially-designed piece by fashion design duo Aminaka Wilmont – a lifeless mannequin lays elegantly, facing the ceiling, draped in Aminaka Wilmont’s creation of silk, embellished with hundreds and thousands of crystals. ‘We were really inspired by the sense of sorrow and sadness in the room,’ Marcus Wilmont said of his creation. It does hold sadness, but the essence of their piece, which lies like an illusion, provides an incredibly serene setting. The room is dedicated to [insert name of Princess here, when you've visited the exhibition!] whose tears were collected in glass bottles – some of which (the bottles, not the tears) are on display.

Aminaka Wilmont’s Dress of Tears, illustrated by Michelle Urvall Nyrén

Other rooms include a grand, sweeping staircase, at the top of which stands Dame Vivienne Westwood’s incredible creation. Westwood’s general themes, of aristocratic and royal dresses sexed up, tie in perfectly with the exhibition, and this was by far my favourite piece. An architectural feat, this sculpted number creates the illusion of a princess running down the stairs.

Vivienne Westwood’s Dress for a Rebellious Princess, illustrated by Natsuki Otani

There’s also fantastic creations by fresh London design talent – William Tempest gives his take on the longest reigning monarch’s bedroom – his piece hangs from the ceiling and is made up of thousands of origami birds, embodying the shapely figure of said Princess (sorry to be so vague, I really don’t want to give the game away!)

Boudicca have created metallic sculptural pieces that hang precariously from the ceiling, Stephen Jones showcases some of his finest millinery, inspired by a bust of Isaac Newton; and new kid on the block Echo Morgan has created an amazing sculptural piece – part mantua, part lantern, featuring the most wonderful illustrations.

Echo Morgan’s Dress of the World, illustrated by Natasha Thompson

At this exhibition, there’s much fun to be had. The addition of a game to discover each of the princesses is a fantastic touch, and a unique way of exploring this magnificent building. Go!

Open until January 2011. See Kensington Palace’s website here for all the details and to book tickets.


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