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Kensington Palace has been given a fairy tale-worthy facelift for a new exhibit, “The Enchanted Palace,” which spotlights works by British designers including Vivienne Westwood, Boudicca, Bruce Oldfield and Norman Hartnell.
Open now, the show combines art, fashion, performance and sound, and is based on the lives of princesses including Mary, Anne, Caroline, Charlotte, Victoria, Margaret, and Diana, all of whom lived within the estate from 1689 until today.
“We have found the stories incredibly inspiring,” says Bill Mitchell, producer of Wildworks, the British theatre company responsible for the presentation. “Like the rebellious princess who was so universally loved that, when she died in childbirth, London ran out of black mourning fabric.”
Each of the 13 rooms within the State Apartments has a gown or artwork on display, accompanied by actors retelling some of the old tales. The dimly lit bedroom of the former Princess Victoria re-creates the day in 1837 when she awoke to learn she was Queen of England. That story is told by a performer dressed as a servant who sits atop a giant stepladder facing the four-poster bed piled high with pastel mattresses. In the opposite corner, hung high from the ceiling, is William Tempest’s conceptual trompe l’oeil dress, made of origami birds in the form of a mythical sea creature.
In the Council Chamber, a white lace Bruce Oldfield gown worn by Princess Diana is displayed in a forest of birch trees. And in the Privy Chamber, Stephen Jones hats are configured in an installation inspired by British philosophers and scientists.
“When I was at high school, physics was my favorite subject,” Jones says. “I was fascinated by the bust of Sir Isaac Newton in the Enlightenment room, so I put him in the apple hat that I made for Marc Jacobs’ spring 2008 collection and the display started from there.”
“The Enchanted Palace,” open until 2012, is intended to be a tourist attraction — and distraction — while a 12 million pound, or $18.3 million at current exchange, restoration of the property takes place.
“To be exploring these stories in the rooms where they took place is thrilling,” says Mitchell. “It’s such rich material for art and theater.”