Having lived in London for over seven years now sometimes I take for granted the incredible history that exists in this city. There is history hundreds of years older than even my home country on every street corner. Each and every cobblestone that remains could tell tales that would no doubt fill an entire book and leave us all in shock and awe. However, I don’t have the time or patience these days to sit down and enjoy a good book on the foundation of this wonderful town I call home. So when I heard about an exhibition that was opening at Kensington Palace that had Vivienne Westwood, Stephen Jones and Boudicca as contributing designers, I knew I had to take an afternoon to indulge myself with two great loves: fashion and princesses (yes, I used to play princess a lot as a child). So, the exhibition is called “Enchanted Palace” and it just opened this weekend in the Palace, in Kensington Gardens. Now, I am sad to admit that I knew very little of Kensington Palace other than the tales of Diana, Princess of Wales, living within its walls. And what was meant to be a morning of visiting the Palace turned into an entire day of absorbing all that I could read from the books in the bookshop! Kensington Palace is not only a feast for the eyes but also a Smörgåsbord for the historic soul. I know, I know-this isn’t a place for history. But this is a place for fashion, beauty and gossip. All of these things are absolutely spilling out of Kensington Palace.
The “Enchanted Palace” is an exhibition that is overflowing with gossip from the best place to get gossip really – the Royal Family.
The acclaimed UK theatre company WILDWORKS has taken over the palace while a £12 million restoration of the Palace is completed in preparation for the 2012 Olympic games. We , of course, have to make sure to put our finest foot forward as we welcome our guests to the capital! But the good people at the independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, didn’t want to close their doors to those of us that are here now, hence the fabulous exhibition in the State Apartments.
Each room was designated a different designer. The designers drew inspiration from Kensington Palace and the princesses that once lived within it walls – Mary, Anne, Caroline, Charlotte, Victoria, Margaret and Diana. Six designers were chosen to team up with WILDWORKS and Kensington Palace for the project. The list is pretty phenomenal and runs as follows: Dame Vivienne Westwood, William Tempest, Stephen Jones, Boudicca, Aminaka Wilmount and Echo Morgan. Not too shabby, right?
As if having six big names in fashion wasn’t a big enough deal I have an interesting factoid for you. Did you know that the palace is actually the home to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection? I would chop off my left arm to get into that Closet! Can you imagine? Apparently there over 12,000 items that have been worn by royalty and courtiers from the seventeenth century to the present day, including clothing worn by George III, Queen Victoria, Princess Margaret, The Queen, and Diana, Princess of Wales. The huge restoration currently underway is being completed with the intention of showcasing this fabulous collection more for public consumption in the future. However, the “Enchanted Palace” exhibition makes a good start at doing just this! There were a number of items on display that helped in making the exhibition truly haunting. You can see several items of children’s clothing, including a beautiful pair of fur trimmed red boots and Princess Beatrice’s kid gloves, displayed in the Duchess of Kent’s Dressing Room. Then in Queen Victoria’s bedroom the display of her slippers at the foot of her bed is an image that will stay with you throughout the day, if not the week (see picture above). The crème de la crème for me was seeing two gowns, one belonging to Princess Margaret and the other to Diana, Princess of Wales, in the Council Chamber. I am trying to be as vague as possible here because I don’t want to ruin the experience of seeing these things with your very own eyes for the first time. It is moving in a way that I could not have predicted.
I am pleased, however, to report that this is an exhibition that is made for not only twenty-something dreamers like myself, but also for entire families to enjoy.
I was particularly taken aback by the two very talented actors wondering around the rooms in the middle of the exhibit. I couldn’t quite tell you what they were but I believe them to be some sort of scientists from the eighteenth century. When I walked into the room they had a whole group of children hanging on to their every word as they examined a glove up close and personal.
They spoke as if they had never seen such a clever article of clothing and you actually believed them! However, that wasn’t the only acting taking place in the Palace for the children to enjoy.
There is a room that stands out with the rest and it is a room that will keep your little boys busy for hours. As you enter the great King’s Gallery you are drawn to the far end of the room where two uniformed men are setting up toy soldiers and then knocking them down. They are playing war and they want you to play with them. As the little boys, and some girls, were setting up the bit sized soldiers, the two actors were telling the children tales of how William III would play this same game for hours with his nephew. Honestly, what a clever way for your children to learn some history.
So you’ve seen how easy it is for me to get off topic here. Ladies and gents, this is a London exhibition not to be missed. Ladies, it is worth the price of admission just to see the gorgeous Vivienne Westwood gown up close and personal. Gents, you get to play war games…hello, heaven…and kids, you get to learn a thing or two while you are tricked into thinking it’s a day out for fun. And I nearly forgot to mention that each of you also has the opportunity to sit on a golden throne and feel like a king or queen. What would you wish for? As I sat on the throne I thought a closet that could fit 12,000 garments. Oh, how that would be heaven.
There are a few events coming up that you might be interested in attending if you are planning your trip. First off, the Palace will be open late for “Some Enchanted Evenings- the Enchanted Palace at night”. The dates for this are 21 May, 18 June, 16 July and 20 August. On these nights the Palace will remain open until 9 pm. I must warn you, however, that things are scary enough in the day time. I’m not sure I’d have the guts to go in for an evening showing.
For you Americans in town you can celebrate fourth of July this year in a different way. There will be a Ball at the Palace on the third and fourth of July. On these two days there will be a full schedule of dance performances, activities and workshops.
And here’s a tip for all visitors: don’t miss out on taking tea in the Orangery behind the palace. This is an absolute must! The building is gorgeous, the tea divine and the food to die for. So go ahead and put aside a sunny afternoon to sit on the terrace and dream about what you would do if you lived in such gorgeous palatial surroundings. I certainly did and ended up losing all track of time. The whole experince gets a two thumbs up from me. Let your Manolos clickety clack on palace floors next weekend. You won’t regret it!