Westwood and McCartney in Blenheim takeover

By Yasmin RufoBBC News

Pete Seaward Blenheim Palace exhibitionPete Seaward

One room has captured a dream-like party scene complete with sequins, gold and jewels

British fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Zandra Rhodes are being celebrated in a new exhibition at Blenheim Palace.

The journey begins in the 300-year-old Great Hall that features designs from the late Dame Vivienne and creative partner Andreas Kronthaler.

From there, each of the palace’s significant rooms has been transformed by a different designer.

Each designer looked around the palace and picked a room.

And that is what makes the exhibition so unique.

There are no stuffy spaces crammed with random items or looking embarrassingly sparse. This sprawling exhibition that takes over the whole palace is wonderfully immersive.

Pete Seaward Blenheim Palace exhibitionPete Seaward

A total of 11 British fashion designers have taken over rooms at the palace

The concept behind the exhibition came from keeper of the palace, Kate Ballenger.

“We wanted to create a group show that celebrated the best of British fashion,” she explained. “So I invited the designers to the palace where they could pick a room, respond to the space and then we let them bring their vision to life.”

Luckily for Ms Ballenger, all of the designers picked different rooms.

“We had an egalitarian approach of ‘first come, first served’ and fortunately it worked out perfectly and it made my life a lot easier given no one wanted the same space.”

Ms Ballenger, who has been planning the exhibition for the past year, was conscious of creating something that could reach a new audience.

“Most of our exhibitions are historical and so we wanted to create something that would appeal to people who don’t usually visit historic properties,” she said.

Rooms not to be missed

  • Forget about the hundred-year-old books, in the Long Library, Stella McCartney’s catwalk is what will captivate you. Featuring classic designs from McCartney’s previous runways, there is everything from a Beatles-inspired jacket to red carpet outfits
  • Outdoor brand Barbour has created a walk in the woods theme, transforming the Green Drawing Room into a countryside haven complete with wax jackets, leaves cut from Barbour’s iconic tartan pattern and bird sounds. The room also features pictures of celebrities from David Bowie to Lily Allen wearing the company’s jackets
Pete Seaward Barbour design at Blenheim PalacePete Seaward

Barbour’s colour scheme and nature theme compliment the green room at the palace

  • It’s disco hour for Alice Temperley who has transformed her room into a dreamlike party scene with plenty of sequins, leopard prints and drapes. Look out for the crystal filigree dress that has been specifically designed for the exhibition. The silk floor-length dress has tens of thousands of cascading crystals and beads that have been hand applied by 10 designers who took 30 days to complete the outfit
  • In the Red Drawing Room, designer Dame Zandra Rhodes, who has designed garments for the likes of Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury, is showcasing a section from her 6000 outfit archive. The vintage mannequins are dressed in bright and colourful printed garments and positioned as if in the middle of a fabulous party. The mannequins all have hairstyles that Rhodes – known as the princess of punk – has sported over her 50-year career
Pete Seaward Blenheim PalacePete Seaward

As well as a look back at some of the best in British fashion history, part of the exhibition is about the future and upcoming innovation in the industry.

In the library, Stella McCartney’s Uppeal, a vegan apple-based alternative to animal leather is part of her display. The fabric is made from the waste of northern Italy’s juice and jam industries and debuted very recently at McCartney’s Winter 2023 runway show.

The Oxfordshire palace, known for being the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, is also using the fashion exhibition as a chance to celebrate the former prime minister’s style on the 150th anniversary of his birth.

While most designers have decorated their rooms with historic pieces, British shirt-maker Turnbull & Asser have unveiled an entirely new collection that captivates Churchill’s traditions, sartorial choices, and disposition.

One of the most interesting items on display is an original outfit that Churchill commissioned during World War Two.

At the height of the war, Churchill asked Turnbull & Asser to create a one-piece garment that was generously cut, had breast pockets to keep cigars in and roomy side pockets.

The outfit, which became known as the famous siren suit, had a particular wartime appeal as it could easily be slipped on during air-raid sirens while keeping the wearer’s modesty.

Pete Seaward Blenheim Palace exhibitionPete Seaward

Churchill made the siren suit outfit popular during the war

Other items in Churchill’s tribute capsule include a special smoking cap created by hat designer Stephen Jones.

The traditional velvet cap features embroidered initials, button and tassel and a hand-embroidered clementine in honour of his wife Clementine.

Beyond Churchill, the palace also has its own history with the fashion world.

It has hosted several fashion shows and photo shoots over the years, including Christian Dior, who hosted two shows in 1954 and 1958 in aid of the Red Cross and then again in 2016 with their Cruise Collection.

Icons of British Fashion will run until 30 June at Blenheim Palace.


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