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KENSINGTON PALACE, currently home to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, reopened in 2012, after renovation by the independent charity Historic Royal Palaces. Standing in front of the palace is the house staff wearing their new Jaeger uniforms.

Royal Ceremonial
Dress Collection


fashion arts

 


 

The death of Princess Margaret in 2002 presented curators with the opportunity to open parts of Kensington Palace formerly reserved for royals to the public, unveiling a new floorplan and new exhibitions just in time for the 2012 Jubilee and Olympic year. The home of the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection has never looked better. Previously private gardens have been replaced by a formal entrance leading visitors to a slick new reception area, café and gift shop. Treasures from the collection—as well as an enviable assortment of garments on loan from the Royal Collection and other museums—are beautifully displayed. But the palace remains a patchwork affair; built and re-built over five centuries and occupied by several generations of royals, it is challenging to navigate and interpret. The £12 million renovation intended to make this “a palace for everyone” has improved the flow of the building while damaging its historic character and dignity, substituting the flimsy glamour of a film set or a department store window.

Ironically, greater accessibility translates into less information. There are no wall labels; visitors must track down paper booklets or roaming costumed guides in order to identify and contextualize artworks. “Whispering walls”—dramatized conversations between actors impersonating past palace residents, audible along the edges of the rooms—are more distracting than enlightening. While there is an element of fun in discovering the palace’s hidden history for oneself, most tourists do not have the time or patience for this, and it is often unclear which objects are reproductions meant to be touched, photographed and sat upon, and which are priceless museum pieces.


 

 

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