Welcome to Downton Abbey. If you find yourself in Hampshire, England, pop over to Highclere Castle, the famed and iconic house that is the setting for Downton Abbey. If you aren’t traveling across the pond, New York City will do nicely, as Downton Abbey: The Exhibition is a fashion and historical mecca for fans of the show. Although the Masterpiece series aired its last episode in 2015, fans have been eager for more Downton. With the success of a small tour called Dressing Downton, highlighting the fashion from the show, creators decided to take it one step further, this time, to Manhattan.
“We knew we had a show that had captured the hearts of not just the U.K., but an international audience, in the United States particularly,” said Dominic Burns, SVP, Brand Management and Commercial for NBCU International Television. “By the end of series six, we had a very active social fan base of millions across the globe. We also knew that everyone was desperate for more Downton in whatever form we could provide to them.”
First came Downton Abbey merchandise, which was successful in the U.S. and included jewelry, books and elements for the home. Burns said the real inspiration came when a touring exhibition called Dressing Downton, comprised of 25 costumes, toured throughout small museums, resulting in record attendance.
“We thought if we could do something bigger and better in a live space—we had a lot of rich content already with the characters, the set and the history of the period–that would deliver a fantastic live experience,” said Burns of the exhibit, which took about two years to create. “Everyone has been incredibly supportive, including creator Julian Fellowes and the cast and we couldn’t have done this without them.”
Guests to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition will discover a world unlike any other, as Edwardian England is highlighted from the fashions, designs and way of life. Burns and his team worked with the show’s art designer, costume designer and historical designer to ensure that Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, the servant’s staircase and Lady Mary’s bedroom chambers were exact replicas from the hit series. Original props were used as well as items procured from antique fairs around the United Kingdom. The most iconic? The beautiful bell board, which is the actual bell board from the show.
As for the fashion, guests will recollect exact scenes in which they saw Lady Mary don an exquisite beaded dinner dress or the breathtaking lace creation that Lady Edith wore for her trip down the aisle. There are dozens of mannequins throughout the exhibit that showcase the garments worn by Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes, the servants, the Grantham family and some iconic outfits of guests to Downton Abbey. Sections of the exhibit also include in depth character descriptions, old letters, photos and inventions such as the gramophone and radio that guests can listen to first hand.
“We felt it was crucial to give the fans something new to see, so the cast helped us put together the content, all of which was written by Julian,” said Burns, making note of the importance to have the experts who contributed to the series help as well with exhibit. “It has been brilliant. We had a gala opening and some members of the cast came and I think that it was such a strong family and wonderful experience in their lives that they love getting back together again. They’ve made an invaluable contribution to it.”
The exhibition was recently extended until April 2, and Burns hopes that it tours for years to come. And whether you consider yourself a member of the Grantham family or have never seen Downton Abbey, Burns believes there is something for everyone.
“I think there’s two types of people: if you’re a fan, there is no doubt you’re going to love the exhibition, especially the way it transports you from the bustling 21st century of midtown Manhattan back to the Edwardian era and into that house with all of those stories. Downton was such a warm series and beautifully written and shot. Fans will love reacquainting themselves with the characters and getting up close and personal with the sets,” he said. “If you’re not a fan, I still think that period in English history was an extraordinary time, even in world history. The backdrop of history was every present: the sinking of the Titanic, the first world war, the arrival of radios and hair dryers as a period of huge innovations. We all need a break from the everyday and the challenges of 21st century life.”
For tickets and more information, visit www.downtonexhibition.com or call 866-811-4111. The exhibition is located at 218 W 57th St., Manhattan, between Broadway and 7th Avenue.