Stella's horse shines in historic surroundings

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The fashion designer Stella McCartney provided an insight into an equine obsession she shared with her late mother yesterday at the preview of a major exhibition by some of the industry's most creative minds.

The fashion designer Stella McCartney provided an insight into an equine obsession she shared with her late mother yesterday at the preview of a major exhibition by some of the industry's most creative minds.

Ms McCartney is among a select group of avant-garde designers, including Alexander McQueen, Paul Smith and Zandra Rhodes, who have been invited to turn their hands to art installations by creating pieces inspired by the historic surrounds of Belsay, the 14th-century English Heritage house and castle in Northumberland.

Ms McCartney, who shares her late mother Linda's love of the native American Appaloosa breed, has produced a stunning 10ft (3m) chandelier in the form of a leaping horse, containing more than 8,000 Swarovski crystals and suspended from the rafters of the Great Hall. It is intended to be a ghostly representation of George Stubbs's 18th-century painting Whistlejacket and uses the crystals to produce an ever-changing display of colours.

"I loved the idea of working in an historical setting a little jaded around the edges, and creating something sharp, with a modern edge in contrast to the rough stones of the castle," said Ms McCartney, a designer more accustomed to fussing over Madonna's wedding dress than the interior design of a castle. She has named her horse "Lucky Spot".

The art brings to life one of northern England's oddest historic properties. The castle at Belsay is offset by an accompanying mansion, created in the style of a Greek temple in 1816 by a local aristocrat, Sir Charles Monck. Sir Charles' descendants have insisted that the mansion should not be furnished. This, the castle and its grounds provide the perfect backdrop for the dozen exhibits.

The installation was the idea of the late Jane Muir, a great Belsay enthusiast. Other exhibits include that of Mr Smith, who has furnished the old library with 100 potted plants, a picnic, several chairs he has designed and a wireless broadcasting Radio 4. It is "a tranquil island of stylish serenity," he says.

The Jerwood Prize winner Shelley Fox is the only designer of the 12 present to have involved Belsay's former staff. She has filled the study/telephone room from floor to ceiling with 10 tons of laundry, creating a form of padded cell. Buried within it are hidden speakers from which servants tell their stories.

Caroline Chater, project manager, said she found Ms McCartney's sculpture breathtaking. "I was absolutely astonished when I saw the horse for the first time. Whatever I had in my head was completely exceeded when the piece was installed."

Fashion at Belsay runs at Belsay Hall, 14 miles north-west of Newcastle, from Saturday until 30 September. It includes the work of Hamish Morrow, Julie Verhoeven and Clements Ribeiro.

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