Happy Easter darling. I had a delightful pre-holiday lunch at Sheekey’s this week with Mum and H then dashed over to Kensington Palace to see the Diana: Her Fashion Story exhibition. I actually think Historic Royal Palaces was incredibly generous to include the exhibit in the ticket price for the KP tour. The twenty-five pieces are staged in the purpose built costume galleries with minimum tech and a small collection of the delicious Mario Testino Vanity Fair portraits.
Did the exhibition tell the late Diana, Princess of Wales’s story in fashion? On balance I would say curator Eleri Lynn expertly traced Diana’s stratospheric path from ‘Shy Di’ to fairytale princess then onward to power-dressed working woman and finally the transformation into a glamazon.
The pale pink chiffon ruffle blouse with a satin bow at the neck designed by the Emanuels for the then Lady Diana Spencer could have been made for a Victorian china doll and thank goodness we were spared the earliest formal day dress Princess Diana wore when she was imitating the senior royal ladies and looking desperately uncomfortable.
Vogue’s Anna Harvey introduced the princess to the best of British fashion: David Sassoon, Catherine Walker, Bruce Oldfield, Jasper Conran, Murray Arbeid and Victor Edelstein. It was a thrill to see Edelstein’s ruched black velvet off-the-shoulder evening dress that Diana wore dancing with John Travolta at the White House in 1985. As the designer said, she wore that dress rather than the taffeta princess frocks that smothered her.
Walker’s skin-tight pearl encrusted column dress with a high collared bolero is the star of Diana: Her Fashion Story. Debuted in 1989, who could forget Hollywood Diana in her Elvis dress with the Lover’s Knot tiara anchored into a blonde halo of hair? Diana christened the dress ‘Elvis’ but I see parallels with the Jean Louis nude dress made for Marilyn Monroe in 1962 when she serenaded President Kennedy.
Chapeau again to Lynn for showing the working wardrobe of neat skirt suits Catherine Walker honed for Diana when she finally decided to use her power for her causes and carve out a role for herself having been endlessly criticise upstaging the Prince of Wales. The elegance of a pale pink wool crepe short skirt suit showed a lady who meant business.
Catherine Walker’s ombre blue chiffon pleated goddess gown was reminiscent of Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief and reminded me of Princess Grace of Monaco mentoring the then Lady Diana Spencer after she wore a strapless taffeta evening gown designed by the Emanuels that left little to the imagination.
Should you ask where such famous gown might be, it appears the Emanuels auctioned the dress having found it in their studios. So no criticism of the curation for such omissions. Had the wedding dress been included in the exhibition I think it might have overwhelmed the small selection that served as timeline of Diana’s evolution as a fashion icon.
Yes, I’d have liked to see the blue Colona skirt suit that Lady Diana wore when her engagement was announced and the exhibition did cry out for the red hot little black cocktail dress Christina Stambolian designed that Diana wore in 1994 at the Serpentine party while her husband was admitting his infidelity to the BBC. The ‘Revenge Dress’ was a game-changer in the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
I would also like to have seen the skirt, bolero and blouse that Diana wore when she posed alone in front of the Taj Mahal in 1992 but perhaps it was not available to Historic Royal Palaces. Buckingham Palace has a much clearer run when curating fashion exhibitions for the summer opening. For one thing The Queen’s diamonds can be displayed. I rather longed to see some of the jewels Diana wore displayed with her dresses and, perhaps, the hats, handbags and shoes to complete the story.
The last room in Diana: Her Fashion Story is arguably the most poignant because it featured a collection of dresses she auctioned at Christie’s in the final year of her life. The standout piece was an eau de nil strappy silk column dress embroidered in the Egyptian style. The princess, now minus her HRH, wore the Versace dress on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.
A major part of Diana’s fashion story was the permission post-separation to wear international designer fashion. I recall her triumphant solo trip to New York when Diana first showed off the slicked, shorter hairstyle in the company of Bazaar editor Liz Tilberis wearing a midnight blue Galliano lacy slip dress. Lord knows where that dress has settled its feathers.
On reflection, removing Diana’s HRH was rather a low blow from the Royal Family comparable only to denying the Duchess of Windsor an HRH as a sign of utmost disapproval. I don’t know whether Diana dismissed her protection squad or that the Royal Family took it from her. But I do recall seeing Diana in Harrods one afternoon in the twilight of her life being hunted by the public.
Diana: Her Fashion Story is a celebration of the late princess and the advance ticket sales prove that she remains a figure of fascination and great affection from the public worldwide. The white garden planted in what was the Italian water garden outside Kensington Palace is in Diana’s honour and a much more suitable tribute than that bloody fountain in Hyde Park.