Diana: Her Fashion Story Revisited

Yesterday I had the pleasure of returning to Kensington Palace, London, to see the exhibition of the late Diana, Princess of Wales’ dresses, Diana: Her Fashion Story.

You may have read my previous post, Diana: Her Fashion Story – The Kensington Palace Exhibition as I originally visited the exhibition in November 2017. This special exhibition is closing in February and so I was keen to see the gorgeous gowns once again, plus there was the added incentive of new items on display that I had not yet seen.

A word on photos: Kensington Palace allows non-flash photography, however, the exhibition rooms are sometimes low-lit and in the Diana exhibition, in particular, they have framed the room with beautiful decorative carved wooden panels that are back-lit and if not designed to ruin the visitors’ photos, they have managed it impressively, anyway! And, you will see, reflections, shadows and people abound!

The above silk satin evening gown, complete with Victorian-inspired bustle, was designed by Victor Edelstein. Diana wore it for an official portrait by Terence Donovan in 1986. It was also worn during an Anglo-Spanish ball in London in 1987. You will no doubt recognise the Cambridge Lover’s Knot Tiara now frequently worn by Diana’s daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, that can be seen in the inset photo.

Diana was not a fashion plate when she became engaged to the Prince of Wales, she owned one dress, one shirt and one smart pair of shoes, the rest was borrowed from friends. She was later to say that she would rather be known as a work-horse than a clothes horse. Nevertheless, her new role necessitated a larger wardrobe that would ultimately be photographed, discussed and copied the world over.

Remember my post on Royal Memorabilia? It generally isn’t big business, but when Diana sold 79 of her dresses in June 1997, just 2 months before her death, it raised £3.4 million for AIDS and cancer charities proving that when an item has a tangible link to a much-loved person the cost of the item has the potential for exponential growth.

The above pink silk Zandra Rhodes dress was debuted in Japan in 1986 – the pink was thought to complement the flowering cherry blossoms. It was worn again later that year at Wembley Arena when Diana went to see Torvill and Dean ice skate. Is it me, or does this stand the test of time? I’m convinced that it would not look out of place at an event today.

‘Diana’s dress’, Catherine Walker, 1983

The above blue silk dress (or is it green?) was designed by Catherine Walker for a royal tour of New Zealand in 1983, where its lightweight fabric was perfect for the heat and busy schedule.

The above satin evening gown, designed by Catherine Walker, has a white silk collar and cuffs and was worn for an official portrait alongside Prince Charles in 1987. It was also worn for official visits to Germany and Turkey in 1987 and 1988 respectively. It was worn a fourth time during a formal banquet for the President of India in 1990.

This dress is one of my favourites and I’m so glad it has remained in the exhibition. It was worn in Rio de Janeiro in 1991. It is a sari-inspired white silk chiffon gown decorated with sequins and beads. It’s another, that to me is quite a classic design and could travel easily into the 21st century.

Diana promoted Britain’s fashion designers across the globe. She would commission them to submit examples for forthcoming tours and events. Designers that Diana favoured would be propelled to fame and success, similar to what is known today as the Kate-effect when items worn by the Duchess of Cambridge sell out within hours of her wearing an item.

The below trio of checked outfits were from a time before Diana started paring back her style and keeping to an uncomplicated silhouette. One woman behind me at Kensington Palace looked at the Caroline Charles day dress that Diana had worn with a jauntily angled Glengarry tam, and announced ‘she was frumpy when she was younger’! I was quite put out and wanted to defend Diana’s corner, telling her that that particular dress was the height of fashion in 1982. It was certainly fitting for an outing with Queen Elizabeth II at the Highland Games.

The above red and black dress is another, in my opinion, that transcends decades. This was worn at a Pavarotti concert in 1995 that was in aid of the British Red Cross. It is another stunning Catherine Walker creation – the red fabric reflected the British Red Cross and the military-style braiding reflected the 50th anniversary of VE Day that the concert was commemorating.

Diana wore the above sapphire blue pleated silk evening gown with bugle-bead collar for a state dinner with Emperor Hirohito in Japan in 1986. Japanese designer Yuki was given two weeks’ notice to produce his work. Diana paired the exquisite gown with a contemporary headband. Much like the Duchess of Cambridge a generation later, Diana was known for wearing favoured items on a number of occasions. She re-wore this for the ballet in London, 1990.

This is my absolute favourite and another Catherine Walker example, so much so I couldn’t resist sharing my photos again. It is such a gorgeous design, colour and the composition is outstanding.

The above day dress was worn in Diana’s last year of life. It was designed by Catherine Walker (who else?) whose portfolio of work outfits and evening wear that Diana wore regularly was impressively large.

Catherine Walker became Diana’s ‘go to’ designer. She was a reliable partner in Diana’s aesthetic plan. She would wear bright cheerful colours when visiting children made from fabrics that would not crease, she would also avoid wearing hats as they would get in the way when giving little ones a cuddle. These business-like suits are a far cry from her favoured pussy-bow blouses and pie-crust frills that signified her early days as ‘shy-Di’ and shows how her fashion sense and vision sharpened over time.

Above is another selection of Catherine Walker designs (with one interloper) see below. This section of the exhibition is sadly missing two dresses that were on display a year ago. The first is a beaded Catherine Walker evening gown and a baby blue Jacques Azagury shift dress. Whilst they are missing, however, other exhibits have been added elsewhere in the exhibition, which is now in its third phase.

After Diana’s separation from Prince Charles, she was free to explore a multitude of foreign designers. Without her royal title, there was little need for her to permanently promote British fashion houses. This extravagantly beaded ice-blue gown was worn for a photo-shoot for Harper’s Bazaar in 1991.

Before her separation, Diana carried out around 130 public engagements each year. Her work-wear had to range from smart business wear, day dresses and evening gowns. Each outfit was carefully chosen to suit the engagement’s brief. Her designers knew to incorporate national emblems to show respect to her hosts when on overseas tours. Furthermore, she knew that by ditching the previously obligatory royal gloves for shaking hands she was connecting with people, especially when shaking the hand of an AIDS sufferer conveying a message of huge import: that you couldn’t become HIV positive from shaking hands.

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Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 – 1997)

Diana’s life and legacy have been examined and feted continuously since her untimely death in 1997 and her memory endures in the public consciousness as well as in the hearts of her family and friends. This special exhibition at Kensington Palace has proved a huge success and confirms Diana’s status as an icon and ‘queen of peoples’ hearts’.

 

Source: Diana: Her Fashion Story

24 thoughts on “Diana: Her Fashion Story Revisited

    1. You’re welcome. It was nice to see them again and even better as there were a few changes from last year. I tried to showcase different gowns in this post as I’m sure no-one wanted a repeat of last year’s.

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  1. I really enjoyed reading this and looking at the pictures. It’s so cool how different many of these dresses are. Some look like they’re straight out of a fairy tale set in the 1800s, others are so modern and sexy. I especially love the red and black Catherine Walker dress from 1985. I wish I was old enough to remember more about Diana; she died when I was only 12.

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    1. Sadly I’m old enough to remember everything, but only just! I was 11 when Charles and Diana married, so I grew up with the whole cult of Diana. The black and red dress is very sexy and could easily be worn today. My first post has some other dresses on there – I’ve only re-used one dress as I love it!

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  2. Thanks for posting that…..I do remember some of them, in particular the tweed suit from her honeymoon, when they looked so happy. Down in the basement I have an old Diana book from the mid-80’s with many photos of her outfits, as she was certainly considered a style icon.

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      1. Thank you for the recommendation. I just checked it out. 😊She is truly a fashion icon. My wish like everyone else is for her to have continued on her beautiful legacy up to this day and time. She would have loved to have seen her two boys get married.

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