Twenty years had passed since the tragic death of Princess Diana but to this day she remains a highly disputed figure. Hers was a life shrouded in mystery and controversy, and of a charmed stroke of serendipity, as well as significant tragedies. She is as popular today as she was during her lifetime; the media is continually digging into whatever skeleton in the cupboard they can get about her, and people just can’t seem to stop talking about her.
I’d choose not to make any unfavourable remark about her life; I’d rather talk about her fashion story — the distinguished style she crafted after she married The Prince of Wales.
The current exhibit at Kensington Palace Museum explores a collection of Diana’s most famous outfits; how her style evolved from a very shy teenager to a glamorous woman who used her image to influence people around the world. As soon you enter the gallery, you’ll see a set of framed photographs as well as sketches of the couture looks commissioned by Princess Diana.
The world of designer fashion, couture or fashionable made to measure clothes was new to the young Lady Diana Spencer before she married The Prince of Wales. She was unfamiliar with the latest trend that her entire wardrobe was borrowed from friends except for a single dress, a shirt and one smart pair of shoes.
After her engagement, she started to meet with a handful of fashion designers she liked, to help her create a working wardrobe. Many of the designers, both local and international, were charmed by her shy public demeanour and those that she recruited to help her craft her image became some of her closest and loyal friends. Her style popularised the romantic fashion movement of the 1980s with light, lacy and flowing fabrics like the gowns in above photo.
A Welsh fashion designer named David Emanuel made Lady Di’s blouse for a feature on Vogue magazine in 1981 (see top left photo) and it coincided with her engagement announcement that the same style blouse sold out on the high street all over the country as soon as the magazine was released. That was the instantaneous response from the public that from then on women were buying whatever style clothes she was wearing. She became influential in the world of fashion and was the most photographed woman in the world. The other photo above is her ‘country outfit’ designed by Bill Pashley; she wore it in Scotland when she and Charles were on their honeymoon. The weed fabric is in keeping with traditional English country dress.
Catherine Walker is one of Diana’s favourite designers. They met barely three months after she got married to the prince and their friendship lasted a lifetime. Ms Walker was commissioned to design many of the famous outfits that Princess Diana wore to various official functions.
As she became more confident and sophisticated, her style changed and she wore clothes that convey whatever message she was trying to communicate to the world. After her divorce with Prince Charles she started wearing a more modern, fashionable clothes sometimes showing her cleavage, or her knees, and she seemed more at ease not having to conform to whatever expectations the royal family had on her.
Undeniably, she was very glamorous and whatever outfits she wore, it was not only the clothing that stood out but rather her caring and compassionate demeanour.
In 1997 Prince William suggested to his mother to auction her iconic gowns to raise funds for humanitarian causes, and Diana took her son’s advise and sold 79 of her most famous dresses in June of that year.
The sale at Christie’s in New York raised £3.4 million for AIDS and cancer charities.
The press reported that the auction was quite a symbolic event — Diana was closing a chapter of her royal life and focusing on charitable work. Sadly, she died barely two months after that remarkable auction.
Inevitably, the exhibit includes a few outfits she wore while attending official functions with Prince Charles, and there were photos of her and The Prince of Wales together. A few of her suits were also on display but there’s only one outfit at the gallery that she didn’t wear to an official event.
This shift dress she wore for shopping to Bond Street is such a classic and I love it. (I am in the process of trying to find a similar fabric for my next sewing project. ) Just like Grace Kelly, she became a style icon. Her influence is extraordinary. No one knows what her life would be had she lived longer. People still talk what she’d look like if she’s still around and the type of influence she’d have on her grandchildren. Her legacy remains today through her children, the charities she supported, and the people whose lives she deeply touched. A few weeks ago I blogged about the documentary that her sons recently made in her honour — DIANA, OUR MOTHER: HER LIFE AND LEGACY
Even if you’re not a big fan of the late princess, I’d highly recommend you visit Kensington Palace Museum — the birthplace and childhood home of Queen Victoria. Although the highlight of their exhibit this year is Princess Diana’s outfits, there’s other things to see — clothing, furnitures, etc., that once belonged to Queen Victoria and other royals who once inhabited Kensington Palace. (FYI, it’s worth getting an HRP membership that allows you unlimited free access to the museum and special events at Kensington Palace and other historic royal palaces.)
KP’s Sunken Garden is another place I’d highly recommend you visit when you’re in the area. This summer they call it ‘The White Garden’, designed to showcase white roses, scented narcissi and a carpet of forget-me-nots with only a few red roses around the reflective pool, in commemoration of Princess Diana’s 20th death anniversary. The late princess apparently loved the garden and would often stop to admire the flowers and chat with the gardeners.
In the last couple of weeks many people have left flowers, photos, letters, and other tributes at the gates of her former home. Funnily enough, some loyal fans of the late princess still publicly show their contempt by hanging on the palace gate some very amusing photos of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
During my early morning run (it always starts and ends at the gate of Kensington Palace), I’ve seen several tv crew, both local and international, filming around the palace ground.
When I saw Princess Diana’s outfits three weeks ago, I was reminded of The Duchess of Cambridge who is always being compared to her mother-in law.
May be someday Kate will ‘inherit’ (for lack of better word) Diana’s famous ‘People’s Princess’ title. But for now, Diana is, and remains ‘The People’s Princess.’
I must end this post with a special mention about my cousin, Emma Laoreno-Comelli, who visited London three weeks ago. All photos of Princess Diana’s outfits were taken when we visited KP together. It was one of the highlights of her trip. She and I are both big fans of the late princess and spent the day around KP.
We had a wonderful time together and ended our Kensington Palace tour with an afternoon tea at The Orangery.
Photos of Princess Diana wearing the pink suit and the white pearl beaded gown were both from Getty Images.