”There are lots of movie stars and celebrities, but there will be only one Diana” – Elizabeth Emanuel, Fashion Designer
Once upon a time, there was a princess who didn’t know she was already one before she got married into the Royal Family of Great Britain and started to live in the Kensington Palace and later Buckingham Palace. Soon after everyone inside and outside the palace realised that this Princess was not the traditional blue-blooded one who inherited royal designations because of her ancestry but also because of her connection with the common people, because of her style, grace, charm, personality, humanity and beauty. Princess Diana – the real Princess that ever was.
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2017 marks the 20th anniversary of her tragic demise, so the Kensington Palace arranged an exhibition named ‘Diana- Her Fashion Story’, sponsored by Estée Lauder, to showcase the best of the wardrobes worn by the People’s Princess during her eventful life cut short so prematurely. It is a ticketed event that has started from 1 March 2017 and will continue until 28 February 2018 and you can buy the ticket online. Book in advance, the queue is real long, don’t say later I didn’t warn you!
I stepped out on a glorious sunny day in London, and the walk towards the Kensington Palace was full of excitement, full of life around – people enjoying the sunshine, children playing, birds flying – all things lively, bright and vivid – so much synonymous to the personality of the Princess herself.
The exhibition was found to be neatly organised, with clear directions, brief descriptions and quotes related to the magnificent array of fashion statements made by Diana. The grandeur and the sumptuous, aristocratic interior of the Kensington Palace matched well with the gorgeous display of the clothes worn by the Princess.
The entire tour of the exhibition was routed in a way so that you get the chance to see the state apartments of the Kings & Queens from as early as 16th & 17th centuries. Since Kensington Palace has been a public Palace and private home for more than 300 years, its time we get an insight of the life of the royals from that era. After the visit to the apartments are completed, you then have to queue up for the actual Diana exhibition- I could see the hope, excitement and love people have for Princess Diana while being in the queue. Awestruck!
The exhibition showcasing some of Diana’s most iconic looks- from the demure, romantic outfits of her first public appearances, to the glamour, elegance and confidence of her later life- an extraordinary collection of garments, including the iconic velvet gown, famously worn at the White House when the princess danced with John Travolta.
As one the most photographed women in the history, Princess Diana had her wardrobe planned meticulously. From the moment her engagement to the Prince of Wales was announced in February 1981 there was a huge demand for news about her. Her image on the cover of any magazine could increase circulation by 40% and her fashion choices influenced popular tastes. The exhibition graced some of her popular magazine shoots as a cover girl- from Vogue to Harper Bazar, from Vanity Fair to Telegraph, you name it and she was on it!
Diana learned the unwritten rules of Royal dressing, selecting appropriate dresses for different events as she herself explained in 1985, “you would be amazed what one has to worry about from obvious things like the wind… and you’ve got to put your arm up to get some flowers so you can’t have something to revealing and you can’t have hems too short.” State visits wardrobe, evening gowns, wardrobe for her social works and charity events, casual dresses for shopping trips to London’s Bond Street – Diana’s sense of fashion reflected her relentless attention to elegance, comfort confidence and appropriateness. Yes, comfort too! Diana once asked Bill Pashley (one of her many designers) to produce two versions of the iconic tweed suit that she wore on her honeymoon. She favoured larger one as extra shoulder and allowed her to take part in country activities, such as shooting. The tweed fabric was in keeping with tradition and English country dress.
Diana’s fashion choices became increasingly sophisticated through the 1980s as she learned what would work for public engagements and press photographs. The princess carefully selected her look to honour host nations on official visits. Catherine Walker, one of her go-to designers once created an embellished dress with Falcons, the national bird of Saudi Arabia, when the princess visited there. The high neckline and long sleeves of the dress also respected local customs.
The organisers saved the best for the last, there is a slide show in the last hall of the exhibition in which you see her photographed in various charity events and her involvement in many humanitarian causes. She would deliberately take off her gloves to shake hands with HIV patients, unlike any royals. Certainly I could not walk in her shoes to see how the world was through her eyes, but atleast I could get to see what she wore when she faced the eventful episodes of the world in her lifetime.
There is no doubt in saying that she was surely ahead of her time in terms of putting her best fashion-foot forward.