By Corrie Parsonson
From ‘Sloane Ranger’ to lone ranger, Diana, Princess of Wales set fashion trends for a generation of women, with an evolving dress sense that kept magazine editors and fashionistas on their pointed pumps for almost two decades.
Her wardrobe still does.
A new exhibition marking the 20th anniversary of her death – ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’ – chronicles the short adult life of a 20th-century icon via a revolving collection of dresses and outfits worn throughout her public life.
The exhibition is next door to her former home: Kensington Palace, now the official residence of her sons Prince William (and family) and Prince Harry. It brings together an often glittering array of garments and materials, from glamorous evening gowns to chic suits and tailored shifts that were part of Diana’s ‘working wardrobe.’
Highlights include the pale pink Emanuel blouse worn for her engagement portrait by Lord Snowdon in 1981, and the velvet Victor Edelstein gown she wore when she danced with John Travolta at the White House. Also prominent is the ‘Elvis’ dress, as the Princess called it – a Catherine Walker original famous for its high ‘Elizabethan’ collar and encrusted pearls.
Exhibition Producer Poppy Cooper said her dresses were “mini-biographical windows into her work and her life and her passions.”
Staged inside Kensington Palace’s Pigott Galleries, the exhibition displays the outfits in large glass cabinets spread across three rooms and one corridor of the bijou gallery. They are coupled with a special selection of original fashion sketches by three of her designers: Emanuel, Roland Klein and David Sassoon.
Each outfit has an accompanying photograph showing Diana wearing it, and the rooms are sequenced as follows:
• ’Creating a Style’ – the young Diana emerges into a life in the spotlight. The walls of this
room are decorated in the same lace pattern as her wedding dress.
• ‘Stepping Out’ – when her fashion choices become increasingly sophisticated throughout
• ‘Working Wardrobe’ – overtly glamorous and glitzy, with sharp shoulder pads. This is when the press called her ‘Dynasty Di’ after the popular US TV series.
• ‘The Spotlight’ – when the Princess abandoned conventions and traditions such as the royal protocol of wearing gloves, and experimented with style.
The last room of the exhibition showcases the dresses that Diana wore for the Harper’s Bazaar photo shoot shortly before her death in Paris on August 31, 1997 – only weeks after her 36th birthday.
Ms. Cooper said the Mario Testino prints on the wall were lent to the exhibition by Princes William and Harry.
The exhibition curator, Eleri Lynn, said: “Diana, Princess of Wales was one of the most photographed women in the world, and every fashion choice she made was closely scrutinized. Our exhibition explores the story of a young woman who had to quickly learn the rules of royal and diplomatic dressing.”
“We see her growing in confidence throughout her life, increasingly taking control of how she was represented, and intelligently communicating through her clothes. This is a story many women can relate to,” she added.
Other high-profile dresses on show include the elegant cream silk crepe Catherine Walker gown worn on an official visit in 1986, which was adorned in falcons, the national bird of Saudi Arabia.
The exhibition runs until 2019. The Pigott Galleries are open seven days a week to the public from 10:00 am to 17:00 pm (winter time) and 10:00 am to 18:00 pm (summer). Last entry an hour before close.