Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images
Fashion

See Inside the Magnetic New Exhibit of Princess Diana's Clothing

Everything from the dress she danced in with John Travolta to her honeymoon togs is on display.

“Whenever the princess discussed her clothes with me, part of it was always, ‘What message will I be giving out if I wear this?’ For her, that became the real language of clothes.”

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JUNE 23:  Diana, Princess Of Wales Arriving For The Christie's Party In New York Wearing A Champagne Coloured Dress Designed By Fashion Designer Catherine Walker.  (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
Diana arrives at a party wearing a Catherine Walker dress.
Photographer: Tim Graham/Tim Graham/Getty Images

That's what British designer Jasper Conran said about Diana, Princess of Wales—words that greet visitors as they enter “Diana: Her Fashion Story,” an exhibition celebrating the late royal icon's fashion 20 years after her death.

Six close-up portraits of the princess at the beginning of the show give a sneak-peak of her style’s evolution explored in the rooms of Kensington Palace, where 25 familiar dresses are on display.

Visitors will see the midnight blue velvet off-the-shoulder gown she wore when she danced with John Travolta at the Reagan White House in 1985 and a pale-pink chiffon blouse that she wore for her first official portrait taken by Lord Snowdon, published in Vogue in 1981.

There's also a green sequined dress by Catherine Walker typical of Diana’s so-called Dynasty phase, when the press noted her taste for large shoulder-pads, lavish fabrics and metallic accessories.

“When she first started, she was so young, she was dressing in a very sort of English way, of a particular sect in London,” said Jacques Azagury, who made some of her dresses in the later years.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE)   A member of staff poses with a dress designed by Catherine Walker in 1997 during a preview for the forthcoming 'Diana: Her Fashion Story' exhibition at Kensington Palace on February 16, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.On August 31st this year it will be 20 years since Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris.  As part of the events commemorating her life Kensington Palace are showing a number of her dresses in a new exhibition 'Diana: Her Fashion Story' which opens to the public on February 24th.  (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

A staff member holds the same Catherine Walker dress.

Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images

“She was part of the Knightsbridge girls, the Kensington girls, and they all dressed in this particular way, which was kind of very frilly, with big puffy shoulders.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE)  A member of staff poses with a 1992 Catherine Walker green silk velvet evening dress with velvet and diamante buttons worn for Diana's Vanity Fair photo shoot with Mario Testino in 1997 during a preview for the forthcoming 'Diana: Her Fashion Story' exhibition at Kensington Palace on February 16, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.On August 31st this year it will be 20 years since Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris.  As part of the events commemorating her life Kensington Palace are showing a number of her dresses in a new exhibition 'Diana: Her Fashion Story' which opens to the public on February 24th. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
A staff member adjusts the 1992 Catherine Walker green silk velvet evening dress Diana wore for a Vanity Fair photo shoot (her last) with Mario Testino in 1997.
Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images

“But it’s a good way to see somebody’s evolution. As she grew up and started traveling more, became more international, she pared down to a much more sort of acceptable European idea of glamour.”

With time, Diana became more confident and in control of how she was represented, according to Eleri Lynn, the curator of the show. The former wife of Prince Charles and mother to Princes William and Harry once said, “You’d 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 too revealing and you can’t have hems too short.”

The princess’s choices, from a tweed wool day-suit worn on her honeymoon to cocktail dresses, evening dresses, and formal gowns, are showcased in large glass vitrines in bright white rooms with wooden floors.

Some were collected from a 1997 auction Diana held at Christie's New York, where she auctioned off 79 dresses for charity and raised $3.25 million. Others were tracked down in shops and private collections.

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997) pose together during their honeymoon in Balmoral, Scotland, 19th August 1981. (Photo by Serge Lemoine/Getty Images)

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997) pose together during their honeymoon in Balmoral, Scotland, Aug. 19, 1981.

Photographer: Serge Lemoine/Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE)  A member of staff poses with a brown tweed day suit designed by Bill Pashley and worn by Diana on her honeymoon in Balmoral in 1981 during a preview for the forthcoming 'Diana: Her Fashion Story' exhibition at Kensington Palace on February 16, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.On August 31st this year it will be 20 years since Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris.  As part of the events commemorating her life Kensington Palace are showing a number of her dresses in a new exhibition 'Diana: Her Fashion Story' which opens to the public on February 24th. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
A brown tweed day suit designed by Bill Pashley and worn by Diana on her honeymoon in Balmoral in 1981.
Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images

But the great buzz around the exhibition might not be about the beauty of the clothes, “but the fact that it is clothes that have been worn by Princess Diana,” Azagury said. “That’s the real attraction to the exhibition, to see all those dresses that the public used to see her [wear] in photographs, on television—to actually see them in real, in a glass case, it’s a wonderful thing.”

“Diana: Her Fashion Story” opens at Kensington Palace in London on Feb. 24.

 

The dress at the centre of the vitrine is the famous midnight-blue velvet evening dress that Diana wore when she danced with John Travolta at a State Dinner at the White House in 1985. On the right is Catherine Walker’s strapless white silk-crepe dress and jacket embroidered with sequins and pearls that Diana wore for an official visit in Hong Kong in 1989 and to the Royal Albert Hall the same year. The dress was known as the “Elvis dress” because of similarities to his Las Vegas ensembles.

Photographer: Richard Lea-Hair

 

Another vitrine displays a green-and-black tartan wool day suit by Emanuel that Lady Diana commissioned for an official visit to Italy in 1985. The boxy shape was fashionable in the 1980s. Further to the right are the pale-pink chiffon blouse with a satin neck ribbon by the same designer that Diana wore for her first official portrait taken by Lord Snowdon and published in Vogue in Feb. 1981, and the brown tweed wool day suit by Bill Pashley that she wore during her honeymoon at Balmoral, Scotland, in 1981.

Photographer: Richard Lea-Hair

Magazine covers, such as Vogue, Hello!, Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair, featuring Diana, Princess of Wales.

Photographer: Richard Lea-Hair

A glass vitrine at Kensington Palace displays some of Lady Diana’s dresses, including a pink satin evening gown with white raw silk collar and cuffs by Catherine Walker that she wore for a 1987 official portrait by Terence Donovan. Also showcased is a blue silk chiffon evening gown and matching scarf by the same designer that Diana wore at the Cannes Film Festival in 1987 and then again at a performance of Miss Saigon at the Theatre Royal in London in 1989. For this dress, Walker was inspired by Grace Kelly’s gown in Hitchcock’s 1955 To Catch a Thief.

Photographer: Richard Lea-Hair

 

 

(Corrects the number of dresses on display in the exhibition.)
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