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