Today was the first day of ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story‘ exhibition at Historic Royal Palace’s (HRP) Kensington Palace. The exhibition, which will run for 2 years (until 28 February 2018), is in honour of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who was taken from this world 20 years ago on 31 August 1997 in Paris, France. Diana had been a resident in Apartment 8 from 1981 to 1997.
Before the doors opened at 10am, there was already a long queue of eager visitors waiting to see the iconic dresses of the beloved Diana, Princess of Wales. Luckily, all of those who queued outside were able to get in (apologies if there were those who were turned away) and form another queue for Diana: Her Fashion Story. Since the last exhibit on Fashion Rules (featuring dresses worn by The Queen, Princess Margaret, and Diana), Kensington Palace has had another refurbishment in the main hall and in the Pigott Gallery where the exhibition is located.
There’s a new chair and this one’s for Diana!
“What message will I be giving out if I wear this?”
“There are loads of movie stars and celebrities but there will be only one Diana.” – Elizabeth Emanuel (who, along with David Emanuel, had designed the fairytale wedding dress)
We may have seen many of the dresses in the magazines before but sometimes, dresses have to be seen in person. For those of us – like me – who never had a chance to meet the charming and compassionate beauty, the dresses allowed us to imagine that we were standing in front of her. 25 dresses are on display at the moment: the first room has 5, the second has 3, the third has 3, the fourth has 9, and the last room has 5. Of all 25 dresses, 2 of these had already been displayed in the last exhibition, Fashion Rules (see post on Diana’s dresses). I was most looking forward to what I call the ‘Pearl Dress’ (it’s known as the Elvis dress to others), the ‘Princess Aurora Dress’, and the Grace Kelly-inspired chiffon evening gown. Please note, this fashion exhibition does not include her shoes, jewellery, or handbags.
The nylon net lace & velvet ribbon debutante dress (with matching scarf) by Regamus, a popular brand for young aristocratic women and their mothers. This was worn at a ball in Althorp House in the Autumn of 1979. It was apparently one of 3 clothes Diana owned as she borrowed most of her clothes from her friends and flatmates. The dress now belongs to the Fundacion Museo de la Moda in Santiago, Chile.
Bruce Oldfield dress, 1990. See more photos from Fashion Rules in another post.
What I call the ‘Princess Aurora’ dress. This pink satin evening gown with white raw silk collar and cuffs was designed by Catherine Walker in 1987. This was worn for the official portrait in 1987, an official visit to [West?] Germany in 1987, and to Turkey in 1988, and a formal banquet for the President of India in 1990. This dress now belongs to Melissa Downey Scripps.
This blue silk chiffon evening gown with matching scarf was worn to the Cannes Film Festival in 1987 and the Theatre Royal in 1989. Catherine Walker took inspiration from Grace Kelly’s gown(s) in ‘To Catch A Thief’ (1955) as Diana sometimes adopted styles from film stars. This dress now belongs to the Fundacion Museo de la Moda in Santiago, Chile.
This sari-inspired one-shoulder silk chiffon gown with sequins and beads was worn to the ballet in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, and for an official portrait in 1990. This was designed by Gina Fratini for Hartnell. It now belongs to a private member. It was during the Rio trip when Diana purposely removed her gloves to shake hands with an AIDS patient.
This Honeymoon day suit is the larger version of the two tweed wool day suits designed by Bill Pashley. It is now part of the HRP’s collection.
The Diana effect This pale pink chiffon blouse with a satin neck-ribbon is by Emanuel. Diana wore it for Vogue in 1981 which coincided with her engagement announcement. And since she loved it so much, she asked the Emanuel’s to design her wedding dress. The blouse is from the Museum of Style Icons in County Kildare, Ireland.
The boxy 1920’s-inspired green-and-black tartan wool day suit by Emanuel was worn on an official visit to Italy in 1985. This day suit is part of the HRP’s collection.
This elegant black lace and magenta silk evening dress by Victor Edelstein was worn on an official visit to Hamburg, West Germany in 1987. Guess what? The long necklace as faux pearls! This dress now belongs to Pat Kerr Tigrett.
This ‘flamenco’ black velvet bodice and red silk taffeta skirt by Murray Arbeid was worn to Grosvenor House Hotel in 1986 and on an official visit to Spain in 1987. Diana chose to wear one red glove and one black glove with this dress. This dress – apparently another version – was given by the designer to the V&A Museum.
This black and white silk satin dress with glass beading by Bellville Sassoon was worn to a concert at the Barbican Centre in 1989. It now belongs to the Fundacion Museo de la Moda in Santiago, Chile.
“She was a princess. She had a style. She did everything with grace and charm.” – David Thomas
The BEST dress of them all! The press called it the ‘Elvis [Presley] dress’ but I call it the pearl dress. This Catherine Walker strapless white silk crepe dress with jacket are embroidered with sequins and pearls! It was worn on an official visit to [British] Hong Kong in 1989 and to the Royal Albert Hall in 1989. Catherine Walker took inspiration from Elizabethan necklines. Regal power. This dress was given by the Franklin Mint to the V&A Museum.
This green silk velvet evening dress by Victor Edelstein was worn for a private entertaining event in 1985. It now belongs to E. I. and Group. Fashion historians have speculated that the fingerprints at the bottom of the dress are those of the young Princes. I wonder, however, how no one had smoothed or dry cleaned the dress over time?
The ‘Travolta dress’ by Victor Edelstein, 1985. This midnight blue silk velvet dress was unfortunately in the wrong part of the glass box so no one could get a good photo of it. Diana wore this dress to a White House dinner in 1985 and danced with John Travolta! This dress belongs to a private member.
This burgundy silk velvet dress with embroidered tail-coat by Catherine Walker was worn to Leicester Square in 1990 and on an official visit to South Korea in 1992. It now belongs to E.I. and Group.
This cream silk crepe dress embroidered with sequins of falcons, the national bird of Saudi Arabia, is by Catherine Walker. It was worn on an official visit to Saudi Arabia in 1986 but I can’t seem to find a photo of Diana wearing it. It now belongs to Pat Kerr Tigrett.
This green (it looks teal to me) sequinned dress by Catherine Walker was worn on an official visit to Austria in 1986, a charity ball at Osterley House in 1989, and to a Diamond Charity Ball at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in 1990. It is part of the HRP collection.
This pale pink day suit by Catherine Walker was worn to the Daily Star Gold Awards for Courage and Bravery at the Savoy Hotel in 1997.
This ‘informal’ and versatile blue shift dress by Catherine Walker was worn for a shopping trip on Bond Street in 1997. It is part of the Catherine Walker & Co collection.
This red day suit by Catherine Walker was worn to the launch of HIV/AIDS charity in 1996. Red, as you know, is the universal colour of support and awareness for those living with HIV. The day suit is part of the Catherine Walker & Co collection.
This ice-blue silk gown with beads by Atelier Versace was worn for a Harper’s Bazaar photoshoot in 1991. It now belongs to the Stuyck-Plant Family.
“A true princess walked in, I was amazed by her beauty and kindness.” – Mario Testino
This ‘sexy’ black silk velvet and beaded evening dress by Catherine Walker was worn for a UNESCO charity event at Versailles (the palace) in 1994, and a Vanity Fair photoshoot in 1997. It now belongs to Donna and T Michael Glenn from Memphis, Tennessee.
This green silk velvet dress with diamante buttons by Catherine Walker (1992) was previously on display for Fashion Rules. See the other post for more photos.
This grey silk satin with pearl embroidery by Catherine Walker (1990) was worn for private events and for the photoshoot with Mario Testing in 1997. It now belongs to the Fundacion Museo de la Moda in Santiago, Chile.
This cream printed silk with glass-beaded embroider floral shift dress by Catherine Walker was worn to the Christie’s gala in New York in 1997. It is now part of the Catherine Walker & Co collection.
“There will never be anybody to replace her. She was unbelievably genuine and completely unique.” – David Sassoon
There really only was and is one Diana.
(Quotes taken from the exhibition)
In the Gift Shop, visitors can buy postcards of Diana in dresses that are currently on display, Harper Bazaar’s limited edition magazines, the Diana-inspired silk scarves and tea ware, and jewellery inspired by the famous Sapphire engagement ring (a good one for Replicates). If you’d like to shop the Gift Shop online, the only items missing are the postcards of Diana.
Outside the palace, red-blue-and-white bunting, Union flags, and pictures of “England’s Rose” adorned the palace gate and railing. For those of you who’ve been to the palace on the anniversary of Diana’s passing anniversary (31 August), this is a familiar appearance.
Around April, the Sunken Garden – which dates back to 1908 – will temporarily become The White Garden (full of white and cream flowers) in memory of Diana, who really liked the Garden and used to chat with the gardeners. Later this year, a permanent statue of the late Princess of Wales will be erected in the Garden. It will be the perfect place where Diana fans can pay their respect.
The Sunken Garden in July 2016
Tickets to the exhibit for the opening weekend has already sold out but visitors can try their luck if they arrive early in the morning. HRP members, on the other hand, need not stress too much but it’s still worth arriving as early as possible. Hopefully the exhibit will not be as busy in the coming months so that all may admire the dresses without feeling rushed to move on.
Tips for Visitors
- On a weekend, arrive between 9-9:30am.
- Go on a week day if possible.
- Book your tickets online in advance!
- Apply for a membership before going and collect your card at a different Historic Royal Palace (e.g. Banqueting House, Tower of London, Hampton Court, etc.). Otherwise, buy your ticket in advance. This will guarantee that you’ll be in the queue for the Diana exhibition.
- Take your time inside the exhibition – at least make sure you take enough photos (without flash) and have a good look at the details.
- Support the palace with a purchase inside the Gift Shop! Members, you get 10% off in the Gift Shop and Cafe.
- Be polite to those around you. 🙂
- Walk over to Cafe Diana for an orange juice and Tikka Chicken! Diana used to take William and Harry here!
Tickets: £19.00 (£17.10 online) from 1 March 2017 | Members go free
Hours: Mon-Sun 10-18:00 (last admission at 17:00)
Closest Tube: Kensington High Street (Circle/District) / Queensway (Central)