Diana still the ‘People’s Princess’ 20 years on

See Diana's iconic collection at Museum of Style Icons

by Rose Barrett
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2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana and with series 5 of ‘The Crown’ now showing on Netflix.

Interest in ‘The People’s Princess’ is once again at all-time high.  As media debates the blurry lines between truth and fiction on the popular show, the public still can’t get enough of the tragic princess, or indeed, the happenings of the Royal Family!

King Charles 111 may now be sitting on the throne but his former wife still commands the attention of the public. Famous for her style, there’s scarcely a week or a day goes by, without an iconic photograph of Diana shared in print or online.

Many of Princess Diana’s most famous garments are recreated in the show which also depict some of her most defining and stand out fashion moments including of course, the infamous ‘Revenge Dress’.

The Museum of Style Icons at Newbridge Silverware, located just down the road in Co Kildare, is home to several original garments and personal effects once owned and worn by Princess Diana.

The collection of Diana garments which are on permanent display at the Newbridge based museum include the famous pale pink Emanuel blouse which Diana wore in her engagement portrait by Lord Snowdon in 1981. 

The photograph of a young, Diana wearing the blouse was originally commissioned as part of a Vogue feature on ‘upcoming beauty’.  It is reported that Diana walked into the shoot and headed straight for the garment with its distinctive satin neck ribbon. The designers of the piece were then little-known designers, husband and wife design duo, David and Elizabeth Emanuel. 

Fortuitously for Vogue — and the Emanuels — the timing of the publication coincided with the announcement of Lady Diana Spencer’s engagement to the Prince of Wales.  The photograph of Lady Diana wearing the blouse with her clear blue eyes demurely looking at the camera depicted the very essence of innocence and romanticism. 

It was the first official portrait of the future Princess of Wales and in many ways, marked the beginning of Diana’s fashion evolution.  It was also the beginning of her fashion relationship with design duo, David and Elizabeth Emanuel who were now set to get the biggest design gig on the planet!

In 1981, Elizabeth Emanuel, together with her husband, David was chosen to design the wedding dress of Lady Diana Spencer for her wedding to Charles, Prince of Wales. 

This was a huge undertaking at the time as the Princess was one of the most photographed, if not the most photographed woman in the world.  In an age before Instagram and social media the allure and style of Princess Diana still made its way across the world with every outfit she wore being scrutinised and admired. 

Naturally then, the wedding was a huge affair and was televised with an estimated 700m people worldwide tuning in to see ‘the dress’.  Of course, it didn’t disappoint – it was made of ivory silk, pure taffeta and incorporated antique lace, 10,000 pearls and had a 25ft train. 

The exhibition at Newbridge Silverware includes the final calico toile for the royal wedding gown and a replacement veil.  A toile is a dressmaker’s equivalent of a working document, this toile, which was made by the Emanuel’s was a pre-cursor to Diana’s actual wedding dress, in other words, the final fitting toile of her wedding gown which was later made in silk and features the same details, including the flounced cuffs and trained skirt. 

Catherine Walker India Dress

The designers made this toile to allow them to adjust the sizing.  Numerous bodice changes had to be made by David and Elizabeth Emanuel as Diana continued to lose weight in the weeks leading up to the wedding day.  “Diana, like many nervous brides, must have lost about a stone and a half in weight during the run-up to the wedding,” said Elizabeth Emanuel.  “The actual gown was only made up in silk based on this final toile at the last possible moment to ensure the most accurate fit and as there was a limited amount of the specially woven silk available”

After the dress was made, some silk was left over and the Emanuel’s made a miniature copy of the royal wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses (similar to the ones given to Princess Diana by Elizabeth Emanuel and David Emanuel in 1981).

The miniatures were made at a scale of 1/8th of the original dress and were created using cut-offs from the original bridal silk and lace, mounted onto miniature mannequins.  The miniatures are also on display at Newbridge Silverware and feature mini versions of the three bridesmaid dresses similar to those worn by India Hicks, Clementine Hambro and Lady Sarah Armstrong Jones.

Princess Diana ‘India Dress’

The so called ‘India Dress’ above is one of the most beautiful gowns in the collection.  A Catherine Walker, Mughal-inspired lavishly embroidered pink silk evening gown and bolero, it was made for the state visit to India in February 1992.  It was during the state visit to India that Diana was famously photographed sitting alone at the Taj Mahal – the monument to lost love, which caused a good deal of comment and speculation in the press at the time

The infamous ‘Revenge Dress’

Her official separation from Prince Charles was to be announced in December of the same year. The Princess was photographed wearing this gown by Lord Snowdon in 1997 and is one of the most lavish of all her gowns.  Labelled ‘Catherine Walker, London’, the sleeveless gown with deep scooped neckline and long princess-line bodice is delicately embroidered to the dropped waistline. 

It has three dimensional exotic blooms in looped and satin stitched silk, layered pink sequins, centred by amber, green and pink crystal beads and is scattered with small white floral shaped sequins against a green iridescent sequined background with gold chain stitched leaves. The bolero jacket is embroidered front and back and is lined with ivory satin while the plain silk cuffs each have three large buttons inset with emerald and pink rhinestones.

In June 1994 Prince Charles admitted on television that he had been unfaithful to his former wife.  Princess Diana was due to go to an event at the Serpentine Gallery that very evening and decided that the very sexy, black off the shoulder dress by Christina Stambolian would strike the right note.

The figure-hugging dress, with its split up the leg showed off her toned figure and athletic body and was a regarded by many as a strategic dress, worn by the Princess to tell her wayward husband that she was strong and determined and would not be put down by his infidelity.  

This little black sexy off the shoulder dress couldn’t be more different to the demure Emanuel engagement blouse and is now famously called ‘The Revenge Dress.’  Composed of black silk damask, the bodice is crossed with tiny pleats which continue over the dropped shoulder line. A figure-hugging gown with diagonally swathed chiffon skirt, which culminates in the trailing side swag.

It is believed that Diana had the dress for some time before she separated from Prince Charles but always felt it was too sexy. However, after the separation became public, and Charles gave his ‘tell all interview’, rather than allowing herself to be ‘the victim’ she ensured she became the big story rather than Charles and his infidelity.

The strategy worked and the image of a confident, indefatigable Diana wearing the sexy number appeared on every front-page newspaper the following day.

William Doyle CEO of Newbridge Silverware said, “Princess Diana was a woman who knew the power of fashion and understood that she could communicate various messages through her choice of clothing. The Engagement Blouse is so different to the Revenge Dress and both mark two distinct periods in the late Princess’ life. Her fashion legacy still endures and we are very fortunate to have some of these key garments here on permanent display, their historical and cultural importance cannot be underestimated.”

Named one of Ireland’s top free visitor attractions the Museum of Style Icons (MOSI) hosts numerous collections and artefacts relating to Stars of the Silver Screen and many modern day artists – including Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Grace, Elvis Presley, Kim Kardashian, the Beatles and many more. 

See Princess’s Diana iconic style www.newbridgesilverware.com or call 045 431 301.

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