There are those certain few that mesmerize us and make it to icon status. I think of Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and, more recognizable worldwide than even Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis, Princess Diana Of Wales.
A Dress for Diana for Christmas from my friend Anne, who knows of my secret interest in her. It's all about the making of the most famous wedding dress of all time, Diana's gown for her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981. It's not a gossip book. It is less about Diana than it is about the designers, David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who were rather young themselves, and the whirlwind surrounding the making of the bridal gown, as well as the outfits of the attendants, in just 6 months. Being a designer myself, I like the behind-the-scenes perspective of the book. The book captures how the designers savored every moment of their interactions with Diana and how they felt the full weight of the responsibility attached the honor of being the royal dressmakers. Can you imagine being only 29 and asked to design the gown of the century?
site (go to the wedding dress section).
And not only did I get this great book, but I was invited to attend the exhibit, Diana: A Celebration today in Philadelphia at the Constitution Center with my mother-daughter gal-pals Anne and Misha. The choice of venue is a little puzzling: what does a an exhibit about a British Royal have to do with American history or the Constitution? A few people are peeved about that- they think only people like Betsy Ross or Martha Washington should be featured there. Whatever. That didn't stop us from going and enjoying the spectacle.
Boy, was it crowded! We had tickets for a certain time, arrived early, and still had to wait over an hour in line to get in. Shame on you, Constitution Center! Once in, the first alcove was intentionally dark with a spotlight shining on a diamond encrusted tiara. Magnificent! Several rooms of Spencer family memorabilia followed. The case full of Diana's early childhood things, including her favorite stuffed toy, photo albums, pastel portraits, and school things was attracting a lot of interest. But we were really there for THE DRESS.
Equally interesting was the next room, filled with many other recognizable outfits of Diana's. These were on loan from private collections acquired at the 1997 Christies' charity auction just a few months before her death. Collectors and even some regular people paid in the tens of thousands for the dresses and suits, some going for well over $100,000. Now some of the ensembles tour on a rotating basis earning even more proceeds for Diana's pet charities. No one expected her to be gone not even two months later.
What I love about watching Diana over the years is seeing her evolution. In the beginning of her public life, Diana's look was overly coordinated, dowdy, and always with the requisite hat. In the last few years of her life, she had developed a sleek, glamorous, confident style for herself. Barely a hat in sight.
Definitely a fashion don't, even for the 80's. Yikes! Apparently she wore this polka dotted thing on many occasions over a 5-year period. I was surprised how many of her outfits she wore multiple times. She was actually criticized for repeating outfits, but how sensible, I think. She would save the new and exciting outfits for attracting attention to a special charity or to take attention away from something else, like her husband's televised admission of adultery (see the "revenge dress" by Christina Stombolian here)."Elvis" dress) were designed by Catherine Walker. This suit was not in the exhibit, but you get the idea. I can't say I care for Diana's royal matched suit & hat look of the 80's specially designed to make her "stand out in a crowd". She stands out, all right. But then, I'm an American and we just don't get hats. You should see Walker's suits now. Diana would be stunning in them.
Most people agree that Diana looked her best after her separation from Prince Charles. She started wearing non-British designers like Versace and Valentino, but her go-to designer at that time seems to be London-based Jaques Azagury, a designer I'd not been aware of. His flattering evening dresses were our favorites in the show.
The rest of the exhibit showed some of her hand-written thank-you notes (she must have spent half her days writing thank-yous), a huge case-full of condolence books, some open and written by children (sniff), and in the last room a blown-up copy of her brother's eulogy with Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" song playing in the background. Ok, time to go!
Thanks, Anne & Misha for a fun day!