In an interview last year Jasper Conran, a British designer and a former confidant to the late Princess Diana, recalled the princess standing in front of a mirror saying, ‘If I wear this, what message am I giving off?”
From her earliest royal engagements, everything Diana wore was closely scrutinized and remarked upon. Princess Diana learned to use her image to engage and inspire people, and to champion the causes she cared about. The new exhibition titled Diana: Her Fashion Story, opening February 24th during London Fashion Week at Kensington Palace, the former home of the princess, explores how she navigated her unique position in the public eye.
Most of the pieces on show were purchased by private owners at a Christie’s auction in Manhattan in 1997, but have been loaned to Kensington Palace for the exhibition.
The fashion installations returning to the palace will bring back fond memories for Diana’s fans. The definitive dress exhibition traces the evolution of the Princess’s style, from the demure, romantic outfits of her first public appearances, to the glamour, elegance and confidence of her later life.
Our exhibition explores the story of a young woman who had to quickly learn the rules of royal and diplomatic dressing, who in the process put the spotlight on the British fashion industry and designers.
We see her growing in confidence throughout her life, increasingly taking control of how she was represented, and intelligently communicating through her clothes. This is a story many women around the world will relate to.
Eleri Lynn, curator of the exhibit.
Diana’s fashion story was one of a [learned] journey. She didn’t just enter the international stage as a fashion icon. Curator Eleri Lynn, a scholar of Tudor fashion, focuses on how royal members “used fashion symbolism to convey messages of power and status.”
A few of Diana’s most memorable dresses includes the cheerful floral gown she wore in Sao Paulo in 1991 while visiting a hospital shelter for abandoned children, many of whom were suffering from AIDS.
She accessorized the floral look with layers of costume jewelry for children to play with. “She called it her caring dress,” says Lynn of the Bellville Sassoon in a Vogue interview, “You’ll notice she is not wearing gloves. That’s a royal protocol that she ditched because she liked to hold hands with people and make skin-to-skin contact.
Another example of Diana breaking with tradition was the hunting fishing look she designed with Bill Pashley. The princess caused quite a stir. The Bill Pashley tweed skirt suit worn for the official honeymoon photograph with Charles, Prince of Wales, at Balmoral adhered to the traditional royal country-dressing rules in the fabric, while also cleverly bending those rules in the voluminous shape of the jacket. The informal, on-trend blouson shape referenced a more current style and quietly signaled a departure from the famously buttoned-up, rigid royal codes.
One of her most famous looks that will be on display is the Victor Edelstein midnight gown she wore to the 1985 White House dinner, where she famously danced with John Travolta to “Saturday Night Fever”. The dress was auctioned in 2013 for £240,000.
“Diana, Her Fashion Story” at Kensington Palace will be the first exhibition on Princess Diana in 10 years. The exhibit will feature new pieces that have never been shown before including this blue tartan Emanuel suit Diana wore on an official visit to Venice in the 1980s.
The exhibit will be accompanied by a special floral show at the Kensington Palace’s sunken garden which will be planted with the Princess’ favorite flowers by some of the gardeners with whom she interacted over the 15 years she lived there.