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Dresses that tell a story: Princess Diana's life in fashion


02-24-2017 11:09 BJT

A new exhibition celebrating the life of Diana, Princess of Wales is to open at Kensington Palace, twenty years after her untimely death, in a Paris car crash, at the age of 36.

The dresses tell the story of a life cut short: first the frilly debutante frocks Princess Diana wore before she married Prince Charles, then the elaborate gowns that stunned the world, and finally the power suits she favored shortly before her death.

The exhibition at Kensington Palace, her home for many years, will give the public a chance to see extraordinary fashion pieces up close for the first time.

The public's fascination with her life - and her clothes - lives on, according to the exhibition's curator.

"So 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. We still get so many visitors who come to Kensington Palace because it was her former home, and so we at Historic Royal Palaces wanted to celebrate her life and her style with an exhibition of 25 of her most famous dresses, charting the evolution of her style in the public eye. Now, Diana didn't actually like to be known as a clothes-horse, but she understood the language of fashion very, very well, and she used it to help her do the job at hand," Eleri Lynn, curator of "Diana: Her fashion story", said.

The workmanship is refined, some of the designs are simple in concept and execution, while others clearly took careful thought and meticulous preparation.

One room features designers' sketches for Diana dresses, offering insight into the vision behind many of her choices.

The display opens with a lacy party dress Diana wore to a ball at her family home, Althorp, in 1979 and includes many of her most famous outfits.

"We also have the 'Travolta dress,' as it's become known, which is a midnight blue velvet dress by Victor Edelstein designed for a state visit to the White House in 1985. And it's become famous because in a perfect meeting of Hollywood and royalty, Princess Diana danced with John Travolta for almost half an hour. And in those still photographs, you can see how that skirt twirls up, and had she been wearing any other dress, I don't think that moment would have been quite so iconic," Lynn said.
Catherine Walker became one of Diana's favorite designers. To prepare for an official visit to Hong Kong, she designed a strapless white silk crepe and jacket embroidered with sequins and pearls. Its sparkly look, and high collar, reminded fashion writers of the jump suits favored by Elvis Presley late in his career.

She looked resplendent in the outfit, topping it with a jeweled tiara.

"Basically, all of the designer who worked with Diana recall how charismatic she was; recall that when she walked into the room, that you knew she was there, and recall her presence. I think there's something indefinable about what a cultural phenomenon she was, but certainly she's still a cultural force. We're still seeing that, and the support that we have for this exhibition just demonstrates that," Lynn said.

Diana relied heavily on Walker at various times in her life, and she turned to Walker again in the years just before her death to help her refine a "working princess" style in line with her plan to devote more time to charitable activities.

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