A Visit to “Diana: Her Fashion Story”


There are loads of movie stars and celebrities, but there will be only one Diana.” Elizabeth Emanuel, Fashion Designer (opening quote from the exhibit).

As I have mentioned a thousand times, I am a royal watcher, Anglophile, and a lover of fashion.  So when I learned of the exhibit of Princess Diana’s clothes at Kensington Palace in memory of the twentieth anniversary of her passing, I had to go.


My nephew joined me on my sojourn since my husband could not get away. It was a much smaller exhibit than the Queen’s clothing exhibit of last year; of course the Queen’s exhibit had several decades of clothes to choose from, whereas Princess Diana’s exhibit only had three.  Both were so well done.

As with all things Diana, I was left with a sadness of the life that was lost and even the craziness of the life she led. Heartbreaking. Yes, this was her fashion story, but no part of Diana’s story is covered adequately without acknowledging the sorrow of her life and her early death.

Kensington Palace as seen from Hyde Park.
Kensington Palace as seen from Hyde Park.

I had not toured Kensington Palace so that too was a treat. It is a beautiful palace, but it seems so exposed…Hyde Park on one side and a street on the other. I can’t imagine rearing children there.


There was an outer room that led into the exhibit. As I recall, it held six photos of Diana on one wall, a wall of windows, and a wall with a quote over the fireplace. It was stark.

I loved the walls for the start of the exhibit. They played homage to England's Rose is a subtle and dignified manner.
I loved the walls for the start of the exhibit. They paid homage to England’s Rose in a subtle and dignified manner.

The first room of the exhibit was breathtaking. It had white walls that featured cutouts of roses and was lit from behind. Panels on the walls told the story of her life. The room centered on a large display case featuring five of Diana’s dresses. One that stood out to me was a dress she purchased off the rack in 1979 to wear as a debutante. It was pretty but simple.

A dress from Regamus worn by Lady Diana Spencer in Autumn 1979 to a debutante ball at Althorp House.
A dress from Regamus worn by Lady Diana Spencer in Autumn 1979 to a debutante ball at Althorp House.

Various placards told the story of Diana and her clothes. Titles included, “Creating A Style,” “Design Studio,” “Stepping Out,” “The Spotlight,” and “Working Wardrobe” and clothing displayed featured these themes.

Each dress was well documented as to when it was designed, by whom, type of fabric, where it was worn, etc.
Each dress was well documented as to when it was designed, by whom, type of fabric, where it was worn, etc.

Each dress had a sign with a photo of Diana in the dress and details about the dress such as the designer and fabric, as well as where Diana wore the dress.

Pink satin dress from 1987 designed by Catherine Walker. Worn several times, but first for an official portrait with Prince Charles.
Designed by Catherine Walker in 1987, this blue chiffon evening gown, with matching scarf, was worn twice. In 1987 it was worn to the Cannes film Festival and in 1989 to the Theatre Royal in London. The dress was inspired by a dress worn by Grace Kelly in the movie To Catch a Thief.
This one-shoulder gown is made of white chiffon and trimmed with sequins and beads. It was worn in 1991 to the ballet in Rio de Janeiro. Gina Fratini for Hartnell is the designer.

The second room of the exhibit was a narrow hallway that had framed drawings of clothing designs created for Diana. Her comments and signature were on some.

These design sketches featured many of the iconic outfits we saw Princess Diana wear to official engagements. They were beautiful and interesting.
Marked as, “Blue, white and red sailor outfit. Emanuel, 1980s. Courtesy of Elizabeth Emanuel.”

The next room was small and held a narrow display case with mirrors on the back of the case. It held daywear, including the tan plaid suit worn for her honeymoon and a green plaid dress worn for an official visit to Italy. It was followed by a dimly lit room of the same size and layout that featured two evening gowns.

Worn on her honeymoon to Balmoral, Scotland, this suit was designed for Princess Diana by Bill Pashley in 1981.

The room that followed featured two display cases. The first case featured elegant evening gown, and the second was filled with suits and day dresses. On the back wall was projected a large, looping video of Diana at various functions.

My personal favorite dress. The craftsmanship is amazing. These are falcons, the national bird of Saudi Arabia. Catherine Walker designed the dress which was sewn first and embroidered last so that the falcons could fly unbroken over the seams.
The front. To pay respect to local customs, Princess Diana chose to wear a high neckline and long sleeves while on an official visit to Saudi Arabia in 1986.
Designed by Catherine Walker in 1997. Princess Diana wore this pale pink day suit to the Daily Star Gold Awards for Courage and Bravery at the Savoy Hotel.
This Catherine Walker design was originally worn to a 1992 state dinner for India, the embroidery mimics traditional Indian patterns.
This green sequined evening gown was designed by Catherine Walker in 1986 and worn several times, the first of which was to an official visit to Austria.
Bruce Oldfield designed this scarlet silk gown. It was worn by Princess Diana in 1986 to a state visit to Saudia Arabia.
Worn by Princess Diana to a state visit to Brazil in 1991. Designed by Catherine Walker. Ivory silk crepe.
Princess Diana wore this red day suit in 1996 for a charity engagement. Designed by Catherine Walker.

The final room featured a large circular display case and held six dresses. On the walls were some of the photos taken in anticipation of the Christie’s auction of 79 of Princess Diana’s dresses. Over 3.4 million pounds was raised through the auction to benefit cancer and AIDS charities.

Designed by Catherine Walker in 1997, the Princess wore this cream printed silk dress with glass-beaded embroidery to the gala held the night before the famous Christie’s auction of some of her dresses.
Identified as “ice-blue silk chiffon with hand-beaded bugle beads.” Designed by Jacques Azagury in 1997.
This grey silk evening gown featured faux pearl embroidery. Designed by Catherine Walker in 1990.
This ice blue silk Versace evening gown was purchased after her separation from Prince Charles. Prior to the separation, Diana wore only British designers.

The exhibit runs at least through the end of the year, so there is still time to make it! Weekends are generally sold out, so plan for a weekday visit. Get your tickets before you plan your flight or you may be disappointed. Photos do not do these clothes justice, so you must see them in person to appreciate the detail, workmanship, sparkle and color of these designs.

I will leave you with a quote from a placard in the final room:

“We will never know what Diana’s next chapter was to be. The Princess died on 31 August 1997 following a car accident in Paris. Her legacy still resonates today through the causes she championed and the people who lives she touched.”


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