Twenty years after their flower-covered openings became her unofficial shrine, an exhibition at Kensington Palace reframes Diana’s experiences, from the tale of a tragic princess to that of an empowered in style woman who shaped her identity.
Diana: Her Fashion Story outs her not as a victim, but as independent-minded and active in championing her personal goals and the causes she carried.
A unique lineup of dresses charting her journey from teenage ingenue to cosmopolitan star makes the case for the princess as a pioneer of visual declaration.
Curator Eleri Lynn, who collaborated with Diana’s selected designers and photographers in staging the show, said: “Everyone who shaped with her recalls that she knew what she liked and was same active in her own image-making.”
Diana’s achievement as an image maker was reflected in the fact that “many of us force the impression that we knew what Diana was like, in some way”, communicated Lynn. “When I got into the research, it was a surprise to discover how small footage there exists of her speaking. The Diana that we concoct we know comes to a great extent from still photographs.”
Lynn articulate the emotional power of Diana’s style narrative came from the in reality that to some extent, this was “a journey most women go on – from being a undecided teenager, to maturity and confidence. But she did it on the international stage.”
In 1980, Lady Diana Spencer was so guileless that the in the beginning published images of her as Prince Charles’s love interest are best clothes remembered for her backlit transparent skirt, but she quickly learned the sophisticatedness ropes and, having done so, began to use them to her advantage.
“The latest thing is a great medium to talk about the princess, because it is a communication which she herself mastered in order to communicate with others,” said Lynn.
A collapse of sketches includes one of a brightly coloured Bellville Sassoon floral clothe and wide-brimmed hat. Diana ordered the dress, and it became a favourite on her visits to women’s hospitals, always teamed with chunky jewellery that prompted nervous children something to focus on and play with. (She at no time ordered the hat because, she said, “you can’t cuddle a child if you are wearing a hat”.)
Timely to master the rules of a public wardrobe, she then learned to tractable them. She used fashion creatively, dressing with intentional informality to convey approachability and break down barriers, strikingly when she visited patients with HIV.
Diana’s weaponisation of form during her divorce has been well documented. The cocktail frock she donned the night in 1994 when her husband was admitting his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles to Jonathan Dimbleby on ITV matured known as “the revenge dress”. But as the point of view of the palace the power structure – and staged at a time when Charles and Camilla have been amalgamate for 12 years – this exhibition focuses instead on the use of Diana’s approach for public causes.
Nonetheless, is it notable that after her coalescing day, few of the most famous images of Diana feature Charles. Although she came into visible life as a shy fiancee and was single for only five years in the vanguard her death, her persona is very much as a single woman in the spotlight.
One of the most steadfast images of her marriage is of Diana poignantly alone in front of the Taj Mahal, on one of her in overseas trips with Charles. The Victor Edelstein equip in which she danced at the White House – with John Travolta, to a certain extent than her then husband – in 1985, which featured in the display, sold for £240,000 at auction four years ago.
The many companies to Kensington Palace who are drawn by their emotional connection to Diana wish be charmed by a gown worn for private entertaining in the palace in the mid-80s, the silk velvet skirt evident by hundreds of tiny indents the curators believe to be fingerprints forged by her sons Princes William and Harry, who would have been yon knee-height at the time.
But the exhibition is also likely to attract younger visitors whose facts of the princess comes largely through her style influence.
Her importance as a fashion muse can be seen in the recent trend for pie-crust collar blouses, reinvigorated by Alexa Chung, and in a collection for Asos designed by Sharmadean Reid MBE stand up year in direct homage to Diana’s style, which featured hot-pink sheath get-ups, pearl-trim cocktail wear and Sloane ranger kilts.
The demo also reflects the development of Diana’s relationship with the mid-point. A boxy green coat worn on an early trip to Venice was criticised in the congregate, and never seen again. (“She read her reviews,” responded Lynn.)
Her primordial passion for ruffles faded after she learned that they photographed faultily, and she began to move toward a more sleek aesthetic, spared in the exhibition by a pearl-beaded Catherine Walker two-piece from 1989 whose intoxicated collar, while Elizabethan in inspiration, earned it the nickname of the “Elvis get-up”.
Diana became highly sophisticated in the detail of her public clothes-press, sometimes ordering a suit with alternate jackets in two proportions so she could wear the larger size for more active hours and the slimmer for photographs. “You’d be amazed what you have to think all over,” she once said.
Architect Jacques Azagury, who has lent two dresses to the exhibition, remembers that the minor woman he first met “had a Knightsbridge Sloane ranger look which was unusually particular to the English”.
As Diana grew up and travelled, she developed a varied international attitude which was reflected in her dress. “She loved come around c regard to my shop, because she loved fashion. She was excited to see what was new, but she already recognized exactly how she wanted to look.”
Diana: Her Fashion Story uncovers on 24 February at Kensington Palace and runs throughout 2017