A collection of Princess Diana's most iconic outfits has gone on display at a new exhibition in Kensington Palace, marking 20 years since her death. With its rare lineup of dresses and suits, Diana: Her Fashion Story charts the journey of a young woman who went on to capture the world's attention as both a princess and a trendsetter.
Diana was just 19 when she was first thrust into the public eye. The 25 gowns housed in the palace's Pigott Galleries chart her growth in confidence throughout her time in the spotlight. It's clear that Diana understood the rules of traditional royal dress, but the exhibition also highlights how the Princess often experimented with her style.
Bellville Sassoon tuxedo dress, 1989
"When she first started stepping into the international stage, she was learning the rules," exhibition producer Poppy Cooper explained. "The Bellville Sassoon tuxedo dress was very unusual at the time, as it was very masculine. She also often abandoned protocol by not wearing gloves and she was the first royal to wear trousers."
Highlights from her early years in the royal family include a pale pink Emanuel blouse worn for her engagement portrait by Lord Snowdon in 1981 and a Bill Pashley tweed day suit worn on her honeymoon to Scotland. However, despite her popularity, Diana's outfit choices weren't always a hit. "The press reported on a green and black Emmanuel suit very negatively," Cooper added. "They compared it to a horse blanket. She was never seen in it again."
Diana in her Emanuel suit on a trip to Venice
As the royal duties became more demanding—Diana attended around 130 engagements a year—there was a need for different clothing requirements. The glamorous evening gowns from the 1980s have gone on to become some of the most memorable items in her wardrobe, including several pieces by one her favorite designers, Catherine Walker.
"She learned to work with the designers and became more involved in the process," Cooper said. "She realized the importance of wearing dresses that look good from all angles."
Catherine Walker gown, 1986
A Catherine Walker silk crepe gown, which was worn by Diana for an official visit to Saudi Arabia in 1986, is the perfect example of this, as is Walker's famous pearl encrusted dress, which the Princess nicknamed her 'Elvis' dress because of its distinctive collar
Princess Diana wears her 'Elvis dress' in Hong Kong
Visitors will also be pleased get a glimpse of the Victor Edelstein velvet gown, which she famously wore to dance with John Travolta at the White House, alongside a stunning green velvet dress also by Edelstien. This item might not be so well known, but it's sure to draw the crowds. It features a cluster of indentations on the front of the skirt, which historians suggest could be the fingerprints of young Princes William and Harry.
Alongside the glamour, Diana's working wardrobe plays an important part in the show. When she divorced Prince Charles in 1996, Diana undertook fewer royal duties but continued to champion the charitable causes she cared about. To focus attention on her work, she "simplified" her look with the addition of shift dresses and suits, and worked closely with Walker on developing her "royal uniform," which included day suits in red and pale pink worn to charity engagements in the mid-90s.
Catherine Walker day suit, 1996
After her separation, Diana, who had been a strong advocate of British designers during her marriage, also started to introduce international brands into her wardrobe. Versace was a favourite and she chose to wear an embellished ice-blue gown by the Italian fashion house for her iconic Harper's Bazaar photoshoot with Patrick Demarchelier in 1991.
Versace gown, 1991
It's another reminder of Diana's iconic, elegant style, but there's more to this exhibition than giving a closer look at her outfits.
We see her growing in confidence throughout her life, increasingly taking control of how she was represented, and intelligently communicating through her clothes," exhibition curator Eleri Lynn said. "This is a story many women around the world can relate to, and we hope many visitors will join us, to get a closer look at some of Diana's most iconic outfits, on display in her former home."
"Diana: Her Fashion Story" opened at Kensington Palace on 24 February 2017 and runs throughout the year.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.