Princess Diana's wedding dress to go on show at Kensington Palace for the first time in 25 years after Prince William and Prince Harry agree to lend their mother's gown to exhibition

20:24, Tuesday, 27 April, 2021
Princess Diana's wedding dress to go on show at Kensington Palace for the first time in 25 years after Prince William and Prince Harry agree to lend their mother's gown to exhibition

Diana, Princess of Wales's famous wedding dress is to go on show at Kensington Palace for the first time in more than 25 years.

The Duke of Cambridge, 38, and the Duke of Sussex, 36, have agreed to lend their mother's romantic full silk taffeta bridal gown to Historic Royal Palaces for a temporary exhibition.

Royal Style In The Making will open in the orangery of the princess's former London home on June 3, and Diana's dress with its billowing sleeves, bows and lace flounces will be the showcase attraction.

The gown, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel for Lady Diana Spencer's wedding to the Prince of Wales in 1981, will be displayed along with its 25ft (7.6m) sequin-encrusted train - the longest in royal history.

The Emanuels’ were chosen to design the royal wedding dress when their business was doing well — clients included Bianca Jagger and the Duchess of Kent.

There was no direction from the Palace — other than the overriding need for discretion — and even less from Diana herself, then still so new to the world of fashion.

Elizabeth stuck cuttings and photographs into a large scrapbook, filled with romantic frills, flounces and fairytale bridal wear, which she still leafs through with pride today.

At Diana’s first wedding meeting, she tried on a series of sample dresses — everything from slinky Twenties-style gowns to huge, bouffant petticoats with satin skirts and boned bodices — to get an idea of what she liked.

She settled on a sample much like the finished look: a dress with a big skirt, tiny waist and soft frills round the sleeves and shoulders.

Having outsourced the making of the shoes and the bouquet, and commissioned silk weavers and lace manufacturers — all home-grown, family-run companies — the Emanuels were left to concentrate on fittings with Diana.

The process was relatively straightforward, in theory at least. Elizabeth’s sketch was turned into a pattern, which was cut out in calico — unbleached, unprocessed cotton — to make a mock-up of the dress, called a ‘toile’.

But the regular fittings were complicated by Diana’s persistent weight loss.

At her first session with the Emanuels back in January 1981, her waist measured 29 in. But between the announcement of her engagement in February and the wedding in July, her waistline seemed to shrink daily. By the big day, it was a tiny 23.5 inches.

In the end, she came in for as many as 15 fittings — Elizabeth lost count, there were so many — to make sure every detail was just right.

The bodice and skirt were made of lustrous ivory silk taffeta, and the trim on the bodice, sleeves and edges of the skirt was lace, overlaid with 10,000 pearls and 3mm mother-of-pearl sequins.

A taffeta bow was placed where the halves of her collar met, mirrored by bows and frothy lace at the ends of her sleeves. Underneath, Diana wore a huge petticoat made from more than 90 metres of tulle, a lightweight starched netting, which had to be ‘trimmed’ into shape rather like a head of hair.

There were another 140 metres of tulle in the veil, as well as a spare petticoat and an extra silk skirt which could be fitted over the original just in case she spilt something down herself on the day.

On August 6, the designers issued a bill for the dress to Diana’s mother, for 1,000 guineas, £1,050 at the time (£4,140 today) — a token sum, as Diana usually paid full price for her clothes. In fact, the dress was then valued at £9,000 — £35,500 today.

As a result of their discretion and the close friendship forged at one of the most momentous times of Diana’s life, the three remained close and the Emanuels continued to design dresses for royal tours.

Matthew Storey, exhibition curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said: 'Our summer exhibition at Kensington Palace will shine a spotlight on some of the greatest talents of British design, whose work has been instrumental in shaping the visual identity of the royal family across the 20th century.

'We'll be exploring how the partnership between each designer and client worked, and revealing the process behind the creation of a number of the most important couture commissions in royal history.

'While one of the highlights will undoubtedly be Diana, Princess of Wales's show-stopping Emanuel-designed wedding dress - which goes on show at the palace for the first time in 25 years - we've got some real surprises up our sleeve for fashion fans.'

Diana's wedding dress was last on display at Kensington Palace in 1995, but was later exhibited at her childhood home, Althorp.

Royal Style In The Making, which will run until January 2 2022, will also feature unseen items from the archives of some of the most celebrated royal couturiers of the 20th century.

The exhibition co-incides with what would have been Princess Diana's 60th birthday on July 1.

Earlier this month, it was reported Prince Harry and William reunited to approve the statue of Princess Diana which will be unveiled at Kensington Palace in the summer.

The hope of repairing a rift between the pair comes in the aftermath of Harry and Meghan Markle's explosive two-hour CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey last month.

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