On my London bucket list since it first opened, I was delighted when my mum arrived in town, bringing with her the good news that we would be going to the Diana exhibition. Set up in honour of the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, the now sold out ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’ exhibition follows the evolution of her style from her first public appearances through to her later life.
We arrived early on an overcast Sunday morning to Kensington Palace, where the exhibition was held. A small crowd of people stood in front of the Palace gates, which were covered with floral, balloon and paper tributes. After a short wait, we were ushered inside and upstairs to where the exhibition of her dresses was housed.
It was much smaller than I expected, as Diana had famously auctioned off a large amount of her wardrobe for charity just months before she passed away. Raising money for Royal Marsden Hospital Cancer Fund and the AIDS Crisis Trust, at the suggestion of her son William, this was referred to as somewhat of a cleanse for her – shedding what she no longer required now that her royal duties were done.
A series of portraits at the entrance sum up the Princess’ evolution from a shy newcomer to the royal scene right through to a confident public figure. With interesting facts and antidotes along the way, each garment details where it was worn and the inspiration behind its design and choice.
The difficulty of choosing appropriate outfits aside, you would be forgiven for thinking Diana was a tad dowdy in her early tastes. However, the Princess often broke with convention, refusing to wear gloves to shake people’s hands and being the first princess to wear trousers as evening wear.
Often taking inspiration from theatre, opera and ballet, Diana put a lot of thought into the origins of the country she was visiting to avoid offending anyone. One of my favourite dresses in the exhibition – a cream silk number she wore on her official Saudi Arabia visit – is an embellished gown featuring a sequinned falcon motif that crosses the front, winds itself around the waist, and curls down the train. The falcon is the national bird of Saudi Arabia.
From the midnight velvet gown she wore when famously dancing with John Travolta, her garments took a sharp turn towards simplicity following her divorce in 1996. Wanting to be known as a ‘workhorse rather than a clothes horse’, Diana worked closely with fashion designer Catherine Walker to create streamlined tailored shift dresses and two-piece suits that complemented her lifestyle change.
My favourite room by far was the last one. This showcased dresses from Diana’s ‘new’ life: evidence the former Princess had finally found her groove and self-confidence is represented in some of the more daring and bold looks. From the stunning ice blue embellished Versace gown she sported for a shoot with Harper’s Bazaar to two beautiful beaded mini shift dresses. Clothes no longer brought Diana to life; rather, she brought them to life.
Her famous photo shoot with Mario Testino adorning the walls, this final room pays homage to the Diana we should remember and, no doubt, the way she would want to be remembered.
Exiting past a wall of quotes about the Princess, with words such as ‘genuine’, ‘unique’, ‘sparkle’, ‘grace’ and ‘charm’ jumping out at us, we can only hope that more young women take a leaf out of her book and ask themselves: ‘what would Diana do?’
Diana: Her Fashion Story is on at Kensington Palace. For tickets and further information visit Historic Royal Palaces, if you are unable to get tickets for the exhibition, there are regular tours of the Palace Gardens, which are also a delight.