There are hundreds of new exhibits opening in London every year. But there is always one that creates a lot of buzz and everyone is looking forward to. This year Londoners have been waiting for the opening of ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’ at the Kensington Palace with much anticipation. The exhibit is part of the series of events commemorating Diana’s life and paying tribute to the 20th anniversary of her tragic death. It takes visitors through her 25 pieces of her much praised wardrobe and explores Princess Diana’s style evolution from a shy young woman to a international fashion icon.
On a sunny April day I set off for the Kensington Palace to finally see a sold out ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’ exhibit. The Palace used to be her residence and is now home to her children, Prince William (and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge) and Prince Harry. Once you collect your tickets, the way to the exhibit takes you through the Palace’s wing that houses King and Queen’s State Apartments.
Beautiful King’s Staircase depicting the scenes of King George I’s court takes you first to King’s State Apartments, where King William III used to receive foreign diplomats and other dignitaries. Unlike King’s Apartments that are more formal, Queen’s Apartments are warmer and cozier, designed for Queen Mary’s entertaining, pastime activities and dining.
From this excursion to the past, it’s time to transport back into the modern times! After standing in yet another line, I was finally ushered into the room that holds precious collection of Diana’s daytime and evening wear. The exhibit is carefully curated picking some of the most recognized pieces of her wardrobe that she wore to official engagements, charity work or graced in on official royal portraits or covers of fashion magazines.
In the first room one will find Diana’s evening dresses ranging from the late 1970s, when she was a high society debutante, to early 1990s, when she was already a princess. Many of the ballgowns were made out of soft and elegant fabrics, such as lace and silk, often in pastel colours. For instance, the cream Bruce Oldfield dress, made of satin and lace over bodice, was worn by Diana in 1990 at the Courtauld Institute of Art, while pink satin evening gown by Catherine Walker (one of her favourite designers) was worn in 1987 for an official portrait with Prince Charles.
Source: Getty Images, Lord Snowdon and Camera Press
Probably one of the most famous dresses that I was looking forward seeing was Catherine Walker’s ensemble of a strapless dress and a stiff-collared jacket, all encrusted with pearls. It was quickly dubbed as ‘Elvis’ dress for standing, slightly dramatic, collar. While the silhouette is quite simple but elegant, the craftsmanship and embroidery are simply stunning!
Source: Tim Graham/Getty Images
In a separate hall, there was a display of designer sketches for different Diana’s outfits. Having such a beautiful subject, no wonder why so many designers felt inspired to create their masterpieces for her.
Next I spotted a Victor Edelstein’s midnight blue velvet dress that Diana wore to the White House gala in 1985. The photo of Diana dancing with John Travolta soon became famous and the dress became known as ‘Travlota’ dress.
Source: Ronald Reagan Library/epa/Corbis
Another cream Catherine Walker’s silk dinner dress was worn by Diana during her royal visit to Saudi Arabia in 1986. It’s more conservative to respect local culture, but is still very elegant and features silver and gold embroidery in a form of falcons, a national symbol of Saudi Arabia. Who said fashion can’t be used for diplomacy?!
This was one of my favourite suits – Diana wore it to the launch of HIV/AIDS charity in London in 1996. In the 1990s Diana dedicated a lot of her time to humanitarian work, be it on HIV/AIDS or landmines, and her style certainly reflected public work.
Finally, the exhibit ends with a round display of her latest dresses, many of which she wore during photo shoots with top fashion photographers. On display is Catherine Walker’s champagne colored printed silk dress that Diana wore to the Christies Party in New York in 1997.
Source: Getty Images
Other dresses – green velvet dress with diamante buttons, grey silk dress embroidered with pearls and halter neck black dress with beaded trim – were photographed by Mario Testino for the Vanity Fair magazine in 1997.
Here on display is also a stunning Versace dress, made out of ice blue silk featuring Egyptian style beading. Diana was photographed in this dress by Partick Demarchelier in 1991 for a Harper’s Bazaar cover.
Source: Harper’s Bazaar
The photographs from the shoots evoke images of a beautiful confident woman who owned her style and used it skilfully. She was a loving mother, diplomat, humanitarian and a style icon that inspired millions of people around the world.
Even though I expected a bigger collection on display, it was a good exhibit and I am glad I visited it. Having been a huge fan of Diana’s style since I was a teenager in remote Central Asian country, I really enjoyed seeing some of her most famous dresses up-close.
Finally, as I was leaving the Palace, I took a stroll through the White Garden, which has been created as part of the exhibit to celebrate Diana’s life and pay tribute to her days there. She used to love this garden so staff decided to plant some of her favorite plants and flowers.
It features a wide variety of seasonal flowers, such as tulips, narcissi, lilies and ‘forget me nots’. These will be replaced by summer flowers, such as roses, daises and beeblossoms, once it gets warmer.
It’s such a serene and beautiful spot to reflect on the exhibit and legacy Princess Diana has left. Take a walk around the gardens and enjoy its peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.
Dates: 24 February 2017 until 2018*
Times: 10am – 6pm (March-October); 10am-4pm (November-February)
Address: Kensington Palace and Gardens, London W8 4PX
Prices: Adult – £19.00 (£17.10 online); concessions – £15.00 (£13.60 online), child – free
*When I tried to book tickets online in April on Kensington Palace’s website, I quickly found out that tickets were sold out through June. However, I found another way to book them – through 365 Tickets website which had plenty of tickets available. I then used the website to buy other sightseeing admission tickets, such as to Tower of London, and highly recommend it.
Happy travels! xx