Home USA News Exploring memory: designer recreates Diana’s dress

Exploring memory: designer recreates Diana’s dress


LONDON (AP) — It’s a dress with a story, and Elizabeth Emanuel wants to tell it.

Featuring a plunging neckline with frills and a body-hugging shape, the shocking pink gown was designed by Emanuel for Lady Diana Spencer at a party at Buckingham Palace just days before her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981. It was a visual coming-out event for the princess-to-be, known for her conservative sweaters and pearls until then.

“It was definitely not a wallflower dress,” said Emmanuel, who also designed Diana’s wedding dress. “It was a dress to be seen and celebrated.”

It was also quickly forgotten. In an era where smartphones didn’t put a camera in everyone’s pocket and social media didn’t make private events public, the dress was mostly seen by party guests, including Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Grace and Nancy Reagan, but no one else. Emmanuel doesn’t know where he is or even if he still exists.

So she recreated it from bolts of shiny satin taffeta, cut and sewn to match dramatic sketches made more than 40 years ago.

Acting on an idea formed during the long coronavirus quarantines in Britain, she made it for herself, for her archive. But also because she wanted to show another side of Diana, which Emanuel felt had been misrepresented in The Crown, the popular Netflix series that brought the story of the princess and her failed marriage to a new generation.

A fan of the show’s first three seasons, Emmanuelle said she found it difficult to watch the last two because of the way Diana was portrayed.

Creating a custom dress is a long process that requires several fittings, giving the client and seamstress plenty of time to talk. And in all the hours they spent together, Diana seemed like a happy, bright young woman, not the girl “The Crown” portrays as troubled by events beyond her control, Emanuel said.

“She wasn’t like that,” Emanuel said. “She was always very cheerful. And, you know, I like to feel like we were close enough that if she had a big problem, we would have known about it at the time, because these arrangements are pretty intimate.”

One of the things the series does get right is recreating Diana’s style journey, from the cardigans and bows she wore when she first appeared in the public eye, to the frothy ball gowns with frills and flounces, and finally the how she became a global fashion icon at Versace, Dior and Chanel.

Diana grew up in the countryside, looking to her older sisters for fashion cues. It was a world of hunting, shooting and fishing, where Barbour coats and Wellington boots were everyday wear. It was a culture where no matter how much you cared about your appearance, you had to pretend you weren’t trying too hard.

Diana brought her sense of style with her when she moved to London after graduation and soon became the epitome of Ranger Sloane, the media name for the wealthy young men who lived near London’s Sloane Square and looked like bohemian aristocrats.

As former BBC royal reporter Michael Cole put it, she was “that Ranger Sloane, with her pie collars, Fair Isle sweaters and rather voluminous skirts. She was a product of the English countryside.”

But after her engagement to the future King Charles III, she began to grow into the glamor of a princess.

“It was actually a bit of an effort for her to adapt to the role,” Cole said. “She really appreciated and understood the power of clothes, the power of image. It helped a lot that she had good taste and I think she had good advisers.’

In other words, she evolved and learned to use clothes to project a message.

And perhaps the journey began with a bright pink holiday dress.

After losing weight, Diana asked Emmanuel, her ex-husband David and their team to create a dress that would show off her new supermodel figure and transform her image for celebrities and world leaders invited to the palace.

“She wanted to wear something really exciting and glamorous for it, because the whole world was going to be at this party,” Emmanuelle said in her London studio.

“I think a message was really sent with this dress. That she used to be known as Shy Dee, but in this dress she was definitely not Shy Dee anymore.’

But for Emanuel, the project is about more than just setting records. It’s about how one friend remembers another and the helping hand that Princess extended to her career.

There is something touching about the way she looks at this copy and corrects it on a mannequin about Diana’s height, clearly remembering her famous client.

She recreated a dress that belonged to the Diana she knew, who broke the mold, who was brave, who was ready to take the stage. And while she was working, Diana was constantly on her mind.

“When I look at it, I picture her face,” Emanuel said. “The last time we saw her in the dress was at that party and she looked so radiant and fantastic. And then all these years later, you know, to recreate it again, it’s kind of amazing.”

But that won’t stop her from continuing to explore her memories. She admired the process of sewing the dress, holding the memory in her hand.

Now Emanuel plans to recreate the alternate wedding dress she made for Diana – a backup created in case the tabloids somehow manage to get a photo of the main dress before the big day. But the dress never leaked, and the spare one disappeared from public view.

“I want to see if I can do it right and dig into all these memories,” she said. “I will have them. They will be there. They won’t just be figments of the imagination or float around digitally. These will be real things that I can remember.’

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