The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - GRE­GORY KATZ

LON­DON — The dresses tell the story of a life cut short: first the frilly debu­tante frocks Princess Diana wore be­fore she mar­ried Prince Charles, then the elab­o­rate gowns that stunned the world, and fi­nally the power suits she favoured shortly be­fore her death.

It’s been 20 years since Diana died in a Paris car crash at the age of 36, but the pub­lic’s fas­ci­na­tion with her life — and her clothes — lives on. A new ex­hi­bi­tion that opens Fri­day at Kens­ing­ton Palace, her home for many years, will give the pub­lic a chance to see ex­traor­di­nary fash­ion pieces up close for the first time.

The work­man­ship is re­fined, some of the de­signs are sim­ple in con­cept and ex­e­cu­tion, while oth­ers clearly took care­ful thought and metic­u­lous prepa­ra­tion.

One room fea­tures de­sign­ers’ sketches for Diana dresses, of­fer­ing in­sight into the vi­sion be­hind many of her choices.

Deirdre Mur­phy, se­nior cu­ra­tor at the His­toric Royal Palaces, said Diana was unique in the way she used clothes to com­mu­ni­cate — and also a risk-taker will­ing to chal­lenge the un­writ­ten con­ven­tions of royal dress. She said Diana cap­tured the “mys­tique” of be­ing a princess even as she oc­ca­sion­ally dressed down in jeans and a base­ball hat.

“Some­how women all over the world saw a piece of them­selves in the princess,” the cu­ra­tor said. “She got her im­age across and her ideas across us­ing cloth­ing in a re­ally so­phis­ti­cated, re­ally smart, re­ally thought­ful way.”

The dis­play opens with a lacy party dress Diana wore to a ball at her fam­ily home, Althorp, in 1979 and in­cludes many of her most fa­mous out­fits. Here are some of the most il­lus­tri­ous:

Danc­ing the night away with John Tra­volta

Diana was mar­ried to Prince Charles, and a guest of U.S. Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan and his wife Nancy, but that didn’t stop her from tear­ing up the dance floor with John Tra­volta at a White House state din­ner in 1985.

Pho­tog­ra­phers of Diana and the dash­ing young Tra­volta dom­i­nated news­pa­pers through­out the world, show­cas­ing the mid­night blue silk vel­vet evening dress de­signed by Vic­tor Edel­stein. It re­mains one of her most fa­mous out­fits. Diana’s Elvis pe­riod Cather­ine Walker be­came one of Diana’s favourite de­sign­ers. To pre­pare for an of­fi­cial visit to Hong Kong in 1989, she de­signed a strap­less white silk crêpe and jacked em­broi­dered with sequins and pearls. Its sparkly look, and high col­lar, re­minded fash­ion writ­ers of the jump­suits favoured by Elvis Pres­ley late in his ca­reer.

She looked re­splen­dent in the out­fit, top­ping it with a jew­eled tiara. “She shone in the dress and the dress shone around her,” Walker said. The boxy look Diana turned to Emanuel, de­signer of her wed­ding gown, for a 1985 of­fi­cial royal visit to Italy. A coat and skirt in green, blue and black was cut in the boxy shape in favour at the time.

The tar­tan wool day suit was not well re­ceived by crit­ics, who didn’t find it flat­ter­ing. Honey­moon hopes For her honey­moon pho­tos with Charles taken in the lovely Scot­tish coun­try­side, Diana turned to de­signer Bill Pash­ley for a ca­sual, com­fort­able brown tweed woolen day-suit.

She had two ver­sions made — and chose to wear the larger one on her honey­moon be­cause the ex­tra room al­lowed her to par­tic­i­pate in out­door ac­tiv­i­ties more eas­ily.

Its tweed mo­tif pays trib­ute to the coun­try­side tra­di­tions.

Power dress­ing, princessstyle

Diana re­lied heav­ily on Walker at var­i­ous times in her life, and she turned to Walker again in the years just be­fore her death to help her re­fine a “work­ing princess” style in line with her plan to de­vote more time to char­i­ta­ble ac­tiv­i­ties.

She wore a red day suit by Walker to launch an AIDS char­ity ap­peal in 1996. Walker called the out­fits she was work­ing on at this phase a “royal uni­form” for Diana, who was out­spo­ken in her sup­port of AIDS vic­tims.


Ac­tor John Tra­volta dances with Princess Diana at a White House din­ner in Wash­ing­ton on Nov. 9, 1985.


The Princess of Wales wears a blue tar­tan Emanuel suit dur­ing an of­fi­cial visit on May 5, 1985 to Venice, Italy with Prince Charles.


A Cather­ine Walker pale pink day suit worn by Princess Diana at the Savoy Ho­tel in Lon­don in 1997.


Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales pose for pho­tog­ra­phers dur­ing their honey­moon in Bal­moral, Scot­land, on Aug. 19, 1981.


A 1991 Ate­lier Versace silk gown worn at a Harper’s Bazaar photo shoot.


The Princess of Wales walks past the press in Lon­don on Oct. 8, 1996.

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