Last week I took a trip to London to view Diana Her Fashion Story at Kensington Palace. Much has been written about both the exhibition and Diana’s relationship with clothes. Having seen some of her clothes many years ago when I was at College (might have been before the auction in 1997?), I was interested to view them for their historic value – had they dated, were they really exceptional or was it just hype. Further, I was, and still am, fascinated by her fashion journey; I was hoping to discover how this youthful almost immature teenage became such a powerhouse of fashion, at a time before the internet and social media, learning what many of us never discover, the message her clothes would convey.
Unlike modern fashion icons, with their stylists and fashion advisers, Diana was a woman whose style matured publicly. In the early years especially, finding her fashion feet (or should that be perhaps mostly not finding them with some unwise choices – one particularly unflattering check sailor dress is evidence enough of poor advice). Unlike the general public who have a few fashion mistakes, hers were brandished across every newspaper and magazine going. It must have been daunting and horrifying every time she stepped into the limelight.
The first room transports the viewer back nearly 40 years. On reflection, and contrasting it with today’s celebrities who appear to have only one message: shock, stun or obtain instant column inch gratification, it seems the times, like the woman who wore the clothes, were innocent.
After which we are transported through four more rooms to show the fashion journey. Starting in 1981…
Moving to the next room we’re staring to find some style.
Loyally commissioning only British designers, her evening wear began to show signs of maturity. The exhibition clearly shows how the youthful Lady Diana, developed the style of the Princess of Wales before becoming Diana, Princess of Wales.
Apparently for one state visit she commissioned 4o outfits. It’s staggering – from a design point of view it’s virtually a collection! – that she managed to find the extra wow factor. But she did, pretty much every time. She also learned the power of clothes, asking designers what message she would be portraying if she wore a certain outfit, colour or style. She appears to have listened, absorbed and had confidence in her designers. Long before icons became brands, she became fully aware of her influence.
I left the exhibition wondering what the next fashion chapter would have been. Which designers, what styles, would she have used Instagram?
Sadly we’ll never know. Whilst the exhibition for me was a bit of a disappointment – I had seen some of the exhibits before and was expecting a modern insightful experience rather than merely 25 dresses artfully displayed behind glass – it still made me long for a true style icon in this age of fakes, wannabes and insta-wonders.