40 Years On, Princess Diana’s Wedding Gown Is Still As Awe-Inspiring As Ever

By Daniella Saunders

3 years ago

See the spectacular 1981 wedding gown at 'Royal Style in the Making'

Royal Style in the Making could come at no better time, with 29 July marking the 40-year anniversary of Diana and Prince Charles’ wedding day in 1981. From the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral to the halls of Kensington Palace, the style retrospective is a must-see for lovers of the Royal family. You can still catch the exhibition up until January: here’s why you won’t want to miss out.

Royal Style in the Making at Kensington Palace

Royal Style in the Making

Wedding gown of Diana, Princess of Wales (neckline) (c) Royal Collection Trust All Rights Reserved

As exhibitions and art galleries reopen across the country, none have promised anything quite as exciting as Princess Diana’s emblematic wedding gown. The spectacular dress – designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel with an awe-inspiring 25-foot train – is spotlighted as part of Kensington Palace’s Royal Style in the Making.

The landmark exhibition, produced in partnership with illustrious British jewellery brand Garrard, explores ‘the unique relationship between fashion designer and royal client’, as described by Historic Royal Palaces. The spectacle offers a rare chance for the public to experience some of the most notable royal attire up close and first-hand, from a prototype garment by Madden Handley Seymour for the Queen Mother’s 1937 coronation dress – with the original pin and tacking stitches from 1937 in tact – to an exquisite Georgian style dress designed by Oliver Messel and worn by princess Margaret to a 1964 charity costume ball.

Royal Style in the Making

Royal Style in the Making exhibition at Kensington Palace (c) Historic Royal Palaces

Taking place within Kensington Palace’s historic baroque orangery, Matthew Storey, exhibition curator at Historic Royal Palaces, described this as the perfect place to display the late Princess of Wales’ dress with the full length of that 25-foot sequin encrusted train. The royal retrospective marks the first time that the dress – which was viewed by a worldwide audience of over 750 million in 1981 at the royal wedding – will be displayed at the palace in 25 years.

Royal Style in the Making

Wedding gown of Diana, Princess of Wales (front view) (c) Royal Collection Trust All Rights Reserved

What’s more, the dress has been reconnected with a number of treasured items, from original sketches to offcuts and trial pieces, which all played a part in its careful curation. At the time, only three members of Immanuel staff were allowed to work on the gown – the design process was highly secretive, so much so that the Immanuel’s left false trails for the press. Now, the dress can be witnessed in detail like never before, alongside a number of Princess Diana’s quintessential garments produced by the likes of high end British fashion designer David Sassoon.

The original design sketch for Princess Diana’s distinguished Garrard-designed diamond and sapphire wedding ring will also be on display, alongside the Princess’ beloved pink ‘honeymoon’ dress, also designed by Sassoon.

Royal Style in the Making

Bellville Sassoon sketch for Diana, Princess of Wales’s ‘going away’ outfit © Historic Royal Palaces/Bellville Sassoon

Works from eminent British designer Norman Hartnell – who was awarded Royal Warrant as Dressmaker to The Queen Mother in 1940 – also features in the exhibition. The velvet dress created for The Queen Mother is boldly showcased against a backdrop of Buckingham palace, whilst visitors will also catch a glimpse of the designer’s original sketch for the 1947 royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, and his special diary for royal appointments.

Royal Style in the Making

Norman Hartnell for Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother © Historic Royal Palaces/Hartnell

‘Our summer exhibition at Kensington Palace will shine a spotlight on some of the greatest talents of British design, whose work has been instrumental in shaping the visual identity of the royal family across the twentieth century,’ says Storey. ‘We’ll be exploring how the partnership between each designer and client worked, and revealing the process behind the creation of a number of the most important couture commissions in royal history.’

Garrard creative director, Sara Prentice, on Royal Style in the Making

What does it mean for Garrard to be a part of this exhibition?

When the partnership between designer and royal client is successful, it creates style that is unforgettable. Naturally, we are excited to be a part of this special and unique insight into the rarefied world of atelier and accessories. The exhibition both delves into dressing royal women across three generations and showcases how brands, like Garrard, marry tradition and innovation when it comes to luxury design.

What are you most excited for visitors to see?

Visitors will be able to experience all-things-atelier that made Diana, Princess of Wales’ engagement and wedding moments so unforgettable. To bring the story to life, a Garrard gouache painting of her sapphire and diamond engagement ring will be displayed. Paintings like this are traditionally a part of the Garrard design making process. The ring was chosen by Diana herself, and was later given to The Duchess of Cambridge who wears the ring to this day. The heritage of this iconic ring design continues to inform the creation of Garrard jewels today.

Garrard has worked with the royal family for many years – can you tell us about the brand’s royal history?

Throughout its history, Garrard has had the honour of working closely with the Royal Family. The first royal commission was given by Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1735. Garrard was appointed Crown Jeweller by Queen Victoria in 1843, and has served every subsequent British monarch.

What kind of jewellery highlights can visitors expect to see at the exhibition?

Currently, the main highlight is the never-displayed-before Garrard gouache painting of Diana’s engagement ring. Diana chose her sapphire engagement ring from Garrard in 1981. Encircled by a halo of diamonds set in 18 carat white gold, the intense blue colour of the 12-carat oval Ceylon sapphire is truly magnificent – highlighting the exquisite taste for which Diana became so famous during her life as a royal. Within just a few days of Diana’s engagement to Prince Charles, Diana’s ring would be known the world over. The sapphire is astonishingly beautiful, and the proportions of the ring and the size of the diamonds are breath-taking.


‘Royal Style in the Making’ at Kensington Palace runs from 3 June 2021 until 2 January 2022; hrp.org.uk

Featured image: Royal Style in the Making exhibition at Kensington Palace © Historic Royal Palaces

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