Prince Harry and Prince William may be on the rocks these days, but there is at least one thing the royal brothers can agree on: borrowing their late mother Princess Diana’s wedding gown for an exhibition opening at Kensington Palace on June 3, debut on July 29, 1981 in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, where Diana, then 20 years old, married Prince Charles, who was 12 years older than her. It will soon be the centerpiece of Royal Style in the Making, which takes a closer look at the relationship between couturiers and their royal customers of the 20th century.
Knowing that the dress would make history, designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel went to great lengths to keep the design a secret. They first codenamed Diana, Deborah, and eventually transported it via a metal safe so large it had to be lifted through the studio’s windows. (Once inside, it was kept under the watchful eye of two bodyguards.) Meanwhile, Diana concentrated on her weight; She told journalist Andrew Morton that she had shrunk her waist by five and a half inches in the six months leading up to her wedding day.
Diana chose the Emanuels herself after liking the blouse they made for her first official royal portrait. They managed to carry out their instructions – she wanted to look like a “real, living fairytale princess” – without Buckingham Palace intervening. The end result consisted of a scooped neckline, puffed sleeves, and a fitted bodice with Irish carrickmacross lace that once belonged to Charles’ great-grandmother, Queen Mary. And then of course there was the mother-of-pearl sequined train – the longest in royal history, at 25 feet. It was made from silk spun by worms at the last silk mill in Britain. Thirty-nine years later, Netflix did it all over again – an operation that required four months, 600 hours, and five taps. (Fortunately, Elizabeth Emanuel agreed.)
Princess Diana and Prince Charles descend the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral on their wedding day in 1981.
Photo by Jayne Fincher / Princess Diana Archive via Getty Images.
The other standout feature of the show dates back to 1937, when the Queen Mother was crowned. The toile on display is a representation of the silk satin gown designed by Madame Handley-Seymour for the king, with national emblems and hand-painted embroidery. Fabric swatches, original sketches and never-before-seen pieces worn by kings like Princess Margaret complete the exhibition.