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More than an icon: Designer Elizabeth Emanuel talks about Diana


Elizabeth Emanuel, who designed the Diana, Princess of Wales wedding dress, looks out of her studio during an interview with The Associated Press in Maida Vale, London, Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)


Elizabeth Emanuel cradles the huge album to her chest before gently laying it on the table and opening its Prussian blue covers to reveal a personal time capsule of her relationship with Princess Diana.

Emanuel got to know Diana during the months she and her then-husband David spent designing the princess-to-be’s wedding dress. Four decades later, there’s a sense of intimacy as she flips through sketches, fabric swatches and photos of Diana, displayed alongside images of the designer’s mother sewing embroidery into the dress. It’s like looking at a family album.

This sense of connection helps Emanuel understand why Diana’s death in a car accident in Paris 25 years ago next Wednesday – August 31, 1997 – touched so many people around the world.

“I think people just felt that she was like family, that she cared,” Emanuel told The Associated Press. “They felt close to her because you knew every detail of her life. It was in all the press, all the time. And all these things were going on. And you felt like, you know, an integral part of his life in a way. And so when his life was taken away, it was this big void. … It was like a light went out.

But for Emanuel, Diana was not just the icon that appeared on television screens and the front pages of newspapers every day. He was a real person who played a central role in his life and career.

The album documents this story – the story of a designer and a future princess.

The story begins with a pale pink blouse the Emanuels sent to British Vogue for an emerging beauties photo shoot. Although they didn’t know it, the beauty destined to wear the blouse was Lady Diana Spencer, who would soon be engaged to Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne.

Diana liked the blouse so much that she asked who the designers were – then she called them. Emanuel answered the phone and made an appointment, but didn’t get his name.

So she was shocked when Diana showed up on her doorstep. By then the engagement had been announced and Diana was famous.

But she didn’t act like that. Emanuel remembers her wearing a small sweater and skirt and maybe a pearl necklace.

“She was so young and so sweet and shy, and it was really fun,” said Emanuel, who was only a few years older than Diana. “It was a big adventure for her to suddenly see all the clothes in the showroom. And she really trusted us to find clothes that fit her. And for us, I mean, wow, it was so fabulous to to meet her.

When it came time to make the wedding dress, the 12-member team at Les Emanuels worked in secret to keep the details of the garment secret. Security guards protected the dress, which was locked in a safe every night.

Newspapers offered thousands of pounds (dollars) for a taste, but staff members turned them down out of respect for Diana, Emanuel said. In an era before smart phones and Facebook, wedding dress design remained a surprise until the big day.

Emanuel compared Diana’s royal wedding on July 29, 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral to the transformation of a chrysalis into a butterfly – or in this case, a kindergarten teacher in cardigans and sensible skirts into a fairytale princess.

It was the 1980s. Big was there and Diana walked down the aisle draped in yards of lace with a 25-foot train running behind her.

“We went completely over the top,” Emanuel said. “I mean, we were young, just out of college. (We said,) ‘Let’s do it. Let’s be crazy. St. Paul’s (has) this huge, big driveway. Let’s put all the ruffles on the lace, everything and make it the ultimate fairy princess dress. And we did. And I don’t think you’re going to see another one like that.

The wedding, which was televised around the world, was just the start of the public’s fascination with Diana. She rarely made headlines for the rest of her life, earning a reputation as a ‘people’s princess’ when she hugged AIDS patients, befriended orphans and championed old-fashioned topics. like mine clearance.

When her marriage finally came to an end, the collapse played out for all to see. Daily. In detail. This also touched the public.

“I think when someone dies young it really has an impact,” Emanuel said. “And Diana was the most famous woman on the planet. And she still is, really.

Emanuel has had a long and successful career creating designs for celebrities such as Madonna and Rita Ora. But she’s not bothered that “The Dress” remains a constant subject of investigation.

“It was such a privilege and an honor to have been a part of all of this, to have been a part of history as well,” she said. “I can’t get enough of it because it was just an amazing time in my life and — it was just wonderful!”


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