More than an icon: Designer Elizabeth Emanuel remembers Diana

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

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


Elizabeth Emanuel cradles the massive scrapbook to her chest before laying it on the table and opening its Prussian blue cover to reveal a personal time capsule of his relationship with Princess Diana.

Emanuel got to know Diana during the months she and her then-husband David spent designing the future princess’s wedding dress. Four decades later, there’s a sense of depth as she sifts through sketches, fabric swatches, and photographs of Diana, displayed alongside images of the designer’s mother embroidered in a gown. It’s like looking at a family album.

This sense of connection helps Emanuel to understand why Diana’s death in the Paris car crash 25 years ago the following Wednesday – August 31, 1997, resonated with so many people around the world.

“I think people felt 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 all in the press, all the time. And all these things were going on. And you felt, you know, a way of her life. A lot. And so when his life was taken away, it was such a huge void. … It was as if a light was going out.”

But for Emanuel, Diana was not the only icon appearing on TV screens and front pages of newspapers. She was a real person who played a central role in his life and career.

The scrapbook documents that story – the story of a designer and a princess.

The story begins with a light pink blouse that Emanuel sent to British Vogue for a photo shoot on budding beauties. Although they didn’t know it, the one destined to wear the blouse was Lady Diana Spencer, who was soon to be engaged to Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne.

Diana liked the blouses so much that she asked who the designers were – then she called them. Emanuel answered the phone and made an appointment, but did not name him.

So when Diana came to his door she was shocked. By then the engagement had been announced and Diana had become famous.

But he didn’t. Emanuel remembers her wearing a short sweater and skirt and probably a string of pearls.

“She was so young and just so sweet and shy, and it was really funny,” said Emanuel, who was only a few years older than Diana. “It was a great thrill for her to suddenly see all the clothes in the showroom. And she relied on us a lot, in fact, to bring you clothes that suit her. And for us, I mean, wow, meeting him was so wonderful. ,

When it came time to create the wedding dress, Emanuel’s 12-member team tasked with keeping the details of the garment a secret. Security guards guarded the frock, which was locked in a safe every night.

Emanuel said that newspapers offered thousands of pounds (dollars) for a sneak peek, but staff members turned him away out of respect for Diana. In the era before smart phones and Facebook, wedding dress design remained a surprise until the big day.

Emanuel likened Diana’s July 29, 1981, royal wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral to turning a chrysalis into a butterfly—or in this case a nursery school teacher in a cardigan and a fairy princess in a sensible skirt.

That was the 1980s. Big was inside, and Diana walked down the aisle wrapped in yards of lace with the 25-foot train flowing behind her.

“We totally went over the top,” Emanuel said. “I mean, we were young, just out of college. (We said,) ‘Come on. Let’s have fun. St. Paul (has) this huge, big aisle. Let’s put all the frills on the lace, everything And make it the ultimate fairy princess outfit.’ And we did that. And I don’t think you’re going to see another like this.”

The wedding, which was broadcast around the world, was only the beginning of the public’s attraction to Diana. She rarely stayed out of the limelight for the rest of her life, earning a reputation as “The People’s Princess” when she embraced AIDS patients, befriended orphans, and championed fashionable topics such as land-mine removal. .

When her marriage finally came to an end, it was her downfall in front of everyone. Daily. In detail. This too struck a chord with the public.

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

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

“It was such a privilege and an honor to be a part of them all, as well as be part of history,” she said. “I’ll never get tired of it because it was an extraordinary period in my life and — it was amazing!”


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