Creating a wedding dress for a royal wedding is no plain task. And Princess Diana’s wedding dress designers haven’t kept things quiet when it comes to the struggles they faced concocting the dress of the century.
The designers were first approached by Diana in January 1981; a year after she began dating Prince Charles.
During the time before the wedding, the Emanuels made several outfits for the Princess including the iconic black ballgown she wore just after her engagement announcement.
When the pair received the call asking them to create Diana’s wedding dress, they were surprised – especially as they received no direction from Buckingham Palace or even Diana herself.
“I tracked down every book I could find on royal weddings from history: Queen Victoria; her daughter, Princess Beatrice; Queen Mary,’ Elizabeth explained. “And I watched all my favourite old films: The Leopard, Gone With The Wind, Barry Lyndon. Inspiration came from everywhere.”
Luckily, the designers were on the right tracks as Diana loved their ideas at her first meeting. She tried on a number of sample dress, falling in love with one that featured a big skirt, nipped-in waist and subtle frills.
In the second meeting, the designers, Diana and her mother decided on a colour: an ivory shade that was inspired by vintage wedding gowns.
Elizabeth describes how Diana was “always very ready to come to fittings” and “never complained when we kept her standing in one position for hours.”
However, there was one major problem the designers faced: Diana’s continual weight loss. In total, the Emanuels made five separate bodices to fit the royal’s ever-shrinking waist, noting that “she was incredibly tiny by the end. We literally sewed her into the dress.”
When it came to the big day, everything was to an extremely tight schedule. The Emanuels delivered the dress to Clarence House the day before, arriving on the morning of the wedding to fit Diana for the final time.
Considering the dress was so big, it’s not surprising that the fitting took some time. Elizabeth explains how they first had to put on Diana’s petticoat then her shoes and finally the dress.
Then came the problem of ensuring the gown didn’t crease in the carriage. David and Elizabeth had spent hours practising the folding technique that was similar to how “you would fold a bed sheet.”
After being rushed to the royal wedding venue – St Paul’s Cathedral – the designers were horrified to see that the dress had gotten a lot more crumpled than expected.
“I remember whispering to David: ‘Oh my God, it’s creased,'” Elizabeth recalls. “I thought: ‘We’ve got to straighten out that dress.'”
“In the tiny carriage, it had crumpled far more than we’d anticipated. We’d done a rehearsal, but not with her father, Earl Spencer, in the car, too — and he was quite a large man.”
“It was a hot day, there was so much volume in the net and she was nervous, so she kept grabbing hold of it in her hands. Fortunately, we knew the fabric would pull out — that’s why we were there.”
With the help of the bridesmaids, the duo managed to smooth out the dress and huge train before settling in to watch the ceremony.
Their final task was back at the Palace, arranging Diana’s dress and veil for the official wedding photographs.
After a busy day, the Emanuels headed back to their Mayfair studio. Just as they were leaving, they were surprised to hear the phone ring. It was Diana, thanking them for creating the dress of her dreams.
“It meant so much. There she was, exhausted on the evening of her wedding, taking the time to call us. But that was her all over,” Elizabeth remembers.
The dress – which was made of tulle, net and silk and overlaid with 10,000 pearls – cost £1,050 to make at the time (£4,140 in today’s money).
Elizabeth also revealed how the design duo were secretly tasked with making two more wedding dresses. One was an exact copy of Diana’s magnificent gown that would end up on display at Madame Tussauds.
The other was to be a secret back-up in case the real thing was discovered before the royal wedding day. Elizabeth admits that she’s glad Diana’s second choice wasn’t used as the designers hadn’t gotten round to putting any finishing touches on it, making it an altogether much plainer design.
What a story to be a part of.
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