A Dress for Diana – the Emanuels

16 February 2011

I stayed up a bit too late last night reading this book and ended up having the most GORGEOUS dreams about princesses and big ivory dresses and cathedrals and all sorts of loveliness. I highly recommend this.

I’ve wanted this book for ages and am pleased to be able to report that it didn’t disappoint in any way. It’s clearly an immense labour of love, just like Diana’s wedding dress itself and is an incredibly detailed account of both the Emanuels’ association with Princess Diana and also the making of her wedding dress.

It’s absolutely superb – the reader is invited behind the scenes to the dress fittings, the huge amount of work that went into making the final article and then, finally and most thrillingly, the royal wedding day in July 1981 itself for a special and unique view of what happened behind the scenes at Clarence House, St Paul’s and also Buckingham Palace. We are even treated to a photograph of the bottle of smelling salts and sugar tablets that Elizabeth Emanuel carried in her bag just in case Diana needed them!

I actually felt a bit tearful reading the Emanuels’ description of the moment that Diana arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral: ‘We began to hear this applause from the crowd, which gradually grew louder and louder as the carriage drew nearer. There was a moment when an enormous cheer broke out and we realized that Diana had arrived.

It’s truly incredible how much work went into Princess Diana’s wedding dress and it was touching to see the original designs and photographs of Nina and Rose, the two main seamstresses at Emanuel hard at work. Amazing to think that it was handmade by just a handful of people who even hand stitched all of the sequins! Her shoes for the wedding had 542 mother of pearl sequins on each pair (two were made) and the veil had 10,000 sequins, which were hand stitched by just one lady on a big tambour in her sitting room!

The book has a really lovely scrap book feel to it with lots and lots of photographs of the lace (which once belonged to Queen Mary), silk and so on as well as designs and candid photographs of the team and Diana during the months they were working on the gown. It echoes the big albums of photographs of the dress being made that the Emanuel team sent to Charles and Diana as a wedding gift, and which I am sure that they treasured.

No detail is left out – there is even information about her bouquet, which included gardenias, stephanotis, freesia, odontoglossum orchids, lily of the valley, Earl Mountbatten roses, hedera ivy, tradescantia, myrtle and veronica. Three bouquets were made by Longmans for the wedding – one as a practice run, one for the ceremony and then one for the formal photographs at Buckingham Palace in the afternoon. The trend for bouquets at the time was for small, discreet posies but of course as Diana’s dress was rather huge, something more spectacular was called for.

The star of the show, of course, is the dress itself which was described in the official press release as ‘made of ivory pure silk taffeta and old lace, hand embroidered with tiny mother of pearl sequins and pearls. The bodice is fitted and boned with a wide frill around the gently curved neckline, and intricately embroidered lace panels on the front and back. The sleeves are full and gathered into a taffeta frill at the elbow, with an elaborately embroidered lace flounce underneath. Another lace flounce surrounds the neckline, with a taffeta bow to match those on the sleeves. The skirt of the dress is full, worn over a crinoline petticoat consisting of many layers of ivory tulle, and is trimmed around the waist and hem with embroidered lace. The sweeping train, 25 feet long and detachable, is trimmed and edged with the same sparkling lace.

No detail was left out: ‘With OLD lace, NEW fabric and a tiara borrowed from the family collection, there was only one essential missing. A small BLUE bow was sewn into the waistband and the dress was complete. A tiny horseshoe crafted by Douglas Buchanan, made of 18 carat yellow gold and studded with white diamonds, was also sewn into the dress for good luck.’

It’s an amazing story and a fantastic book, which I recommend to anyone interested in Princess Diana, royal weddings, weddings or just fashion in general. It’s really special and I’ll definitely be treasuring my copy! I don’t think I can quite afford the luxurious special edition which is a princely £1,000 and includes a genuine off cut from the dress, made during the final adjustments.

Interestingly, according to the invoice included in the book, Diana’s dress and those of her bridesmaids cost 1,000 Guineas (£1,o50 in 1981 currency, which is about £2,814 now), which is probably a lot less than some of the dresses worn in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding!


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