The main attraction will be the strapless black silk Emanuel gown a then-19-year-old Diana wore to a charity ball, her first public outing with Prince Charles in 1981. (This very dress, created by Diana's wedding dress designers, has just come back into discussion as Kate Middleton wore a similar style to an award ceremony this week.) Diana had gotten engaged to Prince Charles just days before, and her dress made headlines since it was nontraditional in color (royals reserved black for times of mourning) and style (royals never wore anything strapless or low cut at the time). From that day forward both the media and the public became obsessed with her sartorial choices. Last year, the black Emanuel dress sold at auction for over $300,000 to a fashion museum in Chile.
The display at Kensington Palace will also include a Catherine Walker fuchsia silk chiffon sari-style dress Diana wore on an official visit to Thailand in 1988, and a Catherine Walker ivory silk crepe dinner dress worn for a Mario Testino photo shoot for Vanity Fair. Princess Diana loved wearing Catherine Walker to formal events, and Carole Middleton, Kate's mother, wore a sky blue ensemble by the designer to the royal wedding back in April. The remaining gowns are a black and white sequin cocktail dress by Bellville Sassoon Lorcan Mullany from 1989, and a black silk shift dress by Versace from 1995.
The exhibit, simply called "Diana," is a part of a $19 million revamp of Kensington Palace in time for Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee and the 2012 London Olympics. The set is being created by interior designer Finola Inger, while Julie Verhoeven has designed bespoke wallpaper as the backdrop for these stunning fashions.