When I visited Elizabeth Emanuel at her West London studio earlier this year, to interview her about creating Diana, Princess of Wales’ wedding gown, a striking pop of fuchsia caught my eye almost as soon as I walked through the door.
On a mannequin in the corner were the rough beginnings of a bright halter neck bodice. ‘I’ve just been playing around with some scraps,’ Emanuel told me. ‘I wanted to see what it would look like.’
This was not just a spontaneous experiment for Emauel but a chance to reimagine another dress she and her former husband David had made for the Royal bride-to-be. Their extravagant wedding dress is, of course, their most famous creation, but they made many more dresses for Diana, including one which has never been seen before.
In the week that marked the 40th anniversary of the fairytale 1981 Royal wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and the Prince of Wales, it has also been the anniversary of Diana wearing a daring magenta Emanuel dress to the pre-wedding ball, held at Buckingham Palace two nights before the ceremony.
Described by Emanuel as a ‘really important gown’, the ball was Diana’s first chance to make a personal impression with the 1,400 foreign royals, dignitaries and family friends in attendance, all of whom would be watching her take her vows a few days later.
The Princess-to-be did not decide to choose a ‘safe’ dress for the milestone moment, though, but one with a dramatic ruffled neckline and a slash to the thigh in an unmissable shade of shocking pink.
‘Diana wanted to look ultra-glamorous for this big event, and by that stage we knew she had the figure of a top model, and was growing more confident by the day,’ the Emanuels wrote in their 2006 book, A Dress for Diana. ‘Together with her, we plotted to create a head turning dress that no one would expect or forget.’
Diana had, by this point, already shocked the world in another Emanuel dress, a low cut, black gown which she wore for her first official outing with Charles after their engagement. But Diana underscored that she would not be playing it safe, even at this high stakes gala, by working with the Emanuels on another, even more eye-catching, dress.
‘As she entered the royal ballroom, heads turned and people audibly gasped,’ the Emanuels wrote. Diana was ‘no longer the shy nursery teacher… but a glamorous Princess ready to take her place in history.’
Diana’s love for daring clothes never diminished. We often think of her becoming braver and bolder throughout her public life, slowly evolving from frilly tea dresses to masculine tuxedos and Little Black ‘revenge’ dresses, but the story of the pre-wedding fuchsia showstopper is a reminder than Diana knew all about the power of fashion even before she ascended the steps of St Paul’s in her frothy wedding gown and 25ft train.
What’s different about the pink dress is that no public photographic records of it exist. There are a few snatched snapshots of it on a mannequin in the Emanuels’ studio but we will never know just how dazzling Diana looked wearing it.