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The dress of dreams

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 29, 2006 7:57 am    Post subject: The dress of dreams Reply with quote

The dress of dreams

Twenty-five years ago the world gasped as Princess Diana walked down the aisle in a fabulous dress created by unknown designers DAVID and ELIZABETH EMANUEL. Here David tells JILL PARKIN the true story behind that incredible day – and how the fairytale end.
Daily Mail Weekend Magazine
29 July 2006

THERE HAS NEVER been a dress like it. The sheer weight of hope and sorrow carried by Diana’s wedding gown make it unique. It was a fairytale in silk and lace; an ivory dream that became a nightmare. It’s exactly 25 years since Diana stepped from the royal coach outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Behind her flowed a 25ft train, longer than any other royal wedding gown. In front of her stretched a future as Princess of Wales and Queen. Now Diana lies in an island tomb at her childhood home. The dress is still pulling in the crowds, on display nearby at Althorp, the Spencers’ family estate, and on world tours.

‘July 29, 1981…’ says David Emanuel, who designed the dress with his then wife, Elizabeth, and who has now co-authored a book with her called A Dress For Diana. ‘Everyone remembers where they were the day Diana got married.’

We were all watching the wedding, of course, taking in a dress so romantic that the creases in its vast skirt (the glass coach is quite cramped) didn’t matter. It was an iconic moment in the Diana phenomenon that was to stay on our front pages, even after her tragic death 16 years later.

Copies of the dress were on sale the next morning. Months of speculation and security were over, Lady Di had become Princess of Wales, and the Emanuels were truly launched. Just a few months earlier, the young designers, the first married couple to graduate from the Royal College of Art, were known only to a few customers and fashion editors. Then the phone rang at their studio in Brook Street in London’s West End. When Elizabeth picked it up, a voice said, ‘This is Diana. I was wondering, Liz, would you and David do me the honour of making my wedding dress?’

All the big names in royal couture, such as Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, for whom David had worked as a student, were being tipped to make the dress, as well as the more radical designers such as Zandra Rhodes, so the Emanuels, who had put on their degree show only four years earlier, never imagined that they were in the running.

‘When she rang a second time, we said, “Are you sure?” says David. ‘In a way, that dress was the real start of our careers. There has never been an ambassador for British fashion like Diana. That girl brought everyone to London. What she wore went round the world in minutes.

‘When the engagement was announced, what we saw was a demure Sloane Ranger, all pie-crust collars, floral skirts and cardigans, but we were really in on the birth of a fashion icon.’ If there was a moment for that birth, it was when Diana, the nursery school teacher from Kensington, West London, stepped out of the limo after Charles outside Goldsmiths’ Hall to attend a charity event. David tells the story with obvious enjoyment. His voice is a fashion luvvie combination of Welsh and transatlantic, with a few Frenchified pronunciations thrown in for added decoration.

‘It was her first official engagement and we put her in this black low-cut number with lots of cleavage,’ he says, pronouncing it ‘cleavarge’. ‘Lots of structure, lots of boning; it wasn’t going to go anywhere, but we were surprised by just how much cleavarge showed as she bent to get out of the car. The dress was scrutinised — I mean, Trevor McDonald was on News At Ten asking if you could see a nipple. In the papers the next day, the Budget was pushed to page four.’

We’re chatting in The Lanesborough hotel in London, where David has his studio and sees his couture clients. It’s on the corner of Hyde Park, just across the road from the perimeter wall of Buckingham Palace. David, 54, is a designer to his fingertips: as I arrive, his eye immediately goes to the zip on my handbag which is coming adrift from the lining and, as we talk, he occasionally leans forward to pluck a stray hair off my skirt. I must be the leastgroomed woman ever to appear before him; his own hair is immaculate and he is wearing a Ralph Lauren blue suit and shortsleeved shirt. He’s plumper than he used to be, but it suits him.

Other writers have used the word ‘fey’ to describe David, and there’s certainly a camp confidentiality in his chatter, but David likes women and likes making them look their best. He and Elizabeth had two children, Oliver and Eloise, an international banker and theatre director respectively, and, although he won’t name her, there’s a woman in his life. ‘No, not living with me. She comes to stay and that’s all I’m saying. Some things should be private.’ He couldn’t be nicer, but he means it.

He and Elizabeth, who separated in 1990 after 15 years of marriage, have pooled their memories for the book. They had the

foresight to keep records, both written and photographic, of their royal commission. The story of David and Elizabeth’s relationship with Diana really begins with her appearance in Vogue, wearing a high-necked Emanuel blouse of the palest pink silk. She spotted it on the rail at a photographic shoot early in 1981 and asked who it was by. The photo, by Lord Snowdon, became the official engagement portrait of Diana.

Diana made it clear that she didn’t regret that Goldsmiths’ black number by wearing Emanuel again for her pre-wedding ball. The wedding of the century was imminent and the butterfly was coming out of her chrysalis. The shocking-pink gown was ruffled in true Emanuel style, but it plunged from the top and, from the bottom, it was slashed to the thigh. ‘Jaws dropped when she walked in,’ says David. ‘What a statement. Fuchsia pink and very Scarlett O’Hara. There was that side to her. And by that time she had the figure of a model. She was fabulous and charming. It was an exciting time. All three of us were young, inexperienced and in at the deep end. She had a wicked sense of humour and a sparkle. She was a breath of fresh air.’

Diana was not a protocol person, as David remembers. The top floors of the Brook Street studio, where the cutting and sewing went on, were curtained off and out of bounds to clients. Diana had begged David and Elizabeth to let her go upstairs, but they refused.

‘One day I came in and found no one in the showroom. On the next floor there was our PA and some of our Emanuel ladies in tears. No one could tell me what had happened. I went up to the top floor and found Elizabeth and two more of our ladies — and Diana. She was standing there with a mischievous smile on her face. She had broken the rule and done what she wanted — to thank the team for their hard work. They were so touched, they were crying.’

The Emanuels had already dressed the Duchess of Kent (David was to do her Wimbledon presentation outfits for some 20 years) and Princess Michael of Kent, so they were used to royal clients, but they were surprised to be given no instructions or guidance from the Palace on their commission.

‘They put an awful lot of trust in us. We had a lot of things to consider. The dress had to be royal, but it had to be young — the bride was only 20. Heavy embroidery would have looked too old. St Paul’s is huge, so it had to be a big dress. The steps up to the cathedral are monumental, so we could go for a really big train. Can you imagine if we’d sent her up the aisle in a simple little jersey job?’

Time was short: Diana rang the Emanuels in early March and was to be married on July 29. Those monthswere a whirl of fittings that concerned far more than the dress. The shoes, the parasol, the flowers, hair and make-up — everything had to be in keeping.

And, as far as possible, the Emanuels tried to make it a British production. They also wanted the dress to be as complex in detail as possible, so it would be difficult to copy exactly.

Their book, which has gorgeously detailed photos of the dress fabric, the sequins on the veil, and the decorated soles of the shoes, also contains letters from British silk weavers, lacemakers, florists, the Royal College of Needlework, and the shoemaker Clive Shilton. It also reproduces notes from Diana, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones
and Diana’s mother, Mrs Frances Shand Kydd. David and Elizabeth made a photographic collection of the creation of the dress and had it bound as a wedding present for the Prince and Princess, keeping a duplicate for themselves.

On the day before the wedding, all the dresses, for bride and attendants, were packed in pink silk moiré bags and delivered to Clarence House. On the morning of the wedding, David remembers Diana singing along to a Cornetto advert on the television while everyone had orange juice and biscuits.

‘After the dress was finally put on, there was a last-minute panic as no one could remember doing up the double hook on the petticoat,’ says David. With visions of the whole thing dropping off halfway up the aisle, David had to look under Diana’s skirts to check.

‘As I emerged, the door to the room opened, and I heard Diana’s voice saying, “David, have you met the Queen Mother?” Imagine. And, yes, the hook had been done up all along.’

When the dress was complete, spare fabric, patterns and other paraphernalia were put in a trunk and deposited in a bank, where they remain to this day. The fairytale wedding is now history, the dress behind glass. ‘When I see it on a mannequin I see a museum piece,’ says David. ‘For me, clothes are for wearing, so when I see a photograph of Diana wearing it, I’m very happy. It’s not until you start talking about it — or working on a book about it — that you realise how extraordinary it all was.’

David dedicates the book to his children; Elizabeth dedicates it to her parents, with whom she publicly fell out in the wake of the divorce. It was she who walked out, leaving David with the children.

The couple always explained the breakup by saying they were simply no longer getting on. Neither appeared to be involved with anyone else. Earlier this year, Elizabeth, who is now living with scriptwriter Tony Drew, her partner of 12 years and ten years her junior, said, ‘You must never, ever work with and be married to the same person. David and I were always in each other’s sight, at home and at work. It put us under a lot of pressure and, after the royal wedding, we always felt that we had to smile in front of the cameras. Splitting up was almost inevitable, but we should have parted much earlier.’

Elizabeth felt she had been in her ex-husband’s shadow for too long. ‘When we split up, I was quite relieved, but I don’t think David was very happy. The problem was that I’d always been very shy, but as I got more confident with my designs, I came out of my shell a bit. Also, there were a lot of designs that he wasn’t involved with and yet he took sole credit for them, which upset me. David needed to control what I did, and I found that very difficult.’

They now have two separate businesses: David Emanuel Couture and Elizabeth’s couture label, Art of Being. The two designers attended Diana’s funeral together, so presumably now things are amicable? ‘You said that, not me,’ says David with a smile. ‘Here was a book to be written. I think that’s important to Diana’s fans. We started a project and we felt we had to finish it. We hadn’t been speaking for years, but we had a focal point in the book. And we both remembered different things, which was useful.’

After the royal wedding and honeymoon, it was some time before Diana appeared in Emanuel again and it was rumoured that there had been a rift. David says not. ‘Look, you do a job like that, you grow up very quickly. Of course Diana was going to try other designers. She was becoming a fashion icon. And, after her divorce she was free to wear Italian and French designs, too. So I wasn’t expecting her to wear only our stuff. We made private clothes for her and maternity wear — lots of light, floaty things.

‘And it wasn’t long before she asked us to design 30 outfits for her tour of the United Arab Emirates. With big tours, you’re usually thinking, “I don’t want the arrival or departure dress; I don’t want the tree-planting dress — above all, not that; I want the gala dress!” We got the lot. As they were going to be worn again, we had to shorten them so they’d be more in keeping with Western fashion, but that’s all part of the job.’

There have been many other Emanuel weddings since Diana’s. Beach weddings, church weddings, weddings in New York’s Hamptons. David is even branching into ready-towear this month, with a small bridal collection for Berkertex. He’s looking forward to getting the sort of wider exposure that a private couturier usually doesn’t get, though on the right person publicity can be vast.

‘I did Jane Seymour,’ he says. ‘Wedding number four, so we went for palest peach — 28 pages in Hello! And there was Lady Lloyd Webber’s wedding dress. I’ve designed a ballet for English National Opera, as well as lots of telly, including Shop The World, which goes out all over the States.’

David’s clients include Joan Collins, Shirley Bassey, Patsy Kensit and Elizabeth Taylor. One of his favourites is opera singer Lesley Garrett. His designs for her appeared on stage, on posters and on CD covers. He talks about her with relish. ‘The first time she walked in, you could see she was a diva. I thought, “Right girl, I’m going to put you in red, boned to death and very Gone With The Wind.” She loved it.’

It was a project close to his heart because, unknown to the fashion world, David has a secret passion. The boy from Wales sings. During our photo shoot he sang There’s No Business Like Show Business, but his tenor range is greater than that, as he explained when I asked him what he’d do if he didn’t do fashion.

Singing,’ he says. ‘Music is my other passion. I applied to study art and music, but the reply from art college came first, so I did that. I played piano and cello, but would probably have done voice.’ I have a sudden picture of a different royal wedding with an angel-faced David singing

Let The Bright Seraphim, instead of Kiri Te Kanawa. In fact, he does cabaret numbers such as Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling In Love With You and Andy Williams’ Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

He now sings by invitation at private parties and charity functions in the U.S. He’s learned that, as far as his clients are concerned, ‘a small party’ may mean 600 people. It started when he treated himself to lessons with London voice coach, Ian Adam. It’s slightly eerie that his second career is also tied up with Diana.

His first invitation to sing came from an American woman, Fontaine Minor, who’d bought an Emanuel dress in the Diana auction at Christie’s a few weeks before her death. ‘She’d bought the white and gold dress Diana wore for the Bond premiere of The Living Daylights and she’d heard that I was having voice training. She kept faxing me and, before I knew it, I was singing on a stage on the lawns of a place that looked like the White House.’

Now, 25 years after The Dress, there’s speculation about another young woman who could be queen.

If Kate Middleton was to marry Prince William, what would he design? ‘Kate has great potential,’ says David. ‘She’s graceful. I think every designer would want to design for her. I would. She seems very together. The Royal Family are protecting her and she’s coming into the spotlight gradually. I think lessons have been learned.’

Still, it’s the 25-year-old dress that lingers in the mind, not just for its own beauty, but for the story of the girl who wore it — a girl David Emanuel knew better than most. ‘She was very real,’ he says. ‘You ask anyone who knew her — she would always send a thank-you letter. You can’t teach that; it’s got to be in you. I met her right at the end, just before the awful end. She walked into the room, a packed room, like a breath of fresh air. I could see the same Diana, the same sweetness. She walked straight over to me and asked how Oliver and Eloise were. She was so sweet. She hadn’t changed.’
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 24, 2006 10:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow - that article was really interesting. I thought it was very poignant when he said of how the Royal family are handling Kate Middleton that "lessons have been learnt"...

The book sounds amazing. I haven't got a copy yet but have been on the website:


Am thinking of getting the special edition. It would be incredible to own a swatch of the material that made the dress. Smile
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