Princess Diana dress sketches to be displayed in Kensington Palace

From sketch to Diana’s dress: Designers’ drawings with princess’s handwritten notes to go on display in Kensington Palace exhibition celebrating the process of creating royal ensembles

  • Kensington Palace exhibition Royal Style in the Making opens on June 3
  • Features never-before-seen items from the archives of royal couturiers
  • Includes sketches of dresses made for Diana, the Queen and Queen Mother 

A new Kensington Palace exhibition celebrates the extraordinary work that goes into creating a royal wardrobe. 

Royal Style in the Making, which opens on June 3, will feature never-before-seen items from the archives of some of the most celebrated royal couturiers, set alongside examples of the stylish ensembles created for Princess Diana, the Queen and the Queen Mother. 

The displays will include original sketches, fabric swatches and handwritten notes used by designers including David Emanuel, David Sassoon and Norman Hartnell when creating one-of-a-kind pieces for their royal clients. 

Among the highlights is a rare surviving toile for the 1937 coronation gown of the Queen Mother. 


Check her out! This sharp skirt suit was worn by Princess Diana to an engagement in Brixton, south London, in the summer of 1986. She put her own twist on the design with white shoes


Elegant eveningwear: This slinky black evening dress was designed by Bellville Sassoon and worn by Princess Diana to the film premiere of Backdraft at Leicester Square in 1991 (right)


Peach perfection: The Bellville Sassoon ‘going away dress and bolero Diana wore as she left on her honeymoon with Prince Charles in July 1981. Left, the original 

The designer sketches reveal the hands-on role Diana took in crafting her wardrobe. 

The note on one proposed design reads: ‘Please could I have this one without the high collar & bow? Collar like the other turquoise one.’

Visitors will also be able to admire Princess Diana’s wedding dress, complete with its spectacular sequin encrusted train, which at 25 feet dramatically filled the aisle of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The exhibition also tracks the development of Diana’s style from her peach ‘going away’ honeymoon outfit to the sleek evening gowns she wore more than a decade later. 

Matthew Storey, exhibition curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said his favourite fashion sketch on display is for a blue floral dress designed by David Sassoon in 1988. 

‘The dress became known as her “caring dress” because she often wore it on visits to hospitals or to meet children, knowing that they loved the bright, colourful pattern,’ he explained.


Bright and beautiful: This vibrant floral dress was designed by David Sassoon in 1988 (left). Matthew Storey, exhibition curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said it is his favourite sketch that will be displayed. Right, Diana wearing the dress in Lagos, Nigeria, in March 1990


Dare to bare! This off-the-shoulder gown worn by Diana to the Barbican in London in 1989 (right) reveals how the Princess became bolder in her style choices over the years 


Personal touch: Diana was shown a sketch of this maternity gown and added her own handwritten note asking for it ‘in dark blue’ (left). Right, wearing the dress in December 1981

‘She decided not to wear the large matching hat that was designed to accompany it, as she said you couldn’t cuddle a child in a hat. 

‘She would also sometimes wear chunky jewellery when she knew that she was going to meet children, as they would enjoy playing with it. 

‘This really illustrates just how carefully she considered the people she would meet when selecting outfits for her many public engagements.’

The exhibition also takes in pieces created for the Queen and the Queen Mother. 

But it is Diana who finds herself firmly back in the spotlight. 

Prince Harry has repeatedly discussed his late mother in recent interviews about his mental health and on July 1 he and William are due to unveil a statue of her in the garden of Kensington Palace to mark what would have been her 60th birthday. 

Showstopper: A gown designed by David Sassoon for the State Opening of Parliament

Dazzling: Princess Diana at their first State Opening of Parliament in November 1981

Film and TV portrayals including The Crown and Spencer – the upcoming biopic starring Kristen Stewart – have also sparked a renewed interest in the princess’s fashion. 

Mr Storey added: ‘Our summer exhibition at Kensington Palace will shine a spotlight on some of the greatest talents of British design, whose work has been instrumental in shaping the visual identity of the royal family across the twentieth century. 

‘We’ll be exploring how the partnership between each designer and client worked, and revealing the process behind the creation of a number of the most important couture commissions in royal history. 

‘While one of the highlights will undoubtedly be Diana, Princess of Wales’s showstopping Emanuel designed wedding dress, – which goes on show at the palace for the first time in 25 years – we’ve got some real surprises up our sleeve for fashion fans!’

Royal Style in the Making, 3 June-2 January 2022, at Kensington Palace. For more information visit hrp.org.uk

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