'She worked on the veil at home at night sometimes working until five in the morning before bringing it back on the tube'
Diana, Princess of Wales’s famous wedding dress goes on display to the public this June. For the first time in 25 years the silk taffeta bridal gown will be on show at Kensington Palace as part of the Royal Style In The Making exhibition.
The iconic, and sometimes divisive dress, was designed by husband and wife David and Elizabeth Emanuel. The young Diana had previously been styled for an engagement photo-shoot in a chiffon blouse designed by the Emanuels. Apparently, taken by the style, Diana tasked the two unknown designers to make her wedding dress.
The ivory silk taffeta design included a large crinoline, a gently scooped neckline, oversized puff sleeves, a meringue and a 25 foot train. The bodice was trimmed with antique handmade lace which had belonged to Queen Mary and the whole dress was embroidered with thousands of sequins and over 10,000 pearls.
When the dress was being embroidered, David and Elizabeth Emanuel needed a cover story. If anyone asked, they claimed it was for a Middle Eastern Princess. S. Lock & Co (Now Hand & Lock) was tasked with the labour intensive and complex embroidery on the 139 metres of tulle that made up the veil.
Amongst the embroiderers at S. Lock the truth of the project was only known by one embroiderer, Peggy Umpleby. At first she worked on the veil at home at night sometimes working until five in the morning before bringing it back on the tube.
Progress was slow and to make the deadline she told fellow embroiderers she was going on holiday, but in truth, she sat at her kitchen table embroidering for two solid weeks. The veil was completed, sent to the Emanuels, and she returned to work, only to have her colleagues remark on how pale she was despite her two week ‘holiday’.
In addition to being the most secretive design project of its time the Emanuels were challenged by practical issues posed by both the dress and the young bride. The silk of the meringue and the train were both prone to creasing and en-route to St Paul’s Cathedral, despite Diana’s best efforts the smooth finish couldn’t be preserved. This was remarked on by commentators at the time and has since gone on to be one of the most remembered details of the dress as she emerged from the carriage.
Also Diana herself, who was suffering from bulimia in the lead up to the wedding, dropped from a UK 14 dress size to a UK 10.
An estimated audience of 750 million people watched live on television as Diana walked up the aisle looking like a true-life fairy-tale Princess marrying her Prince charming. Despite the private drama the dress was a sensation and set the style for wedding couture for the entire decade.
Royal Style In The Making will run until 2nd January 2022, and will also feature unseen items from the archives of some of the most celebrated royal couturiers of the 20th century.