The belle of the ball
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Terri Mahala of Kunkletown and friends, Diane Huber, her daughter, Abby of Palmerton, visited the Princess Diana exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and were in awe of the wedding gown she wore.
"Just around the corner in every woman's mind is a lovely dress, a wonderful suit, or entire costume which will make an enchanting new creature of her." ~Wilhela Cushman
Little girls dream of being a princess. They play dress-up, imagining a beautiful gown that will transform her into the princess she is. In fairy tales, a princess becomes the enchanting belle of the ball wearing a beautiful gown, a diamond tiara as she dances all night long with the handsome prince.
So when a young woman by the name of Lady Diana Spencer captured the batchelor's heart of Prince Charles of England, the world watched as a fairy tale came true.
When an engagement was announced Feb. 24, 1981, little girls and women everywhere eagerly looked forward to Diana's choice of a wedding dress.
The bridal gown, and the Princess-to-be, did not disappoint the masses.
It was indeed a romantic fairy-tale dress, made of ivory silk taffeta and lace with a fitted, boned bodice, curved neckline with detailed finishes. The entire gown was hand-embroidered with more than 10,000 tiny mother-of-pearl sequins and pearls. It was made of six different fabrics, including 25 yards of silk taffeta, 100 yards of tulle crinoline and 150 yards of netting for the veil.
It's 25-foot silk train was the longest in Royal history and added a touch of theatricality to the dress. It was designed and made by a young unknown British couple, Elizabeth and David Emanuel of London's Mayfair district and was the most guarded secret in fashion history.
It has been called the dress of the century.
The dress introduced us to a glimpse of an enchanting new princess.
Little girls, big girls and everyone else can see "The Dress" at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in person.
The royal wedding gown, diamond tiara, veil, 25-foot train, shoes, parasol and a bridesmaid's dress and 28 other outfits worn by Princess Diana are now on display at the Center until Dec. 31, 2009 in the international traveling exhibition, "Diana: A Celebration."
It also features over 150 artifacts organized into nine galleries: Childhood, Spencer Women, Engagement, Royal Wedding, Tiara Gallery, Style & Fashion, Her Work, Tribute and Condolences. The exhibit is on loan from the Althorp Estate, the Spencer Family's 500-year-old ancestral home in England.
Upon entering the exhibit, visitors are greeted by the stunning diamond Spencer Tiara with a larger-than-life well-recognized portrait of a smiling Princess Diana by Patrick Demarchelier, as its backdrop.
The next room is dominated by "The Dress." It is breathtakingly beautiful. Even though it is enclosed in glass, you know this is a dress only a princess could have worn. Majestic music that was played at the royal wedding, along with large blown-up images from the day Lady Diana Spencer married HRH Prince of Wales at St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981 surrounds the dress.
"I can't believe I'm actually seeing it in person. It's much more beautiful than I thought," said Diane Huber of Palmerton.
An admirer of Princess Diana for many years, she was thrilled to view the exhibit.
She brought along her daughter, Abby, 9, who thought the flower girl's dress was just as pretty as the gown worn by Princess Diana.
Terri Mahala of Kunkletown thought her shoes might have been as beautiful as the gown.
"Clothes make the man." (Or woman.) ~Mark Twain
If that statement is true, then a visit to another room gives a glimpse into the girl before she became a princess. It is dedicated to clothes worn by Diana as a child along with some of her toys, letters she wrote to her parents in childish script, and her luggage.
Bringing to life are black and white home movies of Diana playing with her sister and brother, jumping, twirling, endearing herself all over again. This is a glimpse into the girl who loved having fun and loved family.
Pictures feature Diana with her two sons, William and Harry, the two most important people in her life. Diana has been credited for being a very loving and devoted mother. She is seen wearing normal everyday clothes any mother would be seen in as she cavorted at their school with other mothers or as seen with her sons on an amusement-park ride. She wanted them to know as much about being normal as being royal.
"One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art." ~Oscar Wilde
Princess Diana became known for her love of clothes and her fashion sense. The world's best designers Versace, Christian Lacroix, Ungaro and Chanel are just some of the labels that were seen in her closet. Diana had the good fortune of not only being a work of art but having the good fortune to be able to wear many works of art.
The Style Gallery in the exhibit includes 28 outfits worn by Diana from the 1980s to Diana's last public engagement.
"Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess." ~Edna Woolman Chase
It didn't seem to matter what Diana wore. She was tall (5-foot 10-inches), willowy blond, had blue eyes and was extremely attractive and photogenic.
When she wore hats, she had a way of choosing just the right ones to mark her position but also give her a look of playfulness and chic all at the same time. She brought hats back into style.
She always looked like a model in a fashion magazine. When in reality, she made fashions popular first and others followed.
But no matter what she wore, it was her grace and personality that made anything she wore stylish.
"The truly fashionable are beyond fashion." ~Cecil Beaton
Princess Diana was more than just the clothes she wore. Her photos often featured her with head tilted down and eyes peeking up, giving a glimpse into her shy nature. She was sensitive and loving and showed an ability to make people feel special, regardless of their position in life.
She made it her mission to cure the world of man's inhumanity to man. Shook hands with people with AIDS and Leprosy at a time when fears prevented anyone else from doing that.
She wanted her sons to grow up with an understanding of what the average person has to deal with everyday. She groomed her son William to be a "modern" king one who is warm and sensitive and in touch with his people.
She won the respect of many by championing many charities, which is also part of the exhibit.
She was a pioneer campaigner for HIV and AIDS patients, the homeless and the banning of landmines. A video presentation highlights the hundreds of associations that continue to benefit from her patronage and energetic dedication.
Her death was a shock felt all around the world. The exhibit's display shelves are filled with books of condolences, many open to reveal comments made by the people who loved her from all over the world. The room echoes with Elton John singing "Candle in the Wind " a song he dedicated to Diana in tribute with lyrics he rewrote for her after her death.
"This exhibition is a remarkable tribute to Princess Diana's life and work," said National Constitution Center President and CEO Linda E. Johnson. "Because she was admired by millions across the globe, we expect 'Diana: A Celebration' to have broad appeal, which will allow the center to expand its audience and, in turn, introduce more visitors to the remarkable stories of "We the People' celebrated here every day."
The center, located just two blocks from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall is the only museum devoted to the U.S. Constitution and the story of "We, the People."
It features "Freedom Rising," a multimedia event that brings the drama, tension and inspiration of the Constitution to life.
In the main exhibition, "The Story of We the People," visitors have the opportunity to participate in some of the great rites of American democracy - voting for your favorite president, serving on a jury, deciding a landmark case at a replica Supreme Court bench, and being sworn in as President of the United States. Visitors can walk among life-size bronze statues of the 42 men who drafted the Constitution during the hot summer of 1787.
The center is located at Independence Mall, 525 Arch St. It is open Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Phone is (215) 409-6600.