What Diana wore: Family collection visits Toronto from Althrop

By Ilona Kauremszky

special writer

November 30, 2003

TORONTO -- If clothes make the man, perhaps they helped make the princess as well. It's been six years since the world mourned the death of Princess Diana, whose glamour and poise made her the muse of countless designers. Versace crafted couture evening gowns for her; British designer Catherine Walker made her stylish suits. Valentino designed cocktail dresses for the people's princess and French couturier Christian Lacroix draped her in a scarlet sheath of silk crepe and satin.

The clothes -- as much as the legacy of her humanitarian works -- are at the center of "Diana: A Celebration," an exhibit making its first foray into North America when it opens Dec. 19 amid the cluster of Mies Van der Rohe towers in the hub of Toronto's financial district at the Design Exchange.

But for a trip to Japan in 2002, "Diana" has been restricted to summer viewings at Althorp in England -- her family's ancestral estate and Diana's final resting place -- where proceeds are used to fund the charities and causes she was involved with. Without any plans for future trips, the Toronto engagement -- lasting through April -- may offer one of the few chances for people to see it without crossing the pond, where the exhibit returns next spring.

With 150 items, "Diana" chronicles the life of the late Princess of Wales, including everything from two diamond tiaras (one of them a family heirloom from 1830), priceless family jewels, personal photos, a pair of her tap shoes, and childhood sketches of a young Diana Spencer.

Portraits document her humanitarian efforts and charity works; one image depicts Diana comforting a child with leprosy and another shows her walking through a cleared land mine field in Angola.

The fashion, however, is a centerpiece, beginning with perhaps the most iconic item: the gown in which she was married to Prince Charles in 1981, with its 25-foot-long train and veil. Her silk slippers and parasol are here as well.

As one of the world's most photographed women, even casual admirers of Diana's will recognize many of the 28 distinctive outfits on display: a pale blue wool and satin trim coat dress and hat by Catherine Walker and Philip Somerville; a silk taffeta and velvet plum evening dress by Gina Fratini (which she wore to the London premiere of "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial"), a pink wool suit by Gianni Versace.

"We really see the changes in her style from the British designers to the more international designs of Versace, Armani, Chanel, Valentino," says Lynda Friendly, production manager for the Toronto exhibit. "They reveal inevitable changes in fashion style and the development of a young girl to a confident and mature woman."

Since 1998, the Althorp estate has opened its doors each summer for "Diana: A Celebration," collecting more than $2 million for charities. All profits from the Toronto exhibition will go toward the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund benefiting communities living with the legacy of land mines.


photo: Mario Testino

If You Go:

"Diana: A Celebration" is scheduled to run Dec. 19 through April at the Design Exchange, 234 Bay St., Toronto. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mon.-Thu.; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fri.-Sat.; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun. Reservations are booked in 30-minute intervals; the exhibit is 45 minutes to an hour long.

Tickets can be purchased at 800-461-3333 or www.ticketking.com. Adults: $25 Canadian (about $19 U.S.); seniors and students, $20 Canadian (about $15 U.S.); children 12 and under, $15 Canadian (about $12 U.S.). Fairmont Royal York is offering a special package priced from $169 U.S. for one-night accommodation, afternoon tea and two exhibition tickets.

For more details visit: www.dianacelebration.com. For Fairmont hotel package reservations, call 800-441-1414 or visit www.fairmont.com.

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