28 Oct Seeing Diana: Examining an Icon
The label “princess” invoked romanticized ideas of royalty and incited great scrutiny, until Princess Diana arrived on the scene. The Princess Diana exhibit at Kensington Palace tracked how she redefined the role of the princess —she revolutionized the word “icon” by breaking traditional boundaries and royal protocol They exhibited garments from her charity auction as a way to see her in all her sincerity, connecting her most iconic looks to the evolution of her personality. The stories behind her clothes signified her legendary role as a humanitarian, mother, lover, fashion influencer —but most importantly, as a human.
The exhibition was a story of Princess Diana. As a viewer, the dark ambiance of the crown jewels against the red walls of the exhibit gave me a sensitive interpretation of who she truly was. She was renowned for working hand-in-hand with designers to go beyond the act of crafting a dress, but fully creating an image of her personality —every detail was significant in fabricating the specific identity she wanted to show the world. The exhibition gave a personal outlook towards the princess, not only through displaying her most iconic attires, but also by presenting each designer’s views on her stance as a fashion icon. The designers viewed Diana as more than a member of the royal family and fashion influencer, but as a storyteller.
Covering her most iconic looks, the most anticipated display in the exhibition was the little black dress, often referred to as “the revenge dress”, she wore the night her former husband Prince Charles confessed his affair with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. In wearing this dress, Diana broke royal protocol because it articulated her pain and feelings of betrayal, as well as her resilient attitude. The dress told a story that still informs how I see her today —a woman who was ever so eloquent in portraying her agony. Her wardrobe had stories stitched into it, connecting her sexiness and grace through each personalized garment.
The Kensington Palace exhibition presented Diana’s life as a royal, a mother, a humanitarian, and a fashion influencer. However, as I entered each new room and read the stories behind each dress, I had a heavy feeling in my heart. The Kensington Palace shows her in all her magnificence by storytelling her pain. We admired her in all her vulnerability, for her feminist stance and undeniable dedication to her charities, especially her commitment to fighting misconceptions of the AIDS virus. Through the presentation of her pieces at the exhibition, I couldn’t help feeling the despair she lived with from battling criticism and speculations —elements of her life that affected her mental health and turned her into a living mystery.
With being in the public eye, Diana was constantly dehumanized by the public and the media. The public had a sense of agency that allowed them to be opinionated about her actions, presence, and obligations —turning her every move into a scandal. Nowadays, we value Princess Diana for the resilient figure she was. She modernized the idea what it means to be elegant by embracing her empathy and sexuality in everything she did.
The exhibition was overwhelming because of how strongly her presence was felt in the displays. By presenting the stories behind her clothes within the space she once lived, the curators were able to encapsulate both her royal life and her private pain as an individual. In reflection of the exhibit and her legacy, it’s clear Diana was so iconic because she had the strength to open up about her mental health and be vulnerable with the public, despite the media’s constant scrutiny. As an audience, the exhibit allowed us gain a better understanding of the oppression, injustice and trauma she endured not only as a royal, but also as a woman —the human side of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Although the it can be interpreted many ways, the exhibition manages to highlight a crucial aspect behind Princess Diana’s legacy that is never forgotten —her vulnerability. Kensington Palace succeeded in remembering a figure who changed the course of history through her grace and rebellion, while highlighting the real consequences of being a female heroine.
Header Image Source: Hareer Al-Qaragolie