Elizabeth Emanuel Recalls Princess Diana’s Call That Changed Her Life

In a nostalgic and revelatory moment,

Princess Diana and Elizabeth Emanuel in June 1997. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, TIM GRAHAM PHOTO LIBRARY VIA GETTY)
Princess Diana and Elizabeth Emanuel in June 1997. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, TIM GRAHAM PHOTO LIBRARY VIA GETTY)

Elizabeth Emanuel, co-designer of Princess Diana’s iconic wedding dress, shared the story of the life-changing phone call she received from the princess herself.

This disclosure came during the PEOPLE’s Styling Princess Diana panel held at Fotografiska New York on May 21. Emanuel’s recollection of the event provided not only a personal anecdote but also a glimpse into the professional pressures and excitements of designing for royalty.

Elizabeth Emanuel and her ex-husband David were already established designers, but the request from Princess Diana marked a significant turning point in their careers.

The call came unexpectedly while Elizabeth was busy with another client. “The phone started to ring, and it rang and rang, and nobody was picking it up. I said, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m just going to have to take this call,'” Emanuel recounted.

On the other end was Diana, making a request that would forever alter the course of Emanuel’s life: “Would you do me the honor of making my wedding dress? You can’t tell anybody about this, there’s not going to be an announcement, so you’ve got to keep it very secret.”

Elizabeth described this moment as a turning point, realizing immediately that her life, as well as David’s, would never be the same. The gravity of the situation required her to share the news with her team immediately.

To extricate herself from the current fitting with a client, she fabricated a quick excuse: “My brother had a baby,” she fibbed. This small lie underscored the urgency and the high-stakes nature of the secret project they were about to embark on.

Interestingly, Princess Diana did not have a specific vision for her bridal gown. Instead, she relied heavily on the Emanuels’ expertise and creativity. Elizabeth shared how she produced numerous sketches and had Diana try on several ready-to-wear dresses to pinpoint the style she preferred.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles at their wedding on July 29, 1981. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, JAYNE FINCHER/PRINCESS DIANA ARCHIVE/HULTON ROYALS COLLECTION/GETTY)
Princess Diana and Prince Charles at their wedding on July 29, 1981. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, JAYNE FINCHER/PRINCESS DIANA ARCHIVE/HULTON ROYALS COLLECTION/GETTY)

This collaborative and trusting relationship was fundamental to the creation of the now-iconic wedding dress, characterized by its dramatic design and opulent detailing.

Reflecting on the original gown, Elizabeth expressed no desire to alter its historic design but revealed her plans to create a modern version. “I’m going to try and capture the spirit of the original but through my eyes now,” she explained.

This endeavor aims to preserve the dress’s original sparkles and pearls while infusing it with a contemporary vision, reflecting both a respect for the past and a forward-looking creativity.

Adding another layer to the narrative, Elizabeth revealed the existence of a second, backup wedding dress. Her cautious nature led her to prepare an additional dress as a contingency against potential mishaps such as theft, spills, or fire.

This backup dress, however, was never completed and eventually disappeared over the years. Recently, Elizabeth recreated this dress based on old sketches and images, which is now exhibited at the virtual Princess Diana Museum.

Elizabeth Emanuel and Princess Diana prepare for a royal tour on August 6, 1986. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, TIM GRAHAM/GETTY IMAGES)
Elizabeth Emanuel and Princess Diana prepare for a royal tour on August 6, 1986. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, TIM GRAHAM/GETTY IMAGES)

“We never got to see that dress on Diana and thought it would be lovely to envision it,” said Renae Plant, the museum’s director and curator.

The story of the backup dress adds a fascinating dimension to the lore surrounding Princess Diana’s wedding. Elizabeth’s prudence in creating a spare dress, despite its ultimate obscurity, reflects the meticulous care and concern she held for the project.

The recreation of this dress for exhibition purposes allows the public a rare glimpse into the ‘what could have been’ scenario, enriching the historical narrative of one of the most famous weddings of the 20th century.

Elizabeth Emanuel’s reflections offer not only a personal insight into the making of a royal wedding dress but also highlight the broader implications of such a commission.

The trust and responsibility placed in her hands were immense, and her ability to deliver under pressure is a testament to her skill and professionalism.

The tale of the backup dress, now brought back to life for a new audience, underscores the meticulous and often unseen efforts that go into creating moments of historical significance.

As Elizabeth moves forward with her plans to reinterpret Diana’s wedding dress for a modern audience, her continued relevance and innovation in the fashion industry remain clear.

The project promises to blend nostalgia with contemporary fashion sensibilities, ensuring that the legacy of Diana’s wedding dress endures in both its original form and its new iteration.

This venture not only honors Princess Diana’s memory but also celebrates the enduring impact of Elizabeth Emanuel’s artistry in fashion history.

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