So alike yet so different: Kate and Diana share the same style, says designer Elizabeth Emanuel, but the two young royals are very contrasting women
Daring: Diana (left) dazzles the world in a plunging dress at her first public event after her engagement. Double take: Kate (right) wears a similar black gown to an awards ceremony earlier this week
It was daring. It was sexy. It showcased her slender figure and, in the flash of a hundred camera bulbs, it catapulted the timid 19-year-old nursery school teacher into the limelight.
I recall that moment well. Diana stepped out of the car, the camera lights exploded, there was an almost audible gasp and, in that moment, Diana became a star.
Within months, she was the most photographed woman in the world.
That grown-up dress, that bashful pose in the spotlight as the world became aware of a budding fashion icon — that moment changed Diana’s life, for ever.
Before then, she had only ever been seen in clothes that were either girly or a little boring — definitely nothing sexy.
Lovely in lace: Diana in 1995 at the Beaufort Hunt and Kate during June”s tour of Canada
I designed that dress with my then husband, David. And looking at photos of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, this week, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by memories of the young woman I knew all those years ago — the woman who would have been Kate’s mother-in-law.
Did Kate — who happily wears Diana’s engagement ring — pick that particular dress to draw comparisons I’m certain not. But many of us who recall that earlier dress can’t help but make them.
Two royal women, two unwitting fashion leaders, two daring black dresses. The parallels are uncanny. Yet, the two women have led two very different lives.
Back to black: Diana at a London Fashion event in 1994 and Kate shopping before her April wedding
Diana at 19 was shy, barely on the cusp of womanhood.
Remembering her in that dress, I see a girl at the start of a huge adventure. She was nervous about getting things wrong. She wanted to appear mature and womanly, but — although she looked beautiful — she wasn’t confident.
Kate, on the other hand, is 29. She is at ease with who she is and what’s expected of her. She is relaxed, self-assured and totally happy with her style.
Monochrome magic: Diana in 1991 at a concert in Salisbury and Kate at an event last Christmas
She”s been schooled in a way Diana never was. She wore that wonderful figure-hugging black Alexander McQueen dress with total confidence.
I vividly recall the day Diana chose her dress. She had come into our lives entirely by accident.
David and I were just starting out and had a little studio in London’s Mayfair, around the corner from Vogue magazine.
Because our studio was so close, we often got asked at the last minute to provide clothes for photographic shoots.
Smart-casual: Diana in 1997 during a tour of Bosnia and Kate last July in Canada
One day Anna Harvey, the fashion editor, rang to ask if we could get some clothes over to her for a top-secret celebrity shoot.
LordSnowdon was photographing a famous woman for the magazine but, of course, we didn’t know who. She needed a high-necked top. We happened tohave a pink blouse which sounded as though it might do. So off it went.
The next thing we knew was when we saw the photo: Lord Snowdon’s official engagement photograph. And there was Diana in our blouse. We were thrilled.
Ladies in red: Diana at an event in Whitehall and Kate at a charity engagement in October
A week later, Diana arrived in our studio. I hadn’t recognised her voice when she’d made an appointment. Itwas a shock when Charles’s fiancee arrived with only a single detective.
We went on to design several dresses before the wedding.
On one visit, she explained that she was attending an evening function with Charles and needed a dress.
She was excited. She knew it was a big deal, as it would be the first time she and Charles were to attend a public function together since their engagement. She was nervous but excited. For Diana it was all terrifyingly new.
Nautical but nice: Diana at the Guards polo club in 1987 and Kate in Canada in July
Silk wonder: Diana in 1985 on a tour of Florida and Kate dining with the in-laws in July
Our small studio meant all our stock was on display. We happened to have just finished designing a collectionof black dresses. Diana picked one right off the rail. It was silk taffeta with sequins and sparkly frill at the bust. It didn’t have a name. We just called it ‘the one with the plunge neckline.’
“With Diana, you never knew what to expect. With Kate, you know there isn”t going to be anything controversial,” said Elizabeth Emanuel
She disappeared into the changing room and, when she re-emerged, we knew it was the one. She looked so elegant.
As she posed in front of the mirror, she announced: ‘It’s perfect.’
Ithonestly never occurred to any of us that it was very low-cut. It was asample size 12 and we didn’t need to alter it. We just sent it off to Buckingham Palace.
As for the colour, we didn’t know the royal family traditionally only wear black in mourning. Neither did she.
She had moved into Buckingham Palace after the engagement, but she had no stylist, no one to advise her.
What could be more different than Kate’s life She had a decade in which to prepare for her place in the spotlight; to learn the ropes and discover the protocols of royal life.
We knew that Diana would be photographed. But none of us realised she would be snapped from every angle — coming out of the car, walking up the steps and bending forward.
Setting the tone: Diana at Ascot in 1988 and Kate at Windsor in June
It’s commonplace now. Kate is schooled in the pitfalls to avoid whenever she is pictured.
The dress caused such an impact it even knocked the Budget off the newspaper front pages. David and I received postbags full of letters and Prudence Glynn, the fashion editor of The Times, wrote a scathing attack, slamming us for designing something so unsuitable for our future queen. We were gutted.
But Diana loved the dress, and the fuss it caused. We had a giggle about it, too. She said Prince Charles had liked it.
Flower power: Diana on a hospital visit in 1991 and Kate on an evening out in 2006
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Suitably dressed: Diana at a 1995 London charity and Kate in Lancashire last April
With Diana, you never knew what to expect. With Kate, you know there isn’t going to be anything controversial.
So yes, Diana was a trailblazer. Her appearance in that dress heralded the start of an incredible journey.
Diana did it first — and in the process she became a unique role model.
Interview: TESSA CUNNINGHAM