I have always been an Anglophile. Long before I fell in love with Paris, I feel in love with all things English -- the history, the literature, the monarchy, the pomp, the countryside, the china, everything.
I have a large collection of books related to England and the Royal Family, along with postcards, souvenir china (my favorite being a mug to commemorate Edward VII's coronation, which of course never happened).
And while I am not following with great attention the upcoming William/Kate marriage, I pause and watch when it comes on television. It reminds me of the obsession of the world with Diana and her wedding to Prince Charles, then all that happened after.
I confess, I had all the books -- the last I bought was after she died. And I cut everything out of the paper I could.
Friends in England sent me memorabilia, newspapers, first day covers.
One friend gave me a needlepoint -- I can't find the book with a photo of the completed piece.
It was 22 stitches to the inch done with embroidery floss. I got fairly far, but never finished.
Someday perhaps I'll find a good seamstress who can turn the finished bits into tree ornaments.
But I digress. The point is, when the Diana dress exhibit came to Grand Rapids, I really wanted to see it.
So last week my friend Carol and I took off on a road trip. I wanted to share some observations.
First, if the exhibit comes to your city, and this is something that interests you, it's worth a visit. (Even if they don't allow photos inside -- these are all from the catalogue.)
It's not huge -- you can do it in a couple of hours; less if you don't stop like I did to read every sign or watch any of the video.
Second, it is more than dresses. In fact, to me, the dresses were the least interesting part -- and I'll have something more to say on that later.
What I found remarkable was not the jewels... though they were spectacular.
But instead, the personal memorabilia. It is called "Diana: A Celebration" and it truly reflects that -- rather than being named "Diana: The Dresses" (which is what gets the media attention.
For example, I was captivated by things like her grade-school report cards...
The letter she wrote to her father from boarding school, along with a portrait of her first childhood pet, a cat named Marmalade, which rests near her grave.
Her correspondence was included -- letters to benefactors and thank you notes.
I loved seeing the photos her father took of the decorations preceding the wedding...
...and her gift to him, a photo I had never seen of her in the carriage. It doesn't show as well in my photo-from-a-tiny-photo in the catalogue, but it is simply lovely.
The boxes used for cake as wedding favors are there, along with a Christmas card from Prince Charles with one of his paintings, sent prior to their engagement.
There were other things, too -- toys, photo albums, tap shoes. All things that told a life of a young woman who perhaps never dreamed that one day she would be known all over the world. It was truly fascinating.
I told you I'd talk about the dresses. A whole room is devoted to the wedding, with video, bridesmaid dresses and lots of photos, as well as the wedding dress with its long train. It was the biggest thing I thought I'd ever seen.
I remember watching the wedding and thinking she was such a little girl -- that dress dwarfed her. It wasn't till later, when I learned she was very tall that I realized they probably thought she could handle it. I never thought so -- and when you see it in person it is like wedding-cake-bridal-top-Cinderella gone amuck.
The tiara looked tarnished. The diamonds didn't seem to sparkle, the metal didn't shine. Perplexing.
The other items -- some of the "name" dresses (the Travolta dress, among others) weren't included. Not a disappointment for me -- they probably had been sold off. The ones that were there were a good representation of her style and they were shown with photos (of some), showing them in context.
The thing is, the lighting was terrible. And none of the dresses looked like the photos.
This one, above, for example. I've seen that photo in lots of books, even in the display, and the suit looked white. It was actually a quite a khaki color. Fairly dark.
Another dress -- the long one here that says pale blue -- looked downright gray.
Some of the pinks in the photos looked peach on the mannequins.
Now, I know she wasn't hanging those gowns on the line to dry in the sun. As I told Carol, I have clothes older than that that haven't faded; I can't imagine the gowns have.
So has every photo been color enhanced or was the lighting casting an odd shadow that wiped out the color palette?
A curiosity and I will never know the answer.
I have to say the workmanship and detail is probably all you would expect from major designers creating gowns and a "working wardrobe" for one of the most photographed women in the world. That in itself was fun to see.
When Diana was killed, I think it hit me more immediately than ever before to live life everyday as best you can. She was young, very fit, had bodyguards. Who would think she would die. It can happen to us all, at any time.
It was a lesson we all need to be reminded of. Seeing this exhibit only reinforced that -- we never know when it is our time to move on. Make the most of every moment.
(Speaking of England, the WWI mystery "No Graves As Yet" by Anne Perry is highlighted on Chopsticks and String, along with "Thrift Store Saints." Look for more over there soon!)