Sunday, February 20, 2011


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!)


anno said...

Sounds like an interesting exhibition, Jeanie -- what a great chance to see those beautiful dresses; shame about the lighting, though. Amazing how much Diana still fascinates us, even after all these years; a tribute, I think, to how much she resonated with us while she was alive.

shoreacres said...

I love England, but I've never been much interested in the Royal Family. I did once watch a youtube video showing ten minutes of Important People curtseying to one another - that should give me some cred!

But I always liked what I saw of Diana, and really enjoyed this post. I've shared the link with a few other folks both in England and the US, and I'm sure they'll appreciate it, too.

I was intrigued by what you said about the colors. When I posted my entry about the African violets, the most beautiful ones weren't included because I couldn't get the color right, no matter what I did. It wasn't even close. The flowers were the color of burgundy, but showed up as a kind of washed out magenta/purple. It really was strange, but it makes it believable that the difference could be so great.

Mae Travels said...

Did you know the late Lila Green in Ann Arbor -- a huge fan of the Royals? She often dressed as the queen for big events like the UofM Orchestra Halloween concert. Her collection was amazing.

Also, did you enjoy "The King's Speech" or less recently "The Queen" ?


Joanne Huffman said...

I never made it up to Grand Rapids to see the exhibit. Thanks for sharing your visit. I don't have the books, but I do watch most of the TV shows.

Marilyn Miller said...

Thanks for the review of this exhibit. A couple tea friends also ventured out to the same exhibit in Grand Rapids. I would love to see it.

Bella Rum said...

Really enjoyed seeing this. Thanks for sharing it. The black Travolta dress was sold. I remember when it was for sale. Travolta bid on it but didn't get it and I can't remember who did.

I'd love to see this exhibit. I recall watching the wedding and when she died it was one of those "Where were you when" moments. You never forget.

Ruth said...

This is a wonderfully satisfying post, Jeanie. I was fascinated by her. I sewed a whole set of Barbie clothes for Lesley from magazine photos of her outfits. I loved her sweet spirit, at least what seemed to be from what I could tell.

These pieces of her in the exhibit are really interesting. I love the photo she gave her father, getting out of her wedding "carriage." I have looked for photos of that moment online without luck. It was the most beautiful moment of the wedding coverage for me. I had a new baby at the time, Lesley, we lived in Pasadena, and I knew she would wake up in the middle of the night at just the right time for a feeding so I could nurse her and watch the wedding unfold. I'll never forget it. I loved the much-awaited dress the first moment I saw her step from the car and people around her unfolding the wrinkled silk train. I was spellbound. While her face was dwarfed by the dress, I found it utterly charming and girl-ish.

The photographs of her in those last years of her life are so indescribably beautiful, it's almost uncanny, especially the black and white portraits.

Vagabonde said...

I went to England the first time at 13 ½ years old and loved it and I have loved the country ever since. I was in London the week before Diana’s wedding and bought a couple of souvenirs. As it happened, I was in Paris a week after she was killed and drove down the same tunnel and saw the marks on the wall. She was a fascinating woman so glamorous but at the same time she looked fragile in a way. I was pleased to also be in London in 1993 the first year Buckingham Palace was opened to visitors – it was gorgeous. I miss England when I don’t go back. The last time was in 2002, just after my mother passed away before Christmas. There were no flight available from Paris to Atlanta so I went to London as there was a seat available on Christmas. I spent Christmas Eve there, alone, just after my mother’s funeral, and being there made me feel a lot better.

Privet and Holly said...

Gosh, I wish
this was coming
to Minneapolis!
What an amazing
show. Like you,
I'm an Anglophile ~
must be my British,
Scottish and Irish
DNA!! Thanks for
sharing the highlights,
xx Suzanne

Sally Wessely said...

I'm going to send a link of this post to my daughter. She will love it. My daughter, only 11 at the time, and I got up early in the day to watch Diana's wedding. She was so enthralled with it all. She also would be so fascinated with seeing this display. Of course, so would I. I don't know if it is coming out to our part of the country or not.

I was struck by the fact that the dresses really had no charm when not on Diana. She gave them glamor and life. I guess it could be said that we noticed her more than the dress when it came right down to it.

Sandy said...

Sounds like a very comprehensive exhibit. After reading your post, I don't feel like I have to see it! Very well done. Glad you got to see it. I always had an interest in Diana but nothing like most people seemed to. I have more enjoyed watching her sons grow up, maybe because of the tragedy of the loss of their mother.

I have always been fascinated by the story of David and Wallis. Which fit right in with movie that won the Best Oscar last night, The King's Speech. I loved the movie and found it very moving.

Arti said...

I've never thought of myself as an 'Anglophile'. But recently due to the movie The King's Speech, I find I have this latent fondness of everything English. Not so much about the Royal family, although Diana I do admire and appreciate, and your post here is so rich and beautiful, a wonderful homage to her. I've been in England several times in recent years, my favorite city is Bath... oh yes, another love of mine is Jane Austen... guess I'm an Anglophile after all!

Susan said...

Hi Jeanie! Thank you for visiting my blog and I just had to come and check you out following that nice comment you left. I can see I will be a regular at your delightful!

I can remember exactly what I was doing when I heard that she had been killed, and I was young, so full of life and finally coming into her own self. This was a lovely presentation. I wish I had seen the exhibit.

Can you believe, my veri word is "prensces"? That's almost princesses, right?

ForgedinPaper said...

Funnily enough I have just finished reading the autobiography of the Queen Mother as I wanted to see The Kings Speech. It was really good but nearly 1000 pages hence the two month read. Do you think that the press photos have been photoshoped at all to make them look better?

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