According to Elizabeth Emanuel, one of Diana’s bridal gown designers, the train was too long to unroll in her showroom, so they had the final fitting at Buckingham Palace.
Princess Diana’s iconic wedding dress took months for her bridal gown designers, Elizabeth and David Emanuel, to create, but the former husband-and-wife duo only saw their full vision come to life during the final fitting. During an exclusive interview with Hello!, Elizabeth shared a behind-the-scenes look at the process of designing Diana’s taffeta puff sleeve ball gown for her wedding to King Charles III in 1981. According to Elizabeth, right before Diana tied the knot, the design team moved their final fitting to Buckingham Palace, so they could assess the garment and determine whether it needed any tweaks. It was the first time Diana and her designers saw the outfit in full, including the 25-foot train. “We had a final fitting at Buckingham Palace, where—for the first time—we were able to unravel the train because our showroom was very small,” Elizabeth explains. “So we had to wait until we went to the palace and use one of the corridors to unroll the train, which is 25 feet long!"
Throughout the design process, the husband-and-wife team went above and beyond to carefully conceal every detail about Diana’s wedding dress in an attempt to keep the final look away from the press. While they were creating the piece, they had a team of security guard them, and they even locked up the frock in a safe every night once they were done working for the day, the outlet notes. Since the final fitting took place at Buckingham Palace, Elizabeth and David made sure to take the same precautionary measures while transporting the valuable item. They ended up transferring the dress in garment bags from their studio in Mayfair, London to the palace. After the final fitting, the getup had to travel once again—this time, from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House, where Diana got ready for her nuptials.
The royal family gave the designers complete creative freedom to come up with an array of potential designs for Diana’s wedding dress. According to Elizabeth, when she first revealed those design concepts, which covered the floor of her showroom, to Lady Di and her mother, they appeared to be in shock. “I’m sure it must have been quite a daunting sight for the future princess and her mother who sat stunned and speechless for the first few minutes,” Elizabeth shares. “We waited for a response for what seemed ages, and then, the smiles broke out.”
Finally, they selected a “very theatrical, very dramatic” piece, featuring lace-trimmed puff sleeves, a ruffled neckline, and a 25-foot train. “We knew the wedding was going to be in St. Paul’s, and that’s huge inside, so we wanted the dress to stand out,” Elizabeth explains. “But also for Diana, we wanted to make her look like a fairy princess.” Since Diana didn’t have any specific instructions on how she wanted the dress to look, Elizabeth and David went over the top. “[We said,] ‘Let’s do it. Let’s go crazy. St. Paul’s [has] this huge, big aisle. Let’s put all the frills on the lace, everything, and make it the ultimate fairy princess dress,” Elizabeth recalls. “And we did that.”
That’s partially why the frock has become one of the most recognizable and influential wedding dresses to date. “There had never been a gown like that before, mainly because we weren’t given any constraints,” she says. “And we were just out of college, and we just loved designing and flamboyance and were all into lace and frills and ruffles, and it was the age of new romance.”
Elizabeth and David also created a secret backup wedding dress for Diana to wear in case the first one was leaked to the public. “At the time, we wanted to make absolutely sure that the dress was a surprise,” David notes. “We didn’t try it on Diana. We never even discussed it. We wanted to make sure that we had something there. It was for our own peace of mind really.” The designers recently revealed never-before-seen photos of the spare design. The second frock still had the V-neck with ruffled trim, three-quarter length sleeves, and a billowing skirt, like the original design, but otherwise, it was a completely separate look.