The floral shift dress by Catherine Walker is one of 25 outfits in the exhibition at the late royal’s former home of Kensington Palace that opens next week. Diana: Her Fashion Story debuts at the palace on Feb. 24.
Diana wore the cream printed silk dress to a launch party for her sale of 79 dresses at Christies in N.Y.C. on June 23, 1997. The sale raised over $4 million for charity and signified a fresh start in her life as she cleared out her closet for the cause. Tragically, she died in a car crash in Paris a little over two months later on August 31.
“It is embellished with beautiful sequins that give it a lustrous sheen when she walked,” Eleri Lynn, curator of the exhibition, tells PEOPLE of the dress. “It’s quite a simple design and that was a conscious effort to focus attention on the very glamorous dresses that were being sold.”
Designed by the late Catherine Walker, it has an intricate motif of coffee-colored roses that was created by Walker’s husband Said Cyrus in an early form of computer-generated drawing.
“This was my first attempt to design a textile using computer graphics software (CorelDRAW),” Cyrus tells PEOPLE. “I used a soft grey and beige and the embroidery followed the print in iridescent sequins and crystals so the color of the textile came through. Both my wife and I felt the subdued tones were appropriate for New York in a less-is-more way.”
Catherine Walker – which is marking its 40th anniversary as a design house this year — has the lion’s share of the 25 outfits that will be on show at Kensington Palace. Diana favored the designer as she wore her outfits for more public engagements than anyone else.
“Catherine Walker liked to design for the princess as a woman, and create things that Diana would enjoy wearing,” Lynn says. “But the style they created together was a very slender, fluid silhouette which did away with the frills and ruffles of the early ’80s and created a sleek silhouette that really flattered the princess’s frame and became a timeless look for her. A royal uniform if you like.”
She adds, “Fashion is such a good way to talk about Diana, Princess of Wales, because although she didn’t like to be known as a clothes horse, she understood the language of clothes and used clothes to do the job in hand. It was such a way to articulate her public role.”