The ivory taffeta ball gown wedding dress that Princess Diana wore when she married King Charles on July 29, 1981—with its puff sleeves, 10,000 pearls, and a 25-foot train—is one of the most recognizable bridal gowns in the world, so it’s hard to imagine that the beloved royal she could have walked down the aisle in something entirely different. As it turns out, though, that was almost the case. The designer of Lady Di’s influential gown, Elizabeth Emanuel, revealed that she and ex David Emanuel created a second ensemble just in case the original masterpiece was leaked to the public before the big day. Since they managed to keep the initial design a secret, Diana never wore the backup piece. In an exclusive interview with Hello!, the designer revealed the details behind the second ensemble. “The dress was made in pale ivory silk taffeta with embroidered scalloped details on the hem and sleeves,” she describes. “Tiny pearls were sewn on the bodice.”
Elizabeth also shared exclusive photos with the publication, showing sketches of the front and back of the spare dress. The illustrations indicate that the first and second gowns had a few key similarities, including a V-neck with ruffled trim, three-quarter length sleeves, and a billowing skirt. The drawings also demonstrate that the bride would wear a tiara and a cathedra-length veil with the getup.
Otherwise, the backup gown was a completely separate piece. “People always ask you what it was like,” she says. “It was similar in certain respects, and both had the big skirt, but everything else was different. So, it was really just a backup to the original.” Although Diana never ended up wearing the design, Elizabeth isn’t sure who the rightful owner is at the moment. “I don’t know where it went,” she admits. “It just disappeared.”
Before Diana’s big day, Elizabeth, David, and their team at Brook Street in Mayfair, London did everything they could to conceal the details behind the bride’s dress. “[Diana] asked us to keep it very, very secret, which we did, but I think there was so much interest when she did actually wear the black dress that the press wanted to know who is designing her wedding dress, and they had to announce it at that time,” Elizabeth explains. The design team put a lot of effort into keeping the dress confidential. “Our staff was wonderful and very loyal and didn’t talk to anybody and also because we had the dress stored every night in a metal cabinet guarded by two guards, Jim and Bert,” she notes. “So, there was somebody there 24 hours a day, and we put shutters on all our windows, and we put false color threads in the rubbish bins because people were going through our bins.”
Elizabeth also created another dress for Diana’s wedding: a hot pink frock for her pre-wedding ball at Buckingham Palace. According to the outlet, Diana instructed the designer to manufacture “a very sexy dress to shock everyone,” she recalls. Elizabeth shared a rarely-seen photo with Hello!, revealing a dress with a mermaid silhouette, a deep V-neck, and a bold ruffled trim that extended down that bodice. “The fabric was rich silk taffeta in shocking pink, a sexy little number and one that was certain to attract attention,” she shares. “It had a low plunging neckline and was slashed to the knee. She looked stunning!”
Although Diana never wore the secret second look that Elizabeth and David designed, she did actually sport a wardrobe change on her big day. After saying “I do” and before leaving on her honeymoon, Diana changed into a bespoke peach suit with a white frill collar and a matching hat designed by David Sassoon for Bellville Sassoon. The set included both short and long sleeves, so Diana could adjust the getup depending on the temperature that day, Express reports.