It is an outfit that would have spawned a thousand front pages – should she have worn it. Princess Diana once considered wearing a full-length, traditional burqa during her 1986 tour of the Gulf, new sketches reveal. The Princess of Wales had the modest item designed and created to wear in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the designers behind her iconic 1981 wedding gown.
The burqa, which featured a large bow beneath the knee, was marked as a reserve outfit, and according to reports was taken on the trip but never used. The royal tour, undertaken 32 years ago, also saw the late royal and her then-husband, Prince Charles, visit Omanand Bahrain.
The Emanuels designed a plethora of ensembles for Princess Diana for the trip, such as a black and white silk duchess satin gown, worn for a visit to King Fahd’s palace. Among the five, original hand-drawn sketches is also a design for a purple faconné dress with diamanté buttons, with each design also featuring attached fabric samples. The sketches are set to go under the hammer later this month at Boston-based auction house RR Auction, as well as related paperwork for the Gulf Tour.
The latter includes a typed signed letter from Princess Diana’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Beckwith-Smith, to Elizabeth Emanuel. The correspondence requested designs for the royal visit, and urged the creative to observe “certain special requirements concerning dress”. “In all cases, modesty is the order of the day,” Beckwith-Smith wrote.
The lot also contains a photograph showing Princess Diana choosing from the designs and fabrics with the Emanuels, as well as a copy of the designers’ invoice for their creations. Despite her royal status, the princess still had to pay for her own clothing, RR Auction revealed in a statement. “It’s a remarkable, comprehensive archive from the famously stylish royal,” said the auction house’s executive vice-president, Bobby Livingston.
All of the creations for the Gulf tour feature modest, high necklines and longer-length sleeves to respect local cultures, with the royal opting to keep her head uncovered.
The archives originates from the shop of the Emanuels, who designed more than 100 different outfits for Princess Diana during their career. The lot will go up for auction on September 25 in Boston, and has been given an estimated value of £24,000 (SAR/AED 114,260).