fashion

Princess Diana's wedding dress designer shares his tips on how to pick your perfect gown.

Princess Diana hand-picked David Emanuel from the pages of Vogue to design her wedding dress in 1981.

The Welsh fashion designer, who has been in Australia promoting his new jewellery collectionis “hugely proud” of the dress which he says became his “passport around the world”.

The dress – which he created with his then wife Elizabeth Emanuel – was seen by over 700 million people.

Princess Diana and Price Charles on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Image via Getty.

"The icing on the cake for me was when Princess Diana went on her honeymoon with Prince Charles, she rang my studio and called to say that she loved the gown, the royal family loved the gown and Charles loved it," said Emanuel.

"I wouldn’t change a thing. It was appropriate for the time and for the client. The Emanuel name at that time was the height of romance. You’d seen it in Vogue and all the glossies and they expected something very romantic. And of course the scale had to be large because it was St Paul’s. But every bride is different, every location, every situation is different so you design accordingly. It has to suit the girl and the venue and the occasion."

Emanuel now helps others find the perfect dress on Say Yes to the Dress UK - and he has agreed to help me with my own wedding dress hunt.

The 64-year-old gave me his best tips on finding the perfect dress - good enough for a beloved princess.

Listen to Mamamia's podcast The Recap, where we discuss the latest episode of Married at First Sight. Post continues after audio. 

What is the only piece of wedding dress advice you ever need? (and did you share it with Princess Diana?)

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Keep an open mind. Please. And be objective. I do this show called Say Yes To The Dress and we get many women coming in who want a fishtail dress. It looks fabulous in pictures but you can’t sit or dance in them. But keep an open mind and go in and speak to your bridal consultant. That’s what they do – it’s their job. They are there to find a gown that’s right for you. Are you flamboyant, fun, reserved, classical, low key? Be open to it. And listen. And only try on gowns within your budget.

"Bring someone you trust."

They come now these brides with an entourage of 6-8 people and future mother-in-law. Diana came with one person – her mother. Enough. She didn’t need the world there. Bring someone with you that you trust and trust their taste. If you bring your BFF they will only like the things that they like, they’re not thinking of the bride. Bring someone who’s objective and whose taste you admire.

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When should I be looking for a wedding dress? And where?

Normally in the UK they like a lead time of nine months so I would say a year. It’s probably the same here. You could do a little research online but please don’t buy online. That will be a disaster. Go into a store.

How close to the wedding should you purchase your dress so it fits right?

Buy the dress nine to twelve months before the wedding. Then a month before the wedding go in and have it fitted with final adjustments.

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What do you need to do before looking for a dress?

Start with going through your closet and seeing what styles you’ve got that you like. Look at various bridal magazines, go online. Look at your friends’ wedding gowns when you go to their weddings. What I found is brides have a vision of what they think they look like and mothers have a vision of what their daughter should look like and those visions don’t always meet. So that’s when the fun begins.

    1. Get your shoes early. Wear them in at home and to every fitting until you’re really comfortable in them. 

    2. If you’re going for a Cinderella princess gown ask for a petticoat and practice at home quietly. Practice walking at home. Practice sitting, practice getting up, practice walking until you get used to it.

    3. If a bride decides on a strapless gown, make sure it fits. You don’t want to see brides tugging at their bodices the whole time – it’s terribly unchic.

How long should it take to find a dress? Should there be a time limit?

Be warned: Most brides over-shop. And they get into a state, faintly hysterical. Of course, it’s a big day, a big buy. One of the most expensive things you’ll buy other than your house. You can get ready to wear but if you want to make a statement it’s best to plan. Don’t try on 40 gowns. That’s crazy.

Time limit: probably a year for location and gown.

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I’m an 8 above the waist and a 10 below – what style is a good match for a shape like me?

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Having a tiny bodice with a big skirt makes you look tinier which is fun. Try a bias cut. Or you could try a fishtail. The trick with the fishtail look is don’t have it tight because it will be terribly uncomfortable. Don’t forget you’ll be wearing it all day.

What is the key to accessorising on your wedding?

Once you’ve got the gown that’s your base and you work from that. I would say if you’ve got quite an extravagant gown don’t go for an extravagant veil, should you wear a veil. It depends how personal you want to make it. The key things are, if you think of it in a traditional way, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

There might be a family piece of jewellery. I think to create the whole look you’ve got to think about the hair. Big, big decision with hair. How are you going to dress it? Big decision with your make up and of course you’ve got to have a trial.  And at that stage you look at your jewellery options, whether it’s a necklace, a pair of earrings, whatever the pieces are, ideally from my new collection with Clogau. You could argue less is more but I always think in photographs particularly from the waist up you’ve got to be very aware and don’t over-adorn. If in doubt, keep it simple.

Part of the Clogau collection. Image supplied.

What are the bridal trends for bridal earrings?

You can go for anything from my Clogau collection which is deeply romantic. I’ve got two themes. One is hearts, which is perfect for a bride, and the other one is stars; both very romantic images. So if you think of hearts, you think of love, you think of the bride. If you think of stars, to look up to the stars is a romantic theme. So you’ve got that. Then you’ve always got diamonds, diamond drops. And then of course traditionally there might even be pearls in the family, even if you don’t own your own, perhaps borrowed or treat yourself to some pearls. Please keep away from vulgar diamante. Huge, huge drops – that’s not a good look.

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What should you do with the dress after the big day?

This is easy. If it’s a natural fabric such as silk, don’t wrap it up in acid free tissue as if it’s a museum piece and keep it for your daughter. Your daughter will not love it. It’s a lovely idea but not good in practice. Natural fabric you can chop and dye. I’ve done one that you can convert into a cocktail dress or a party dress but you can’t do that with synthetics.

Restyle it into a party gown. Take off the bodice and wear with evening pants. I don’t like the idea of running into the sea with them or burning them. Finally, you can give it to a charity store and let someone else wear it and enjoy it.

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To sum up, here are David Emanuel's top tips for the wedding dress hunt:

  1. Be organized

  2. Give yourself plenty of time

  3. Be objective

  4. Trust your bridal consultant

  5. Enjoy the experience. It’s a lovely occasion. Don’t get stressed – you should enjoy it.

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