St. Petersburg Times: Weekend

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Diana's dresses return

The Princess of Wales' gorgeous gowns, traveling the world for charity, come back to Tampa on Friday.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001

Princess Diana wore elegant gowns, made of the most luxurious fabrics, all over the world. Now, four years after her death, her dresses are still traveling.

Tampa businesswoman Maureen Rorech Dunkel bought 14 of Diana's dresses at a charity auction in the summer of 1997. The dresses were first put on display in Tampa in November 1997 and since then have moved across the United States, to Canada, Britain and New Zealand. This Friday, the dresses return to Tampa, at Centro Ybor.

Princess Diana died only a few weeks after Rorech Dunkel bought the gowns. To continue Diana's legacy of giving to charity, Rorech Dunkel established the People's Princess Charitable Foundation.

In each of the cities the dresses are displayed, the foundation raises money for local charities. To date, more than $1.5-million has been raised. In Tampa, Metropolitan Ministries and the Boys and Girls Club will benefit.

The dresses, designed by Catherine Walker, Victor Edelstein, Bruce Oldfield and Zandra Rhodes, were chosen by Rorech Dunkel to illustrate Diana's evolving style.

"The dresses are a story of her life," said spokeswoman Lisa Brock. "They are a story of her as a fashion icon."

The dresses are heavy, made with fine silks and beaded with intricate detail. Each is displayed on a form that is faithful to the princess's measurements at the time the dress was worn, and each is surrounded by photos of her.

Seven of the 14 dresses that Rorech Dunkel purchased will be featured at Friday's opening. But many people will come to see just one: the one known as the "John Travolta dress."

This dress, made of ink blue silk velvet and designed by Edelstein, was worn by Diana to a White House dinner in 1985. At the dinner, Diana danced with actor John Travolta.

"The dress has every fairy tale element," Brock said.

Each of the dresses has its own story.

One dress, a strapless, pink wild silk gown with a bolero embroidered with pink and white Indian flowers, was worn in 1992 to an Indian state dinner. It was designed by Walker, one of Diana's favorite designers. It has five or six layers of beading and was a perfect fit for the princess' long torso, Brock said.

Along with Diana's dresses, the exhibit will also feature 13 to 15 others, including dresses owned by Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Cher.

Eventually, Diana's dresses will find a home at Kensington Palace, where she once lived. There, the dresses will join royal garments, including Queen Victoria's wedding dress, that span more than 200 years.

At a glance

  • WHAT: Dresses for Humanity: Princess Diana dresses on display
  • WHEN: Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • WHERE: Centro Ybor, next to GameWorks on the north side of Eighth Avenue
  • COST: $10 general admission, $8 seniors, $7.50 for groups of 15 or more

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