February 28, 2013

{Why Diana?} Part Two: "Diana as Messenger"

Divided into three blog posts, this is part two of the Author's Note, "Why Diana?," from my book-in-progress, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Rescued the Damsel in Distress.]


Nevertheless, since her wedding, Diana’s life had never really touched mine until at summer’s end in 1997 with news of her death. I can picture the moment I read the bold newspaper headline as I sat on my cozy screened-in porch that Sunday morning. I was at home in Atlanta and felt a mixed sense of disbelief, sadness and for a split second, a remembrance of another Sunday morning headline more than thirty years before. Then, even as a sheltered little girl in rural Alabama, I wondered how I could feel so sad at the death of a young, beautiful blonde Hollywood movie star who I only knew by image, yet felt some “connection.” And now here that “pit-in-my-stomach emptiness” was again. What is this energy that happens to a body at the death of a person whose iconic images were all we knew?

However, in the days to follow that Diana headline jolt was when I became truly intrigued by her. “For many people…Princess Diana has become far more interesting since her death than ever she was during her life,”English writer and Jungian analyst Warren Colman shared soon after Diana died. That’s when I began to look beyond appearances to the person “who could inspire such an enormous response in so many people”—the real person distinct from the image. She was eulogized by the Dean of Westminster as “someone for whom from afar we all dared to feel affection, and by whom we were all intrigued,” Simone Simmons wrote. “Intrigued”—here was that word again; a word that conjures up a sense of magic. Who was this “messenger” that captured the world’s attention and heart? What was the big picture of her life and mission? With the approach of a new millennium swirling in on the wings of shifting feminine energies, were we moving into the dynamics of a Diana-influenced perfect storm: global, transformative and heart-centered?

Diana in death seemed to be leading people through the depths of a powerful rite-of-passage; transmuting their grief into heart opening energy as they let go of an inheritance of sorrow and karmic boundaries—like a spiritual cleansing down to our bones. Yet there were many who considered the outpouring of grief at the shock of her death just more of the “Diana hysteria” they had witnessed during her lifetime. But then, looking back, in the wake of such a transformation, no one was untouched by these old emotional barriers falling or the new consciousness bubbling up. The week between Diana’s death and her memorial service seemed to be a time of “readying”—preparing the world for major transitions. As Simmons said in her biography published soon after her friend’s death: “the tragedy will prove to be as valuable as her life….”

I was in London a month or so after Diana’s funeral service (my last buying trip there before I closed my store a couple of years later at the end of 1999) and all the local designers and antique dealers I called on spoke of that week between Diana’s death and the televised service in Westminster Abbey. They had never felt the city so still. They shared that the few people who were on the streets were quiet, reverent, as though in a daze. Some people—including themselves, their friends and clients—were openly emotional, expressing deep sorrow even if they had not been “fans” of the princess. I understand such open emotion was not typical for the British, but then, other mysteries were emerging as well. “We had never seen anything like this, we had never been like this,” journalist and feminist Beatrix Campbell wrote. “Or rather we didn’t know that we had been like this before.” ~

[Divided into three blog posts, this is part two from the Author's Note, "Why Diana?," in my book-in-progress, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Rescued the Damsel in Distress. Part Three: "Called to Write" will be posted soon! (For the other parts of this three-part post, click on "Why Diana?" in label list below.)]

February 13, 2013

{Why Diana?} Part One

[Divided into three blog posts, this is part one of the Author's Note, "Why Diana?," from my new, upcoming book The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Rescued the Damsel in Distress.]

 And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.  ~AnaŃ—s Nin

My interest in Princess Diana went in and out over the years, but it began, as for many, in early 1981 at the engagement of a prince—the heir to a mythical throne who was considered one of the world’s most eligible bachelors. And his intended was a young, pretty girl who seemed to have a light about her. I don’t think anyone imagined, however, the impact of her real mission until much later.

Looking forward to the royal wedding for months, I watched Prince Charles marry Lady Diana Spencer in the summer morning anticipation of whatever it is that weddings, royal or otherwise, stir in us. I stayed in touch with Diana’s life because her wedding had influenced my own life by galvanizing an outdated bridal industry, changing the nature of weddings. Since I had opened a “bridal art-to-wear” store in Atlanta on the wave that followed Diana’s glittering event, my shop’s designers were called on to make versions of elegant, hand-beaded, trimmed with antique lace “Diana princess gowns” for our bridal customers.

Although there was something fascinating about the charismatic young princess, I had little interest after a few years in the gossipy presentation of Charles and Diana’s life and marriage. (“Nagging, moody wife drives exasperated prince back into the arms of the woman he had loved all along!”) There was, nevertheless, a sweetness that trickled out in the images and stories of Diana’s tenderness as a mother and Charles’ softening with fatherhood. And since the couple had kept global attention focused on the British monarchy, the next royal wedding a few years later (when Prince Andrew wed Sarah Ferguson) brought me back into the regal fold for a short time. The tabloid terrors that followed, however, all seemed too embarrassing to watch.

But Diana did catch my interest during those “soap opera” years when she seemed to follow her intuitive heart and I’d see images of her with children or the elderly or especially with AIDS patients—a huge break-through at the time—and there was that light again around her and the people she touched. Even during the media-hounded dramas and shenanigans, her compassionate attention seemed to carry that light along with her.

Perhaps nudged along because of my previous work in New York’s fashion magazine industry or perhaps because human beings are simply attracted by a woman’s remarkable beauty, but I perked up once again when Princess Diana, around the time of her divorce, became a striking fashion plate—enhanced by with her long, lean, toned body. Yet Diana held my attention in another way. It was following that particular rite-of-passage—divorce from her official royal life—when she appeared to move toward a bigger purpose and, in turn, I became curious how she might use the power and position of her world platform. Startling beauty and charisma like hers help sell compassion, but what else was weaving through Diana’s energy? Something beyond appearances was stirring.

My shop focused on the clothes and gifts for life’s rites-of-passage; not only weddings, but with our work to beautifully restore vintage Edwardian “whites,” we also dressed family celebrations that included christenings, confirmations and graduations. During this time, I became more interested in the nature of these passages throughout a girl and woman’s life. As my designers created the garments and accessories, I studied and learned about the ancient heritage of these intimate ceremonies of connection and transition as well as the importance of how costumes shaped the wearers’ inner and outer transformation. I watched as Princess Diana moved through the adult rites-of-passage of her life without the benefit of privacy or with little opportunity, it seemed, for self-reflection, but something had shifted. With the more polished yet womanly changes in her looks, clothes and stature (no longer hiding that she was a sexual woman); and with a glowing radiance (that had nothing to do with her glamour and royalty)—she seemed released in some way, projecting an “every woman” message. And women around the world took notice. ~

[Divided into three blog posts, this is part one from the Author's Note, "Why Diana?," in my new, upcoming book The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Rescued the Damsel in Distress. Part Two: "Diana as Messenger" will be posted soon! (For the other parts of this three-part post, click on "Why Diana?" in label list below.)]



February 3, 2013

{Who's Inside the Dress}

 [The following is an excerpt from my book-in-progress, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, that uses Princess Diana's life as a 'backdrop' to view and illuminate our own. This is from a section called "Loving the Skin We're In."]

While the royal wedding was being planned and arrangements organized, much of Diana’s attention—like for many brides before and since—went to the dress. In my wedding articles and blogs, I ask brides: What image do you want to remain in the imagination of your guests? It’s not the vision of a lovely woman in a beautiful gown that really inspires. What remains unforgettable and inspiring is when that image is infused with the beauty of an open heart. Being included in the intimacy of the day is the real gift people take home and feel when they recall the image of the bride. Perhaps that’s what makes some wedding dresses themselves so memorable: they were chosen with that same open-hearted, “being in love” attention.

Diana chose the Emanuels—the husband and wife team known for their “full blown romantic style” as described by costume writer Kay Staniland—to design her wedding gown. And I thought her selection was perfectly aligned with the “goddess energy” stirring around her. The designers’ intent, following Diana’s lead, was “to transform [her] into a fairy princess”—and this included lots of flowing silk tulle veils. But it seems the young princess-to-be innately knew how to present herself with the aura of a fairy-tale princess by the choice of such a feminine confection. Her appearance captured the imagination of the world looking in (some say it tapped into the spirit of the Divine Feminine), and—like an inspired, striking physical appearance can do—it not only started fashion trends, but it also changed something fundamental: women’s relationship with themselves as a bride and as a woman.

In later years, the more sophisticated and worldly Diana (who now wore more tailored and simple, sleek clothes) lamented about her choice of the romantically fluffy wedding gown design she selected as a teenager. Maybe this was due in part because the gown’s elaborate design—breaking with a tradition of toned down and sparse styles of the previous two decades—had received criticism from some fashion quarters. Yet thirty years later, on the eve of her son William’s wedding, a survey of 5000 women voted Diana’s dress the “best ever” over a long list of other royal and celebrity brides and their choice of gown.

Diana’s full veil was also criticized at the time as a step backwards for women’s self-expression. But—as I wrote years later about my experiences dressing brides in my shop during the 1980s and 90s—I felt wearing that kind of sheer, gossamer, over-the-face veil gently enveloped the bride in a lovely stillness. Perhaps this was a holdover from what I saw with Diana as a bride and the choices she made. I’m sure I was thinking of her and other brides who had intuitively chosen to wear a veil when I wrote in my book, The Bride’s Ritual Guide: Look Inside to Find Yourself:

As I dressed and fitted brides in the quiet privacy of my shop, I shared this impression with them: “Imagine the bridal veil representing the mystery of womanhood. Wrapped in a gossamer cloud, the veil reveals the woman.”

Then some enchantment would always follow. As I attached a veil to the headpiece in the bride’s hair, I watched closely as she turned to her image in the mirror. Her eyes widened, her face softened, her heart opened and then a little gasp as she looked at her reflection, like some long lost recognition remembered.

When we put our attention inside, it always opens us to notice what’s outside of us in a deeper, more profound way. Whether it’s a flower or the person standing in front of us, when we are really present, then they are really there. And if it’s wearing a wedding veil as a bride that will do the trick, then so be it!

Like all rituals of the marriage ceremony, the various wedding costume components—the special gowns and veils, tiaras and flower garlands; the sashed uniforms and polished boots, top hats and crowns—whatever the time and place and fashion require of the bridal couple, all the wardrobe pieces play their part. This fanciful wedding garb was originally designed to have us feel the moment, to put us on notice of a change to come, that a passage of life is opening its endearments; and the intimacy of how each item feels on our skin is a reminder to slow down, look within and be aware of who is inside the costume! ~

[This is an excerpt from my book-in-progress, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride, that uses Princess Diana's life as a 'backdrop' to view and illuminate our own. This is from a section called "Loving the Skin We're In."]