Looking back at her 1989 trip to Abu Dhabi on the anniversary of her death, what is most clear was Princess Diana’s unparalleled ability to stand out from the crowd, particularly in terms of her fashion choices.
The first thing that jumps out is how dated her fashion choices now seem - a veritable A to Z of 1980s power dressing. However, in spite of the oversized shoulders and enormous white sunglasses, her wardrobe had the desired impact of drawing all eyes to her. During their no doubt extensive engagements in the heat and humidity, Prince Charles looked crumpled, while Diana looked cool and composed.
She set the tone from the moment she stepped off the plane, wearing a blue-lapelled Catherine Walker suit and matching wide-brimmed, turbanned hat. Completely covering her hair, the turban was a bold solution to cultural sensitivities. It is interesting to note that her head and hair became steadily less covered as the trip wore on, and she transitioned from turban to hat to nothing at all.
Elsewhere on the tour, Diana’s choice of oversized polka dots and vast brimmed hats showed that she had no fear of standing out. While her daughter-in-law (and arguably modern day counterpart) Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge seems to favour sensible, demure looks that blend in with her surroundings, Diana was utterly unafraid to make a statement. One look during her Abu Dhabi trip consisted of a clashing pink and red dress – always a tricky combination – that skillfully overshadowed everyone around her, including, dare we say it, her royal hosts.
For us, the real style highlight is seen in images of Diana sitting cross-legged in the majlis, wearing white trousers under a blue and white tunic. Bareheaded and effortlessly graceful, in perfect symphony with the blue embroidered cushions that she is leaning against, she is the embodiment of casual elegance.
Whatever her style choices, at every point in the trip she stood out from the crowd. A prime example comes in an image of the royal couple seated in grand, gilded chairs. Having chosen to wear beige and gold, the prince all but vanishes against the furniture, while Diana, in a pale pink high-necked dress, stands out perfectly. A little later, donning enormous blocky white sunglasses, hair ruffled by a breeze, and smiling and laughing with abandon, she completely steals the show.
Revisiting images of the late princess, it becomes all too obvious that while her clothes may look woefully dated now, in her grasp of the power of imagery and appearances, she was years ahead of her time.