Dresses that tell a story: Princess Diana's life in fashion

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 1985 photo provided by the Ronald Reagan Library, actor John Travolta dances with Princess Diana at a White House dinner in Washington. This outfit is featured in an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, opening on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Ronald Reagan Library via AP, File)
A Victor Edelstein dress in midnight blue silk velvet, worn by Diana Princess of Wales at a State Dinner at the White House in 1985, on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana, Princess of Wales entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
FILE - In this Nov. 9, 1985 file photo, Diana, Princess of Wales, left, speaks with U.S President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy during a visit to the White House in Washington. This outfit is featured in an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, opening on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (AP Photo,file)
A red day suit designed by Caroline Walker, and worn by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1996 when she launched a HIV/Aids Charity London Lighthouse appeal, is on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
FILE - In this Oct. 8, 1996 file photo, Diana, Princess of Wales walks past the press in London. This outfit is featured in an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, opening on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Adrian Dennis, file)
FILE - In this 1989 file photo, Diana, Princess of Wales smiles during an official visit to Hong Kong. This dress is part of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, opening on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Liu Heung Shing, file)
An evening dress by Catherine Walker of white silk crepe and a sequin and pearl embroidered jacket and worn by Diana, Princess of Wales on an official visit to Hong Kong 1989 on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
FILE - In this May 5, 1985 file photo, Diana, Princess of Wales wears a blue tartan Emanuel suit during an official visit to Venice, Italy, with Britain's Prince Chalres. This outfit is featured in an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, opening on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017.(/PA via AP)
FILE - In this Aug. 19, 1981 file photo, Britain's Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales pose for photographers during their honeymoon in Balmoral, Scotland. This outfit is featured in an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, opening on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (PA via AP, file)
A photograph by Mario Testino of Diana, Princess of Wales is seen through two dress that she wore during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A selection of coats and outfits worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, including at right, a brown tweed wool day suit by Bill Pashley, which she wore on her honeymoon in Scotland 1981, during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana, Princess of Wales entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
An evening dress by Catherine Walker of white silk crepe embroidered with sequins and worn by Diana, Princess of Wales on an official visit to South Africa in 1986 on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
An evening dress by Catherine Walker of green sequins and worn by Diana, Princess of Wales on an official visit to Austria 1986and two other events on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A detail of a Versace ice blue silk gown with beading, worn by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1991 for a Bazaar magazine shoot with photographer Partick Demarchelier, is on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A burgundy silk velvet evening dress by Catherine walker and worn by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1990 at a film premier and on an official visit to South Korea in 1992, is on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A detail of a dress by Bruce Oldfield of satin and lace over bodice and worn by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1990 at the Courtauld Institute of Art and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace in 1991, is on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A member of staff at Kensington Palace looks at a selection of dresses including at centre a dress by Bruce Oldfield of satin and lace over bodice and worn by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1990 at the Courtauld Institute of Art and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace in 1991, on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Versace ice blue silk gown with beading, centre, worn by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1991 for a Bazaar magazine shoot with photographer Partick Demarchelier, is on display during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A member of staff at Kensington Palace looks at a Catherine Walker grey silk satin dress worn by Diana, Princess of Wales at a Vanity Fair photo shoot by Mario Testino 1997, and a state banquet with the King of Malaysia in 1992, during a media preview of an exhibition of 25 dresses and outfits worn by Diana, entitled "Diana: Her Fashion Story" at Kensington Palace in London, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON — The dresses tell the story of a life cut short: first the frilly debutante frocks Princess Diana wore before she married Prince Charles, then the elaborate gowns that stunned the world, and finally the power suits she favored shortly before her death.

It's been 20 years since Diana died in a Paris car crash at the age of 36, but the public's fascination with her life — and her clothes — lives on. A new exhibition that opens Friday at Kensington Palace, her home for many years, will give the public a chance to see extraordinary fashion pieces up close for the first time.

The workmanship is refined, some of the designs are simple in concept and execution, while others clearly took careful thought and meticulous preparation.

One room features designers' sketches for Diana dresses, offering insight into the vision behind many of her choices.

Deirdre Murphy, senior curator at the Historic Royal Palaces, said Diana was unique in the way she used clothes to communicate — and also a risk-taker willing to challenge the unwritten conventions of royal dress. She said Diana captured the "mystique" of being a princess even as she occasionally dressed down in jeans and a baseball hat.

"Somehow women all over the world saw a piece of themselves in the princess," the curator said. "She got her image across and her ideas across using clothing in a really sophisticated, really smart, really thoughtful way."

The display opens with a lacy party dress Diana wore to a ball at her family home, Althorp, in 1979 and includes many of her most famous outfits. Here are some of the most illustrious:

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DANCING THE NIGHT AWAY, WITH JOHN TRAVOLTA.

Diana was married to Prince Charles, and a guest of President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, but that didn't stop her from tearing up the dance floor with John Travolta at a White House state dinner in 1985.

Photographers of Diana and the dashing young Travolta dominated newspapers throughout the world, showcasing the midnight blue silk velvet evening dress designed by Victor Edelstein. It remains one of her most famous outfits.

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DIANA'S ELVIS PERIOD

Catherine Walker, who died in 2010, became one of Diana's favorite designers. To prepare for an official visit to Hong Kong in 1989, she designed a strapless white silk crepe and jacket embroidered with sequins and pearls. Its sparkly look, and high collar, reminded fashion writers of the jump suits favored by Elvis Presley late in his career.

She looked resplendent in the outfit, topping it with a jeweled tiara.

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THE BOXY LOOK

Diana turned to Emanuel, designer of her wedding gown, for a 1985 official royal visit to Italy. A coat and skirt in green, blue and black was cut in the boxy shape in favor at the time.

The tartan wool day suit was not well received by critics who didn't find it flattering.

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HONEYMOON HOPES

For her honeymoon photos with Charles taken in the lovely Scottish countryside, Diana turned to designer Bill Pashley for a casual, comfortable brown tweed woolen day-suit.

She had two versions made — and chose to wear the larger one on her honeymoon because the extra room allowed her to participate in outdoor activities more easily. Its tweed motif pays tribute to the countryside traditions.

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POWER DRESSING PRINCESS STYLE

Diana relied heavily on Walker at various times in her life, and she turned to Walker again in the years just before her death to help her refine a "working princess" style in line with her plan to devote more time to charitable activities.

She wore a red day suit by Walker to launch an AIDS charity appeal in 1996. Walker called the outfits she was working on at this phase a "royal uniform" for Diana, who was outspoken in her support of AIDS victims.

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