LONDON — Elizabeth Emanuel is ready for her next act, and it’s going to be green.
Emanuel, who designed Princess Diana’s frothy, sparkly wedding gown and myriad dresses for the young royal, together with her ex-husband David Emanuel, has taken back control of her name and trademark after the clothing company that had owned it for decades went into administration during lockdown.
“I lost my name in 1996 and it was very challenging for my career,” said Emanuel who, despite her professional ups and downs and financial challenges, has maintained a starry couture and costume clientele including Cher, Madonna (most recently for her Madame X tour last year) Rita Ora, Michelle Obama and the German photographer Ellen von Unwerth.
In the past, Emanuel has also designed costumes for the ballet, theater and for the Virgin Atlantic cabin crew.
She said the former owners had let the trademark lapse in the U.S. and the U.K. and she seized the moment. “Not having control over my name dominated my life. It left me broke and heartbroken. Taking away a designer’s name is like taking away their soul, legacy and past. But now I’m free and there will be no more confusion. My name has been reunited with me,” said the designer on a Zoom call from her sunny London studio.
Relieved and recharged after a year of strategizing during the lockdowns here, Emanuel has recently launched an e-commerce site known as Moulage Heritage. It offers T-shirts and accessories with black-and-white prints based on her original ink drawings and inspired by her love of animals and interest in 18th-century illustrations.
She has also teamed with Teemill, which is based on the Isle of Man, to create T-shirts made from 100 percent Global Organic Textile Standard certified cotton. The shirts are printed one at a time as they are ordered to avoid overstocking.
When they’re finished wearing the shirts, customers can send them back to Teemill to be remanufactured in exchange for money off their next order. The shirts are then upcycled into new products using renewable energy.
Emanuel said that collaborations such as the one with Teemill “are the way forward,” and she’s begun the hunt for new investment.
She needs money, she said, to bring back her team post lockdown; to hire proper management; secure more collaborations and licenses, and launch an online collection of clothing she’s calling E-Couture to Go that will have a contemporary price point and “simple, sustainable packaging.”
She said she’s keen to do smaller, made-to-order collections online via E-Couture and not have the production, distribution, fabric and HR hassles of a traditional ready-to-wear line.
“I can’t wait to get back to work,” she said.
Even as Emanuel looks ahead, she’s keeping a foot rooted in the past and has collaborated with the curators of “Royal Style in the Making,” an exhibition that focuses on 20th-century royals’ relationships with their couturiers and designers.
The show opens June 3 and runs until Jan. 2, 2022, at the Orangery at Kensington Palace.
Emanuel has loaned sketches, fabric swatches and even personal pictures taken while she and David were designing Diana’s wedding dress. She also supplied the working paper pattern she used to cut each piece of fabric, the bolt of lace she employed to decorate the gown’s sleeve, as well as the sketches for the gown.
She didn’t have to spend too much time looking for those bits and pieces. “I’m a hoarder, and I also kept back original material from the dress,” she said.
The memorabilia is displayed in its own case alongside the dress. The back of the dress — and the 25-foot train, which the Emanuels had designed to suit the width of the nave of St. Paul’s Cathedral — is the first thing that visitors see of the dress as they tour the show.
The curators wanted visitors to see the dress as the public outside St. Paul’s would have first glimpsed it watching Diana walk up the steep steps of the church.
Emanuel also helped curators tweak some of the details ahead of the opening. “Bows needed to be puffed out, frills needed to be separated and flounced, and the sleeves needed to be puffed around the elbows. I wanted to make the skirt bigger — after 40 years the petticoat had settled. I wanted it to look exactly as it was delivered to Diana,” the designer said.
Emanuel said it was crucial for the dress in this latest exhibition to look alive, rather than like a museum piece.
While the veil isn’t part of the show, it was a critical part of the look. Emanuel recalled the unforgettable moment of the wind “catching the veil” on the steps of St. Paul’s and said “the dress was designed to be seen through the veil. It was supposed to be like a mist of fairy dust, sparkling over a cloud of taffeta. Magical.”
For her and for David, who is now a TV show host and costume and stage designer, that royal wedding was work, work, work.
Emanuel said that when Diana entered the church, David took care of adjusting the top part of the dress, while she took care of the bottom. “It was all very well organized — and then halfway through we had to leave to prepare for the official photographs being taken.”
She’s clearly proud of her participation in the new exhibition, and said the Kensington Palace curators have done a top job. “They really care, and have been looking after the archive so beautifully.”