"Feel my heart. Feel my heart," said designer David Hollah, pressing the hand of his partner Stevie Stewart against his orange shirt. Responded Stewart excitedly, "It's really beating fast, and so is mine."
Hollah and Stewart, the designers of the Body Map line, were among the nearly 500 guests at the party at Lancaster House tonight celebrating the end of the London fashion shows and exhibition. They had just met Diana, the princess of Wales, for the first time.
Like everyone else, Hollah, who was wearing a Body Map creation that included a white skirt with a bow in front, was impressed by her handsome appearance, pretty complexion and interest in his designs. He gave the princess several of the shiny decals Body Map aficionados wear like tattoos and suggested she put them on her walls. She told him she might.
Wearing a turquoise and fuchsia silk jacquard bathrobe-style dress with a quilted satin shawl collar and cord belt by Belville Sassoon, Diana patiently walked through the three crowded rooms of the party for more than an hour, carrying a spring bouquet for a while, stopping to greet almost everyone.
While she spoke freely with everyone, guests had been warned in a letter accompanying the invitation that they were to bring no notebooks, tape recorders or cameras to record the occasion and could not quote the princess directly when reporting on the event.
All the guests wore color-coded name tags designating them as designers or press; a few tags were marked with red dots that some thought meant they would be singled out for an introduction. But the princess made her way slowly, stopping to chat directly with everyone she passed, red dot or not. The British women curtsied; the Americans extended their hands.
To Eileen Abato, vice president of Woodies, Diana pointed out they were wearing similar dresses, though she said she was sure Abato's was American and hers was English. Abato, who was wearing a black and gold brocade bathrobe dress by Kasper, was stunned.
"She's beautiful. And I don't think I will ever be the same," Abato said breathlessly.
Escorted through the crowd by Norman Lamont, the British minister of state for industry, Diana was told by many of the huge success of recent English fashion collections.
"You really have helped a lot by encouraging us all, which was helping the industry a lot," said designer Paul Smith, who reminded her that she wore his blue shirt in her official engagement photograph.
Diana shook her head shyly when some suggested that she personally had boosted London fashion. "Just the fact that you came to the Olympia [exhibition hall] to see the fashion fair six months ago gave everyone a lift," said Marjorie Deane, chairman of The Tobe Report, a trade publication. "By tomorrow everyone's going to want to be wearing bathrobe dresses," she said later.
The princess knew many of the designers and she thanked Zandra Rhodes for a pink dress that had recently been sent her way.
Before her marriage to Charles, she was helped in her clothes selections by Vogue magazine editors. But more recently she has gotten to know many of the designers, particularly Caroline Charles, Murray Arbeid, Jasper Conran, Bruce Oldfield and the Emanuels. She goes through the racks in the designers' showrooms to make her choices, but the clothes are fitted at the palace.
It didn't seem to bother designer Caroline Charles or the others that the princess had not worn one of their styles for the party. "A dress is a dress is a dress. She'll wear our dresses another time," she said philosophically.
The princess told David Sassoon, of Belville Sassoon, that she had decided not to wear the cobalt blue satin pants he made to go with her bathrobe dress, at least not for this occasion. Sassoon said later that he had no idea she was going to wear his design tonight. "She looked wonderful, didn't she," he said proudly. He had made the outfit some time ago and didn't know if she had worn it before.
One designer who concocted a special outfit for herself was Rachel Auburn, who was wearing a white long-line bra, a white jersey miniskirt, white lace-up pantyhose she kept having to tie and white platform sneakers. And a white boa she wore like a wig. In a plastic bag she had a white blouse she wanted to give to Princess Diana.
"Lady Di introduced herself and I said to her, 'Oh, you look very lovely,' " said Auburn after the reception. The princess told the designer she liked her outfit. "I explained that it was snowing out and so I thought I would wear the white feather boa." The princess offered that it was very becoming and noticeable. "She commented about my handbag, which isn't quite Chanel but an ordinary plastic grocery bag, and she the princess thought that was very practical." Auburn totally forgot to give the princess the bag with the white blouse. The princess said she would try to visit Auburn in her shop called Spend Spend Spend.
Exactly at 8, when the party was scheduled to be over, the princess left. "Now the big problem begins," said one of the guests. "How do you top a princess? What do you do for an encore?"