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Princess Diana's Wedding Dress Designer Turns Sleuth to Reunite Historic Dress with Hearst Family

Simon Perry
Princess Diana's Wedding Dress Designer Turns Sleuth to Reunite Historic Dress with Hearst Family

A stroke of luck has inspired one of the creators of Princess Diana’s iconic wedding dress to reunite a 120-year-old gown with the Hearst family.

Elizabeth Emanuel was gifted the antique pale peach dress so that she could cut it up and use parts in her own imaginative and romantic designs.

But after she was told that the dress might have originated with the Hearst family, Emanuel turned sleuth and after a brief online searches, she found a match — with the dress worn by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the philanthropist and mother of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.

Emanuel posted the image on her Instagram and now members of the famous family have been in touch.

Alamy Stock Photo

There is some symmetry to the story of Emanuel, who worked with Diana — most memorably on the dress that she wore as she launched her royal life — coming across the outfit of another formidable woman of history. Phoebe Hearst is famous for being the mother of the newspaper baron, but was also said to be a leading feminist who campaigned for women’s suffrage.

RELATED: Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress Designer Praises Meghan Markle’s Elegant and Classic Gown

Elizabeth Emanuel | David M Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Maddox Galleryq

The dress’s odyssey started when it was sent over by a friend from Syracuse University, Professor Jeffrey Mayer, who sometimes comes up with oddities that Emanuel can sew into her creations. (She used some gold and metallic looking lace he had sent to make some of Madonna’s outfits she made for the singer’s current tour outfits.)

He sent it over to London with one of his students.

Emanuel tells PEOPLE, “It came in two pieces, it was really pretty. I don’t know why but I just had to find out.”

Elizabeth Emanuel
Elizabeth Emanuel

She typed in a search for “Hearst family” and “evening dress” and the image of Phoebe Hearst came up. “She was wearing the dress! It was just luck – like it was meant to be,” an overjoyed Emanuel says. “This is so important that I said to Jeffrey that I will send it back.”

She is convinced it is the same gown and believes it was bought around 125 years ago in Paris. It was handmade in duchesse satin. “That is a gentle color and it has lace and these little pearls and embroidery and is really delicate — but she sounds like a very strong woman,” she says.

Elizabeth Emanuel

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There were lace sleeves in the picture and they appear to have been removed over the last century. “They often made modifications, but you can tell it is the actual dress.”

“I’d love to show it to the Hearst family,” she adds. “First of all, it ends up here and now it can go back to the Hearst museum — and be part of the family again.”