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NBC’s Michelle Kosinski (right) gets an advance look at the new Kensington Palace exhibit of Princess Diana’s fashions.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 3/20/2012 10:43:30 AM ET 2012-03-20T14:43:30

England's Kensington Palace may not have name recognition quite as immediate as Buckingham Palace, but its rich and storied history is no less compelling. And now visitors will be able to look back at the fashions of one of the palace's most famous dwellers in a new Princess Diana exhibit when the palace reopens its doors to the public after a major renovation.

The new exhibit showcases some of the most iconic dresses and gowns the late Princess wore at key moments of her years in the royal family — five in all, including her famous "little black dress" by Versace and a sari-style dress designed by Catherine Walker for a goodwill trip to Thailand.

Royal faux pas? Camilla dons Diana’s jewels

And TODAY viewers got an early look at what will be the first public display of the stunning — and controversial — black taffeta floor-length gown Princess Di wore at her first official palace outing back in 1981.

TODAY
Memorabilia of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert will also be on display.

In the Tuesday report that provided the sneak preview, NBC's Michelle Kosinski noted that Di's gown was regarded as “daring and sexy” at the time, raising eyebrows with its low cut and tight fit. But in a sign of how times have changed, Duchess Kate, wife of Di’s son Prince William, recently wore an almost identical gown and was lauded for looking elegant.

Slideshow: Princess Diana's most iconic style moments (on this page)

The Princess Di exhibit marks the reopening of Kensington Palace after a two-month, $20 million renovation. Visitors will not only get to gaze at Di's black gown — sold at auction for $300,000 last year — but will see the fashions and prized items of an earlier royal resident, Queen Victoria.

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Built in the early 17th century, Kensington Palace became an official royal residence in 1689. Its standing with the royal family has ebbed and flowed over the centuries since. Victoria, who began her 63-year rule as queen in 1837, was born there and made it her home with Prince Albert during the long reign that gave rise to the term "Victorian Era."

Video: See Princess Di’s iconic gowns at Kensington (on this page)

Following her death in 1901, Kensington Palace dimmed in the public eye — until Charles and Diana decided to make it their royal residence after their 1981 marriage.

Slideshow: Slideshow: Princess Diana's life (on this page)

And now, Prince William, who grew up in the palace, and makes it his marital home with Duchess Kate as well. The couple will soon move into an apartment there that Princess Margaret once called home. (Of course, the term "apartment" is relative when it comes to royals; William and Kate's new digs include four stories and 20 rooms.)

But tourists won't get to ogle William and Kate's kitchen or bedroom — only the palace's state rooms are open to the public.

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Video: See Princess Di’s iconic gowns at Kensington

Photos: Style

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  1. Princess Diana's most iconic style moments

    Princess Diana had it all – grace, beauty and style. Take a look back at the late royal's most unforgettable fashion choices.

    1980
    Still lacking a royal clothing allowance, the teenage teacher's assistant topped her romantic pink evening gown with a plain wool coat for Princess Margaret's 50th birthday bash.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 1981

    She collaborated on her wedding gown with little-known design team David and Elizabeth Emanuel. "In the end, the design process was quite simple because it was just the three of us," the duo wrote in "A Dress for Diana." They had the future princess slip sample dresses on over her jeans: "She was terribly excited to be trying on huge bouffant petticoats, satin skirts and boned bodices." The final garment was made of British-woven silk and featured a dramatic 25-foot train.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Landov via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 1981

    When Shy Di met with the press on her Scottish honeymoon, her finery was limited to her Welsh gold wedding ring inscribed with a message from the prince: "I Love You, Diana."
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Central Press/Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 1982

    The expectant princess made headlines in a single-shoulder drop-waist Bruce Oldfield gown in vivid blue silk. "The English rose syndrome was never my bag," the designer once told a biographer. "I liked to see her in much simpler things."
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Jayne Fincher / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 1985

    The princess was nicknamed "Dynasty Di" by the tabloids because of her wide-shouldered gowns, like this silver Bruce Oldfield. "She was very involved," Oldfield has said of his client's wardrobe, but"you'd have to be fast because she didn't have much patience."
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Jayne Fincher / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 1985

    Designer Victor Edelstein has said that the dresses he made for the princess were a collaboration: "You each make suggestions and ask, 'What do you think?' " In the case of this white gown and bolero, the partnership paid off. Years after she wore it to a New York event, she chose a photo of herself in the ensemble for the cover of her Christie's auction catalog.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Tim Graham / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 1985

    For an appearance in Melbourne, Australia, Diana accented a single-shoulder gown with an emerald-and-diamond choker worn as a tiara. The necklace was a wedding gift from the queen, who likely imagined the deco treasure being worn in a more conventional way.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Tim Graham / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 1987

    Victor Edelstein based this navy velvet column gown on Edwardian evening designs. The princess famously wore it for a spin on the White House dance floor with John Travolta.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Tim Graham / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 1988

    Proving that she needed little more than her statuesque frame to make an impression, she strolled the grounds at the Guards Polo Club in jeans and a sweatshirt topped by a crisp blazer.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Tim Graham / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 1989

    Diana attended a U.K. wedding in a white sheath dress and dove-gray coat accessorized with a traditional British wedding hat -- and an even more traditional British umbrella!
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Tim Graham / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 1989

    The princess coupled her beaded ball gown from Catherine Walker with the Spencer tiara. She had dresses altered for future wearings; a version of this gown with a narrow skirt would later sell at auction for $51,750.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Alpha/Globe via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 1989

    The high collar on this Catherine Walker pearl-encrusted bolero was inspired by Elizabethan ruffs. The less historically minded press christened the ensemble "the Elvis dress."
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Tim Graham / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 1994

    It was the LBD worth a thousand words. In 1994, just as a documentary regarding her husband's infidelities was airing, a lithe and leggy Princess Diana strolled into a Serpentine Gallery benefit wearing a figure-hugging ruched minidress from Greek designer Christina Stambolian. The next day, every front page was devoted not to the Prince of Wales's televised confession, but to images of the glowing, confident 32-year-old Diana. Ever mindful of the power of fashion, three years later she auctioned off 79 of her favorite gowns at a Christie's auction that raised $6 million for AIDS and breast cancer charities.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Rex USA via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. 1995

    As a royal, Diana was required to wear British designers to boost the local economy. Post-separation, Diana donned international couture like this crimson Christian Lacroix dress, worn in Paris.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Jayne Fincher / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 1995

    What happened to Shy Di? The princess began to favor sheath dresses that showed off her slim shape, like this white Versace number she wore for a charity concert in Italy.
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    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Tim Graham / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 1995

    Gianni Versace designed her Jackie O-inspired pink suit for a visit to the nation's troops. Her pillbox hat was from Philip Somerville.
    InStyle.com: Kate Middleton’s Spot-On Princess Style

    InStyle.com: The 21 Best Dressed Celebrity Brides of All Time

    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Tim Graham / Getty Images via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 1991

    For the Canadian premiere of "Crocodile Dundee II," she chose a floral-print ruched dress by Catherine Walker.
    InStyle.com: Kate Middleton’s Spot-On Princess Style

    InStyle.com: The 21 Best Dressed Celebrity Brides of All Time

    InStyle.com: Royal Rocks: The Engagement Rings of Princess Brides (Glenn Harvey / Camera Press/Retna. via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Getty Images via InStyle.com
    Above: Slideshow (21) Princess Diana's most iconic style moments - Style
  2. Baby Diana
    Keystone via Getty Images
    Slideshow (18) Princess Diana's most iconic style moments - Life
  3. Image: Royal Engagement
    Hulton Archive via Getty Images
    Slideshow (14) Princess Diana's most iconic style moments - Wedding
  4. Last moments
    H.M. Coroner via EPA
    Slideshow (10) Princess Diana's most iconic style moments - Final moments
  5. Baby Diana
    Keystone via Getty Images
    Slideshow (18) Princess Diana's life - Life
  6. Image:
    Getty Images via InStyle.com
    Slideshow (21) Princess Diana's life - Style
  1. Image: Royal Engagement
    Hulton Archive via Getty Images
    Slideshow (14) Princess Diana's life - Wedding
  2. Last moments
    H.M. Coroner via EPA
    Slideshow (10) Princess Diana's life - Final moments

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