Wedding dress a knuckle-biter for fashionistas

Princess Diana in wedding dress before her wedding to Prince Charles on July 29, 1981, in London.
AP Photo

LONDON - Thirty years ago, the buzz was about a different royal bride and what her dress would look like, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

Lady Diana Spencer was marrying Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and she'd picked David Emanuel and his wife Elizabeth to design her dress.

"And it was a simple phone call," said David. "Would you do me the honor of making my wedding gown?"

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It was that simple.

"And it's almost like the world stood still, recalled David. "And then it was kind of madness from there on, really."

Madness -- because newspapers and magazines from around the world were desperate to get a glimpse of the royal wedding gown.

"All these windows, right on these roofs were millions and millions of paparazzi," said David at the building, remembering the scene 30 years ago. "Every day."

Three days before the wedding, the mystery is not just about the dress, but the designer. Kate Middleton seems determined to keep both a secret till she arrives at Westminster Abbey.

"I have spoken to every editor of every fashion magazine in this country," said Kate Reardon. "They are biting their knuckles. None of them know. They are furious."

Reardon, editor of Tatler magazine, says it's a good bet the designer will be British -- but the rest is speculation.

So I think with her wedding dress, she will know what's appropriate for the day, but I don't think she will show off," said Reardon.

That's partly because of Kate Middleton's discreet style, and partly the tough economic times.

"Each dress symbolizes the age that it's appropriate for," said Reardon. "If you look at the dress that Diana wore, it was very much the very beginning of the 80s. It was very extravagant. We felt that money was on its way."

Diana's dress, with its huge puffed sleeves and 25-foot train set off a trend. It's still such a draw that it's on a tour of the United States -- right now in Kansas City.

David says Diana wasn't aware the dress was going to have such an impact.

"I don't think so," said David. "And I don't think I certainly wasn't."

Emanuel and his wife were wedding guests, there to make sure that everything was perfect before Diana walked down the aisle.

"I had visions of her walking down the aisle and this petticoat coming adrift," said David. "I'm wearing my morning suit and cravat and carnation and (garbled) the dress up underneath went up and under to check it was all fastened. And as I'm resurfacing, Diana said, 'Oh David, have you met the Queen Mother?' I'm coming out from under this dress, and there stands the Queen Mother."

The Queen Mother's own dress was fairly simple. She was marrying the second son, with no idea that he would one day become King George the Sixth. Her daughter -- Queen Elizabeth's -- dress had more impact.

"The Queen's wedding dress in 1947, there was some embroidery on the train which was definitely there to illustrate new dawn/post-war optimism, that sort of thing," said Reardon.

The royal wedding will be a huge spectacle -- watched by millions -- but in the end, it's also a family affair.

"Elizabeth and I were at Buckingham Palace and we were all helping get the pictures done because it was like you were at, you were at this family wedding except it was all the royal family," said David. "That was kind of special."

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    Michelle Miller is the co-host of "CBS This Morning: Saturday." As an award-winning correspondent based in New York City, she has reported for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. She joined CBS News in 2004.