Dress is just a dress as time goes by Show: Making a second appearance in Baltimore, Princess Diana's 'World Famous Pearl Gown' is relegated to a remote corner.

March 28, 1998|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Last fall, when the "World Famous Pearl Gown" first came to the International Gem & Jewelry Show in Baltimore, it was displayed near the front entrance, a glamorous and poignant lure for visitors anxious to feel the sympathetic magic of the dress' former owner, Princess Diana, who had died three months earlier.

Yesterday, the show returned, as did the pleated, beaded winter-white gown, purchased last summer at a Christie's charity auction in New York. This time, it was relegated to the convention center's most remote corner. Visitors merely trickled past.

Has the magic faded? Or are the hordes weary of all the dead-celebrity auctions, the trinket trade, the morbid marketing?

The show organizers even had a new trick: You could buy 14-karat gold "Queen of Hearts" earrings made from pearls plucked from the back of the gown.

The earrings cost $1,000, with proceeds going to Diana's favorite charities, show officials say.

But even that ploy failed to create a stir: A silent auction of one set of the earrings to benefit Baltimore Reads, the literacy program, drew just one bid by 2: 30 p.m. yesterday.

Cherie Whyms made the bid (it was the minimum bid of $250) because she liked the cause. And the pearl represents "a little piece of history," says Whyms, a collector of antiques and "pieces of things that won't happen again."

Cynthia Squitiere, who had come to the show from New Castle, Del., said she got goosebumps when she viewed the dress. Just the same, she added, "I really don't care. God rest her soul, she's gone. It's history."

Her husband, Joseph, was even less delicate. "It looks faded," he remarked.

Leah Goldsecker, a Baltimore fashion consultant, admired the dress' silk chiffon and beadwork, but found the design itself "very matronly, especially for a young girl like Diana."

Another couple spent a moment of silence before the dress, then announced, "OK, let's go shopping!"

Opals, diamonds, amber, beads, emeralds and cubic zirconia beckoned. The Lady Di display was part of a traveling show in a "Ripley's Believe or Not" vein that included beauty queen tiaras, flowery earrings worn by Lucille Ball, a chunky silver necklace of flying scarabs that belonged to Cher, Marilyn Monroe's cameo pin and Liberace's cuff links.

Nearby, visitors could examine "simulated" jewelry belonging to the rich and famous, including Jackie Onassis' pearl necklace, the one her little son played with. Simulated John John not included.

The dress, the earrings and the jewelry of the stars were tucked behind a scrimshaw artist who worked on ivory with an electric drill, and Loretta Swit, best known as Hotlips Hoolihan in TV's "M*A*S*H," who was hawking her own jewelry line of brooches, clips and earrings.

Waif pale in black and silver, Swit seemed reluctant to chat, but gladly handed out a press release. She started designing jewlery while performing the role of "Mame" in summer stock, and she has also written a how-to book on needlepoint, her material stated. By afternoon, Swit was doing swift business as women tried on one glittery piece after another.

But the Di dress, in its tomb-like display case, looked lonely and worn and unloved. And yes, it also looked matronly, especially for a young girl like Diana.

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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