This Thursday kicks off the Michigan International Women's Show at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Now in its 17th year -- with hundreds of exhibits and workshops, demonstrations and activities -- it has become a local tradition as well as a great weekend destination for women everywhere.
"I'm very excited about it," said Maureen Dunkel, who’s traveling to the show from Nashville. Dunkel is the owner of the "Royal Dresses of Diana, The People's Princess" exhibit and author of "My Decade with Diana: The Perpetual Power of the People's Princess," which chronicles her time as owner of the dresses and how they have been used for charitable purposes to further Diana's mission of helping those in need.
Visitors to this year's show will have the opportunity to meet Dunkel and see the exhibit that features not only an amazing collection of gowns, but a display of photographs and video. The exhibit provides a retrospective of Diana's life and her journey from a shy girl in the English countryside to a royal bride and future Queen of England to mother, fashionista, divorced princess and humanitarian.
"I think visitors will love the total experience," Dunkel said. "It tells the story of one of the most famous icons of all time."
Comprised of seven sections, visitors might want to allow extra time to take it all in.
The journey begins with a 15-minute documentary about Diana, followed by a glimpse of the early years: Diana's ancestral background, childhood experiences and lineage that factored into her future relationship with Britain's royal family. Then on to Diana's engagement and wedding: A video story of the announcements and the ceremony that was viewed by more than 750 million people worldwide. The Princess of Style & Charity portion of the exhibit features video, graphics, sketches, notes and commentary from Diana's favorite fashion designers sharing personal insight into Diana's legendary transformation from ingénue to style icon. The fifth stage of the journey, "The Servant Princess," tells the story of Diana's tireless approach to her duties as a princess with a purpose as she ascended to global humanitarian, highlighted by the perspectives of those who benefitted from her compassion and generous use of her royal platform. "Goodbye England's Rose" leads visitors through the somber moments that followed her passing: video of her brother's eulogy as well as the royal family's reaction to her death and ultimate honoring of her life. Guests are invited to leave words of endearment and tokens if they wish.
The finale is a celebration of Princess Diana's dresses. Among those at the show are several gowns by Catherine Walker, one of Diana’s favorite designers, and the regal beauty she wore dancing with John Travolta at a White House state dinner (at left).
This exhibit is by no means a simple display of royal wedding memorabilia. One might even say it was destiny that made Dunkel curator of the dresses.
In June of 1997, while Diana was still alive and Dunkel was making decisions that would impact her own future, the Princess of Wales commissioned Christie's to auction off 79 of her gowns. These were dresses, which she had collected during her 15 years as the wife of Windsor, which were handpicked from her closet to be auctioned off for charity. Shortly before the auction, Dunkel was told by her financial adviser that textiles were a good investment. So Dunkel placed an anonymous bid on several of the dresses in the auction.
She became an owner and contributor to the cause, as all proceeds from the auction were donated to charities that Diana supported. "There was a buyer at the auction who donated a dress to the Boston-based AIDS charity," Dunkel said. Dunkel was not only dazzled by her purchase, but even dumbfounded. After all it's not every day that a woman purchases a $200,000 dress owned by the future Queen of England.
Then the unthinkable happened. Diana was killed in an automobile accident in Paris and all of a sudden what was a financial investment had become an irreplaceable heirloom, a piece of a puzzle that would forever remain unfinished.
"I didn't really follow her (Diana)," Dunkel said. "Then when she died, and we had all of that news about the accident and her life 24/7, I got to know her as a woman."
It's this understanding of Princess Diana that led Dunkel to expand her role and her collection to 13, which at one point was on loan to Kensington Palace. "Yes, it was a great investment," Dunkel said. But one that came with great responsibilities that Dunkel has shouldered with endearing pride and compassion not only for the People's Princess but those who gave her the title.
Viewing the exhibit is included in the show admission.
"Royal Dresses of Diana: The People's Princess" is just one of the many exhibits being featured at the Michigan International Women's Show going on May 3-6. Other highlights will include displays and demonstrations that celebrate the creativity in all of us. The CHA Craft Pavilion will feature expert crafters teaching new techniques on everything from beading and scrapbooking to sewing, paper crafts and home décor.
Another pavilion will cover women's health concerns and workshops that will help them balance personal needs with those of their job, family or interests. Kristy Villa, host of Lifetime's "The Balancing Act," is among the many celebrities who will take the stage at this year's show.
Local celebrities will include Novi's heroic firefighters, who have volunteered to walk the runway modeling their dress blues and bunker gear, along with cancer survivors from the "Go Red for Women."
The "Summer Reading Handpicked from Local Michigan Authors" exhibit will feature a number of authors including Marie Masters, who has written self-help and inspirational articles for Detroit-area newspapers and magazines. Masters will debut her new memoir, "The Color of Sunset." From the concrete streets of Detroit to the cobblestone paths of Paris, Master embarks on a journey that reveals her relationships to various men and the paintings of Claude Monet.
"I have always seen my life reflected in Monet's work," said Masters, "and sensing his courage no matter what he faced, sunrises or sunsets, inspired me to keep trying in my life as well."
Joining Masters at the show will be several other authors, including Anca Vlasopolos (“Walking Toward Solstice”), Karen Blaisdell (“I Could Write A Book”) and me (“The Winter Spirit”).
Be sure to stop by and say hello!
The Suburban Collection Showplace is at 46100 Grand River Avenue between Novi and Beck Road. Show hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 3; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 4; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. May 5; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 6. Admission: $10 for adult; youth 6-12, $5; and children 5 or younger get in free when accompanied by a paying adult. Advance tickets are $9 online at The International Women's Show