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The surprising Sudbury connection to an international exhibit on Princess Diana

Nickel City design firm Launchpad Creative served as creative director for exhibit opening in Chicago, LA and New York

Although she died in 1997, people remain intrigued by the life story of the late Princess Diana. 

A new generation of people are learning about her through the Netflix series “The Crown” and the film “Spencer,” which is currently playing in theatres.

Feeding into this continued interest in Diana is a new, 20,000-square-foot exhibit called Princess Diana: Accredited Access, being launched in the near future in Chicago, LA and New York.

And while those three major U.S. cities might seem worlds away from the Nickel City, there is actually a strong Sudbury connection — Cliff Skelliter, owner of the Sudbury design firm Launchpad Creative, is its creative director.

Princess Diana: Accredited Access is an exhibit of the work of royal photographers Anwar Hussein and his two sons Zak and Samir. They share collections of their original images and the intimate, never-before-told stories behind them.

Skelliter explains that he has been hired to do the branding for the exhibit.

But the people putting on the exhibit were “struggling a little bit with the narrative,” and Skelliter pitched a couple of ideas, which he said they loved. Eventually, he was given the position of creative director.

Skelliter said he took his inspiration from “The Crown,” thinking it would be interesting if the exhibit were approached like a seven-part series, with each room set out sort of like an episode of a show, exploring various themes in Diana’s life.

He refers to this concept as a “walk-through documentary.”

“Everybody loves the feeling of that insider experience of the documentary,” Skelliter said. “It really brings you in and gives you insight into things that you didn’t know before.”

Skelliter said the exhibit is 80 per cent about Diana, but also about her lasting legacy, through Prince William and Prince Harry, and their families.

“It’s also about (photographers) Anwar and his two sons, Samir and Zak,” said Skelliter, adding that Anwar Hussein, who is in his eighties, is the longest-running Royal photographer who is still alive today. 

“This experience is told from the voices of Zak and Samir, Anwar’s sons, who are in their thirties. They were basically raised with Will and Harry, and they’ve also brought an intimate experience. They are royal photographers as well.”

If anyone happens to be in LA, Chicago or New York, Skellter said Princess Diana: Accredited Access is definitely worth a visit.

“It’s a fully-immersive experience,” Skelliter said. “So basically what we did is we’ve taken all of these unbelievable photographs from one of the greatest living photographers, and we’ve blown them up to be eight feet by five feet wide.

“They would obviously have this audio guide where they’ll be given this intimate story, and walked through from image to image. We also have some cool different types of artefacts in a couple of rooms.”

A paper sculpturist from Quebec named Pauline Loctin has also recreated royal hats and tiaras. “These things are beautiful,” Skelliter said. “They’re not replicas. They’re abstract dedication pieces … It’s unbelievable what this artist can make out of paper.” 

Skelliter admits that he wasn’t much of a royalist before doing this exhibit, but the more he learned about the subject, the more he became intrigued.

“I was kind of like anybody else,” he said. “I saw them on the cover of magazines. I knew a little bit about the impact. Once I started to dig into the story and get really connected with it, with anything I work on, I want to know everything about it.

“So I just started listening to podcasts, reading, watching everything I could, just digesting everything. And I’m blown away. I mean, Diana is an icon for a reason.”

Princess Diana was a person who stepped outside of what were the “conventional rules of the time,” and did what she believed was right, Skelliter said.

She certainly wasn’t perfect, but she “modernized motherhood as a princess in the way she raised her children, just taking those boys out and giving them a beautiful life,” he said.

“You can’t even get me started with the fashion,” Skelliter said. “The fashion blew me away the most. Everything this woman did, you look back and it’s like it’s unbelievable. She was nailing it on every level. It’s hard to find an outfit that isn’t incredible on some level.”

The exhibit premieres in Chicago on Dec. 1 in the old Restoration Hardware building, and at Santa Monica Place in LA on Dec. 2. It then opens in New York in January, with the exact date and location yet to be determined. 

Skelliter said he hopes the exhibit will also come to Canada eventually. 

“And where I think the first market we would go to would be Toronto,” he said. “But right now, we’re super focused on our LA and Chicago launch, and then our New York launch. If those go according to plan, then we’ll have more information on our Canada launch.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the exhibit, visit its website.


Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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