TORONTO - Torontonians will get a last look at dresses once worn by the late Diana, Princess of Wales, in a special exhibit before the famed designer gowns hit the auction block.

The Design Exchange in Toronto is featuring 14 evening dresses from her collection in "The Life of a Royal Icon," which opens Monday.

The exhibit at the DX Museum on Bay Street in the heart of the city's financial district marks the final time the gowns will be on display to the public. It follows an international tour which included visits to three continents, as well as a decade-long stay at Kensington Palace in London, where Diana lived until her death on Aug. 31, 1997.

Toronto auction house Waddington's will host a preview of the dresses from June 21 to 23. The auction will take place June 23 at 7 p.m. ET.

The collection is currently owned by American Maureen Rorech Dunkel. The Tampa Bay, Fla., resident originally purchased the dresses anonymously at a Christie's auction in New York just eight weeks before Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris.

Dunkel reportedly paid US$700,000 for some of the late princess's most well-known evening gowns, several of which were worn for state visits and dinners.

She said when she originally bought the dresses she did so strictly with an investor's eye.

"The strategy I determined would be most valuable was to collect an array of important dresses that visually depicted the style transformation of the princess," Dunkel said in a statement.

"I methodically chose pieces which represented Diana's 'look' as the future Queen of England ... from the early '80s through to the late '90s."

The collection includes luxury creations from famed British talents like Bruce Oldfield and Zandra Rhodes, and arguably Diana's favourite designer, the late Catherine Walker. The Frenchwoman, who died last year, created more than 1,000 designs worn by Diana.

Walker is credited as designer of 10 of the 14 dresses being exhibited and auctioned. They include a burgundy crushed velvet dinner dress with a low V-back worn to the 1985 film premiere of "Back to the Future," and a dress with a black velvet bodice and boasting a full tartan skirt worn in Scotland.

Another notable number is a midnight-blue silk velvet dress with off-shoulder straps designed by Victor Edelstein. Diana wore the Edwardian-inspired gown while famously taking a spin on the dance floor with actor John Travolta during a 1985 White House state dinner.

The exhibit also features three creations worn by Diana in images captured by celebrated photographer Mario Testino for a 1997 Vanity Fair feature published a month prior to her death. Testino also shot the engagement photos of Diana's eldest son, Prince William, and Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The 14 dresses being featured were among 79 gowns auctioned for charity by the late princess, who at the time had expressed a desire to see the garments used to help others who were less fortunate. Diana had lent her voice and presence in championing numerous humanitarian and charitable causes during her life, including individuals living with HIV-AIDS, afflicted by leprosy and affected by landmines.

Dunkel has attempted to continue on in fulfilling that promise as founder, CEO and chairwoman of the board of The People's Princess Charitable Foundation, Inc., seeking to raise money for Diana's humanitarian causes in the U.S. and U.K.

Waddington's is donating a portion of its commission from the auction to Canada's National Ballet School as a tribute to the princess's passion for both kids and ballet. Diana had supported the English National Ballet and the City Ballet of London, where she was also a patron.

If the recent sale of two of Diana's dresses is any indication, there remains a strong interest among those wanting items worn by the beloved style icon, as well as those seeking to stake a claim to a unique slice of royal memorabilia.

A pair of gowns worn by Diana sold last week for a combined US$276,000 at a celebrity auction held by Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills, Calif. The dresses were reportedly auctioned to a prominent yet unnamed museum.

"The Life of a Royal Icon" runs through June 10.