How Diana’s fash­ion legacy lives on

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - THE WORST NEWS -

THERE IS A PHO­TO­GRAPH of Diana, Princess of Wales, taken in Au­gust 1997 dur­ing a trip to Bos­nia. She is wear­ing one of the most util­i­tar­ian out­fits she was ever seen in dur­ing her years in the public eye, and yet it may be the most per­fect: a loose white cot­ton shirt – cuffs pulled up to re­veal bronzed arms – high-waisted, stonewashed jeans, a tan belt and, out of shot, Tod’s loafers.

Diana took to wear­ing riffs on this ensem­ble dur­ing the 1990s. Of­ten, she would add a tai­lored blazer in navy or hounds tooth. The shirt could be re­placed with a cream knit, or she might swap the jeans for chi­nos or jodh­purs (too el­e­gant to save for rid­ing – which she didn’t en­joy any­way). It is a way of dress­ing so time­less and age­less that you are as likely to see it repli­cated now, two decades later, on a 20-some­thing stu­dent as on a 60-some­thing lady from the Home Coun­ties.

At first, it was only when she was run­ning er­rands in Kens­ing­ton that she was seen in this un­der­stated look, but as she shook off the con­straints of royal pro­to­col, it be­came a uni­form for hu­man­i­tar­ian en­gage­ments, where the neu­tral colour pal­ette and lack of adorn­ments sug­gested a non-glitzy, busi­nesslike at­ti­tude. She told her pri­vate sec­re­tary that she wanted to be seen as a ‘work horse, not a clothes horse’.

For evening, this chap­ter in Diana’s style evo­lu­tion meant cock­tail dresses that were sleeker and shorter than those she had pre­vi­ously favoured. She could show her dé­col­letage, but was savvy enough to hold an Anya Hind­march clutch to her chest to avoid re­veal­ing pho­to­graphs as she stepped out of the car.

‘It was much freer after the sep­a­ra­tion,’ says Anna Har­vey, Diana’s stylist. Tanned and toned, re­gal Diana was re­placed with con­ti­nen­tal-luxe Diana; she looked chicer than ever.

‘ Those clut­tere d ’80s sil­hou­ettes didn’t nec­es­sar­ily play very well in press pho­to­graphs,’ says Eleri Lynn,

‘She slicked down her im­age, re­al­is­ing time­less ele­gance worked best’

cu­ra­tor of Diana: Her Fash­ion Story, the ex­hi­bi­tion cur­rently at Kens­ing­ton Palace, ‘so she re­ally slicked down her im­age. She re­alised that time­less ele­gance was what worked best on a princess with a pro­file such as she had.’

This stripped-back look was as cal­cu­lated and laden with mes­sag­ing as the frou-frou ball­go­wns and sharp - shoul­dered tai­lor­ing that Diana wore in the 1980s, at the height of her time tour­ing the world as a royal.

The off-the-shoul­der black chif­fon cock­tail dress with float­ing scarf de­tail that she wore to the Ser­pen­tine sum­mer party, on the night in 1994 that the Prince of Wales con­fessed his adul­tery in a tele­vised in­ter­view with Jonathan Dim­bleby, was one of the early high points of this era. It has be­come a bench­mark for the act of ‘re­venge dress­ing’. Ac­cord­ing to Christina Stam­bo­lian, the de­signer of the dress, the Princess plucked it from the back of her wardrobe, where it had lan­guished for three years be­cause she had pre­vi­ously feared it‘ too dar­ing ’. That night, it spoke of in­de­pen­dence and de­fi­ance.

An­other de­signer with whom Diana worked closely dur­ing this pe­riod was Jac­ques Aza­gury, who says she rev­elled in wear­ing LBDS, hav­ing pre­vi­ously been warned against black be­cause of its as­so­ci­a­tion with mourn­ing. The new Diana could wear it as a sym­bol of grown-up glam­our in­stead.

There had been sug­ges­tions for years that Diana’s nat­u­ral ter­ri­tory was this re­fined ease. In 1983, she wore a cream, one-shoul­dered col­umn gown by Ja­panese de­signer Hachi to the pre­miere of Oc­to­pussy. ‘It was the first long, fit­ted sexy dress that she’d ever re­ally worn, quite far ahead of the game at that time,’ re­mem­bers Har­vey. ‘It was not par­tic­u­larly well re­ceived. It was con­sid­ered a bit “much” for the Princess of Wales and too sexy – she looked too good.’ It took years for the world to ac­cept just how good she could look.

In 1997, Diana was pho­tographed wear­ing the same gown in the shoot by Mario Testino to pro­mote a Christie’s char­ity auc­tion of 79 of her dresses. It looked as fresh and mod­ern then as it had 14 years ear­lier, es­pe­cially with her newly slicked-back hair, mas­ter­minded by hair­dresser Sam Mcknight, and ra­di­ant but nat­u­ral make-up.

On hol­i­days and at polo matches dur­ing the 1980s, too, this in­stinct for min­i­mal­ism had emerged in the cot­ton jump suits, dun­ga­rees and denim favoured by Diana. ‘She would of­ten want chi­nos or jeans, white shirts or leg­gings for the gym, so I would round up a mas­sive se­lec­tion and she’d choose what she wanted,’ says Har­vey.

The 1990s saw the in­tro­duc­tion of a fresh ros­ter of in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers to Diana’s wardrobe, which in­evitably re­sulted in a more lux­u­ri­ous, high­oc­tane ef­fect. She be­came so en­am­oured ofDior’ squil ted top-han­dle Chou­chou bag that it was re­named the Lady Dior in her hon­our; she would pair one with a neat skirt suit for char­ity vis­its or lunches in Lon­don. An­other stand­out look of the era was the navy neg­ligee-style dress she wore to the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art’s Cos­tume In­sti­tute gala in New York, hon­our­ing Chris­tian Dior, in 1996. It was one of John Gal­liano’s first de­signs for the mai­son and a play­fully non-royal state­ment for Diana just months after her divorce had been fi­nalised.

Ver­sace, too, be­came a main­stay in her wardrobe after a dis­cus­sion be­tween Diana, Mcknight and Har­vey on the set of a photo shoot. ‘She was feel­ing braver and felt she could step out of the box,’ Har­vey says of Diana’s de­ci­sion to mix her beloved Lon­don de­sign­ers, such as Catherine Walker, with a few in­ter­na­tional la­bels. The Ver­sace team would fly into Lon­don to do fit­tings at Kens­ing­ton Palace for the slinky, jewel-hued evening looks that Diana chose. She be­came so close to Gianni Ver­sace him­self that one of her fi­nal public ap­pear­ances was at his fu­neral in July 1997.

‘Although they were fash­ion­able, there was an el­e­ment of time­less­ness to the clothes she chose in the ’90s, which is a real skill,’ re­flects Lynn. ‘That’s what el­e­vates her in the fash­ion stakes, with Jackie Kennedy or Au­drey Hep­burn.’ Of course, Diana is strik­ingly dif­fer­ent from those women in that she was ex­per­i­men­tal with her style in the public eye, mor­ph­ing through frills, power shoul­ders and pop­ping prints to even­tu­ally land on the con­fi­dent glam­our she adopted in her 30s. Sadly, that is where her evo­lu­tion stopped. But she could have worn that look for for­ever.

With the Prince of Wales at the 1983 Lon­don pre­miere of Oc­to­pussy, in a Hachi gown Wear­ing Jac­ques Aza­gury at a gala in aid of Cancer Re­search, 1995 The then Lady Diana Spencer at the polo in 1981, the month be­fore her wed­ding

In a Ver­sace suit to re­view the troops of the Princess of Wales Reg­i­ment, Kent, 1995 At the Met’s Cos­tume In­sti­tute gala in New York, wear­ing Dior, in 1996 Wear­ing a Chanel suit and car­ry­ing a Gucci Kelly bag at the Bri­tish Lung Foundation, April 1997

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