How Princess Diana Became a Fashion Icon – Vanity Fair
In the two decades since her death, Diana, Princess of Wales, has ascended to the pantheon of the best-dressed women in history, Eleri Lynn, curator of “Diana: Her Fashion Story,” which opens February 24 at Kensington Palace told Vanity Fair on a recent phone call. “She is stepping into that same sort of space as an Audrey Hepburn or Jackie Kennedy,” said Lynn, “a fashion icon whose style is so emulated and so loved, really.”
How did she do it? The exhibition, staged in the galleries adjacent to the royal apartment Diana called home, follows the princess’s style evolution, from the feather-haired “Sloane Ranger” fiancé of Prince Charles in pie-crust blouses and pastel ruffles whom the press nicknamed “Shy Di,” to the sleek and regal woman whose confident stride in embellished gowns and body-con velvet made her one of the most-photographed women in the world.
What really set Diana apart was her ability to communicate with her clothing, Lynn explained. “It is very surprising how little footage there exists of the Princess actually speaking. We all have a sense of what we think she was like, and yet so much of it comes from still photographs, and a large part of that [idea] is communicated through the different clothes that she wore.”
Diana developed a “very glamorous regal style” for overseas trips, for example, that paid homage to the host nation. She wore a dress emblazoned with gold falcons, an emblem of Saudi Arabia, during a trip to that country. This fashion diplomacy clearly reverberates in the legacies of Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama, for example, who often wear clothing that salutes to their guests’ home countries.
And Diana had an almost uncanny sense for how her clothing might enhance her physical presence, epitomized by what the Princess herself deemed her “caring wardrobe.” These were ensembles for the philanthropic visits that cemented her reputation as a world-class humanitarian and a woman of deep compassion. “Cheerful, colorful clothes, because she wanted to convey approachability and warmth,” Lynn said. “She didn’t wear gloves because she liked to hold people’s hands. She would sometimes wear chunky jewelry so that children could play with it, and she never wore hats to children’s hospitals after a while, because she said you couldn’t cuddle a child in a hat.”
Even textiles were an opportunity for Diana to convey empathy: “if she was visiting hospitals for the blind, she would often wear velvet so that she would feel sort of warm and tactile,” Lynn explained.
She was also deeply aware of how clothing might shape her public image: “One of her most famous gestures, which is to remove her gloves very conspicuously to hold hands with patients—you know she’s using clothing and fashion in order to really hammer home that message.”