Princess Diana in The Crown: Fashion, style icon of the ages

Princess Diana in The Crown: Fashion, style icon of the ages

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Meghan and Catherine may be going head-to-head in the fashion stakes now but in terms of fashion legacies neither will ever hold a candle to the mother-in-law they never met.

From her koala jumper to the Revenge Dress, whatever Diana wore, she hit the headlines and changed the fortune of the designer behind it.

And as season four of The Crown prepares to debut on Netflix, introducing Emma Corrin as the shy nursery nurse who would go on to become one of the most stylish women on the planet, we are about to take a nostalgic journey through her most iconic outfits and the stories behind them.

THE LADY DI BLOUSE

It’s hard to believe now, but the young Diana was clueless about fashion. When Prince Charles proposed, she had to go shopping because she didn’t have enough clothes.

“I literally had one long dress, one silk shirt, one smart pair of shoes and that was it,” she told biographer Andrew Morton.

When she posed for Vogue in 1981, she asked for the help of its fashion editor Anna Harvey.

“She really had nothing in her own wardrobe – a few Laura Ashley blouses and skirts and some bobbly jumpers. That was it,” Anna later told the magazine.

Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 after announcing their engagement.
media_cameraCharles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 after announcing their engagement.

Diana was shot in a pale pink pussy-bow Emanuel blouse and the edition came out at the same time as her engagement announcement, when she wore a similar blouse with a blue Cojana suit.

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Pussy-bow tops sold out immediately and are still in style today, known as the Diana blouse. David and Elizabeth Emanuel would go on to design her wedding dress.

EMANUEL WEDDING DRESS

It was the fairy-tale gown for the 1981 marriage that would become anything but.

Diana’s enormous Emanuel taffeta puff-sleeved wedding dress with its 7.6m train, brought the big white wedding back into fashion. It also made David and Elizabeth Emanuel household names.

“The gown was typical of early ’80s style – overblown, romantic, flouncy – but we had to get it right because we knew it would go down in history,” Elizabeth told Vogue.

Diana's 1981 gown by Elizabeth Emanuel had a full skirt, puffy sleeves and a 25 feet long train. Picture: AP Photo
media_cameraDiana’s 1981 gown by Elizabeth Emanuel had a full skirt, puffy sleeves and a 25 feet long train. Picture: AP Photo

The original dress is now owned by Prince William and Harry, but a replica was made with the designers’ help, for Emma Corrin to wear in The Crown.

The duo went their separate ways – Elizabeth has recently launched a new couture collection, including bridal gowns and David combines TV work with couture for private clients.

BALMORAL TWEED SUIT

One of Diana’s most famous outfits was her blouson tweed skirt suit she wore on honeymoon in Balmoral in 1981.

Commissioned from Bill Pashley, it was seen as very modern at the time, particularly because she sported it with bare legs.

The designer, who has since passed away, made two versions of the suit and donated one to Historic Royal Palaces, who included it in the recent exhibition Diana: Her Fashion Story.

But the influence of this suit continues – Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge posed in a similar ensemble at Blenheim Palace in 2004.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their honeymoon. Picture: Darryn Lyons' archives
media_cameraPrincess Diana and Prince Charles on their honeymoon. Picture: Darryn Lyons’ archives
Diana Princess of Wales wearing the Jenny Kee designed koala jumper.
media_cameraDiana Princess of Wales wearing the Jenny Kee designed koala jumper.

JENNY KEE’S KOALA JUMPER

When Charles and Diana got married, Kim, daughter of NSW Premier Neville Wran, gifted the pair koala and kangaroo jumpers by Jenny Kee.

Little did the Aussie designer know what was about to happen – when Diana was snapped wearing the koala jumper in 1982, Jenny was bombarded by orders and asked to design a version for Australian Women’s Weekly readers to knit.

Diana then invited her to a dinner in Canberra on their Australian tour in 1983.

Now Blinky is back for a good cause – Jenny re-released the original jumpers to raise money for bushfire-injured koalas at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

The $750 designs promptly sold out.

“My beloved Blinky knits have looked after me and now after the savage bushfires that swept through their homes, I want to look after them,” Jenny said.

THE TRAVOLTA DRESS

When Diana danced with John Travolta at The White House in 1985 in a Victor Edelstein midnight blue gown, she showed the world she was a princess like no other.

Worn at a gala dinner hosted by Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Diana took a spin on the dance floor with the Saturday Night Fever star and the images enchanted the world.

The evening gown worn by Princess Diana at the State Dinner at the White House in 1985, when she danced with John Travolta. Picture: Leon Neal/AFP
media_cameraThe evening gown worn by Princess Diana at the State Dinner at the White House in 1985, when she danced with John Travolta. Picture: Leon Neal/AFP

The gown was dubbed the Travolta Dress and was the highest-selling item in Diana’s 1997 charity auction, going for USD$222,500 to Florida businesswoman Maureen Dunkel and eventually bought by Historic Royal Palaces.

As for Victor Edelstein, he closed his couture house and became an accomplished artist.

ELVIS DRESS

Dubbed the Elvis dress for its high-beaded collar, this Catherine Walker ensemble was highly controversial in 1989, loved and loathed equally.

Diana wore it to the British Fashion Awards and an official visit to Hong Kong. Despite the criticism, it went on to be one of her most enduring looks.

Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing the 'Elvis Dress'. Picture: Tim Graham/Getty
media_cameraPrincess Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing the ‘Elvis Dress’. Picture: Tim Graham/Getty

Catherine Walker continued to be a royal favourite and is the Duchess of Cambridge’s go-to label. She stated no-one else but Diana could pull off the dress saying: “She shone in the dress and the dress shone around her.”

The dress was sold in the 1997 auction and bought by The Franklin Mint, who released a doll wearing the design. It was later donated to London’s Victoria & Albert museum.

REVENGE DRESS

Aside from her wedding dress, the Revenge Dress is probably Diana’s most famous outfit.

Worn on the same night in June 1994 that Charles declared on national TV he’d been unfaithful with Camilla, the knockout black Christina Stambolian mini-dress simply screamed glamour – and ensured Diana got the front pages the next day.

Princess Diana in her famous ‘Revenge Dress’. Picture: Jayne Fincher/Getty
media_cameraPrincess Diana in her famous ‘Revenge Dress’. Picture: Jayne Fincher/Getty

It was an inspired choice and one that almost didn’t happen, as the previously obscure Greek designer later revealed Diana had actually owned the dress for three years but hadn’t had the courage to wear it until then.

It was the defining moment for the fashion designer. The dress was bought at the 1997 auction by Scottish collector Graeme Mackenzie, who used it to raise funds for charity.

SYDNEY SHIFT

Diana was a big fan of Versace, becoming friends with designer Gianni and by the mid-’90s, she and the label were at their most glamorous.

She had made the one-shouldered look her signature style and when she put it all together with the electric blue Versace sheath dress on a visit to Sydney in 1996, she looked every inch a star.

Diana, Princess Of Wales, attends a function when she visited Sydney in 1996. Picture: Julian Parker/Getty
media_cameraDiana, Princess Of Wales, attends a function when she visited Sydney in 1996. Picture: Julian Parker/Getty

Poignantly, Gianni’s last words about Diana were in an interview with Vanity Fair, published July 1 1997.

“I had a fitting with her last week for new suits and clothing for spring, and she is so serene,” he said.

“It is a moment in her life, I think, when she’s found herself – the way she wants to live.”

Two weeks later Gianni was assassinated. And the following month, Diana who attended his funeral with Elton John, was also gone.

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Originally published as 8 outfits that prove Diana is the queen of royal fashion





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