Why Princess Diana Is Fashion's Style Muse Of The Moment
From Vogue Paris to the catwalks of New York Fashion Week, the style of Diana, Princess of Wales continues to influence a new generation, says The Telegraph's Bethan Holt
‘If anything happens to me, do you think people will see me as another Jackie Kennedy?” Diana, Princess of Wales once asked Philip Somerville, one of her favourite milliners.
It reveals how conscious she was of her own legend, and her place in the pantheon of beautiful women whose image was obsessed over by millions. But she could never have predicted the perfect storm of nostalgia, feminism and frenzied 24/7 internet exposure which means that, 22 years after her death, Diana has come to represent something entirely unique and different to anything she could have imagined.
Two recent fashion moments sum up the enduring impact of Diana; how she resonates across generations and how she used clothes so powerfully that her signature looks (of which there were so many) denote much more than a simple penchant for florals, sweatshirts or wide shoulders.
Gianni Versace once described Diana as “Mother Teresa and Cindy Crawford” combined; she would wear bright colours to delight children in hospitals, exhibit casual chic while raising awareness of landmines, have fun with diplomatic dressing (see her Japan flag dress) and have the confidence to score points against her estranged husband by wearing front page-grabbing LBDs. At a time when fashion is looking to project itself as more meaningful than just heaps of clothes, Diana couldn’t be more right for now.
At New York Fashion Week on Sunday, Tory Burch showed a collection inspired by Diana. “I took my cue from Diana Spencer, whom I have been fascinated with since I was young,” said the 53-year-old designer. “Clearly, she was a style icon, but I loved her fearlessness, her intelligence and, most of all, her humanity.”
When I asked Burch to tell me more about her favourite Diana looks, she demurred: “We didn’t reference her so literally. The collection is more inspired by her substance than her style.” She added that Diana has been an inspiration in her work establishing the Tory Burch Foundation, which works to empower women and encourage entrepreneurship.
Burch has undoubtedly given the Eighties a sleek, modern treatment, but there are direct parallels with many of Diana’s most memorable outfits. Two navy-and-white polka-dot looks recall a tea dress worn in photographs of the Princess in 1985, a reference relatively unknown until designer Alessandra Rich created a similar style that was worn by the Duchess of Cambridge last year.
Then there’s a fabulous white tuxedo suit just like one that Diana wore to a Genesis concert in 1984, creating shockwaves with her masculine, royal dress code-defying bow tie and trousers. Elsewhere, Burch nods to the witty knits that Diana wore off-duty, a bold expression of personality amid her usual princess uniform.
Anyone with memories of the actual Eighties might be horrified to see any kind of homage back in vogue. Indeed, while I love Diana and almost all of her looks, I have other colleagues who are baffled that she now appears to be the height of cool.
You don’t get much more cool among the under-25s than Hailey Bieber, wife of pop star Justin and an all-American supermodel, who created an Instagram sensation at the end of August with a Diana-inspired shoot for Vogue Paris. Bieber, formerly Baldwin, was born less than a year before Diana’s death in 1996, but she paid tribute to the Princess, writing to her 21.2 million followers: “All credit and inspo to the amazingly beautiful and iconically stylish Princess Diana who I’ve looked to for style inspiration for as long as I can remember. Thank you for leaving behind such an iconic fashion and style legacy.”
Paying homage to Diana’s workout and casual wardrobe, Bieber is styled in cycling shorts, varsity sweatshirts and mid-calf white socks, carrying an upscale handbag just as Diana did when leaving the gym. In another shot, she recreates one of the Princess’s most famous polo looks, comprising cowboy boots, slouchy jeans, a cap, sweatshirt and blazer.
“Diana is an ultimate style icon,” says Virginie Bennaroch, Vogue Paris’s fashion-editor-at-large and the stylist behind Bieber’s shoot. “We wanted someone to understand her lifestyle, who has a sharp vision and who would be able to embody the character. Hailey was the perfect girl for this project,” she says of Bieber, a young woman who has been on the receiving end of huge global attention at a relatively young age.
Bennaroch landed on the sportswear as “her greatest style moment”, and it’s this genre of the Princess’s style that has proven particularly inspirational to a Gen Z audience, barely born when she was alive. The looks show a Princess as you’ve never seen one before; they’re full of attitude, independence and effortless high-low glamour.
Diana’s Virgin Atlantic sweatshirt, a favourite of this time, recently sold for $50,000 at auction, which is more than many of her smarter royal engagement day looks. Athleisure Diana has proven to be a template for a whole fashion movement that values dressing down over dressing up. “I was really surprised about the viral effect and how these Diana pictures still resonate,” Bennaroch admits. “Obviously Nineties nostalgia culture is an incredible source of inspiration.”
That’s putting it mildly. The genius of Diana is that different phases of her evolution feel relevant to every style tribe. While Bennaroch focused on Nineties casual, for Burch and her customers who value ladylike prettiness and grown-up polish, the Princess’s statement eveningwear, pussy-bow blouses and refined dresses are catnip. Minimalists adore her slick mid-Nineties suits, shift dresses and jeans-and-shirts formula, while another crowd is obsessed by her “revenge” looks and how she used fashion to craft a new narrative for herself after her separation. If Jackie was her aim, then Diana would surely be delighted with the way her image has been transformed for now.
— The Daily Telegraph