Princess Diana's enduring glamour

Princess Diana's legacy is kept alive in Great Britain 20 years after the 'People's Princess' was killed when her car crashed in a Paris tunnel.
Diana (right, in an October 1996 photograph) arriving for the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute dinner and dance in Sydney; and (left, in a November 1992 photograph) at the Lille Congress Hall in Lille, France.
Diana (right, in an October 1996 photograph) arriving for the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute dinner and dance in Sydney; and (left, in a November 1992 photograph) at the Lille Congress Hall in Lille, France. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • She was "Shy Di" initially, but soon forged a brave sartorial path that overturned the conventions of the day.

Princess Diana revolutionised the royal dress code with the help of some of the world's greatest designers during a glamorous life that came to a tragic end 20 years ago this month.

"Diana has become a fashion icon in the same way as Jackie Kennedy or Audrey Hepburn - timeless, elegant and still so relevant," said Ms Eleri Lynn, curator of Diana: Her Fashion Story, an exhibition at her Kensington Palace home in London.

Nicknamed "Shy Di" ahead of her marriage to Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, in 1981, Diana came out of her shell and realised how her clothes could be used as a powerful communication tool.

"The princess learnt to make her wardrobe say what she could not and worked closely with designers like Catherine Walker to curate her personality through clothes," Ms Sophie Goodwin, fashion director of Tatler magazine, told The New York Times in February.

Diana mastered the art of wearing the right dress for the right occasion.

She wore bright clothes when visiting hospices to appear warm and accessible. On foreign visits, she chose clothes inspired by the national colours, such as the white dress with red spots she wore on the trip to Japan in 1986.

She chose not to wear gloves "because she liked to make contact with the people she was meeting", said Ms Lynn.

Pictures of the princess shaking hands with Aids patients in 1987 helped to break down myths surrounding the disease, including the unfounded fear of being able to catch it through touching sufferers.

The most photographed woman of the age, Diana understood the rules of royal dressing, but was not afraid of twisting them.

She breached royal protocol by wearing a black ballgown, a colour worn formally by royal women only during mourning.

Her outfits included androgynous gear, such as a tuxedo and a bow tie.

"That's quite the bold, fun look that you don't necessarily expect of a princess," said Ms Lynn.

She also helped to modernise the royal wardrobe with outfits that made a lasting impression.

The midnight-blue Victor Edelstein velvet evening gown she wore for a dinner at the White House in 1985 is one of her most famous.

It was in this dress that the princess danced with American actor John Travolta, to the hit, You Should Be Dancing, from the 1997 film Saturday Night Fever in which he starred. Nicknamed the Travolta dress, it was sold for €268,000 at an auction in 2013.

After her divorce in 1996, Diana switched up her style once again, abandoning the British designers she had relied on in favour of international fashion houses such as Dior, Lacroix and Chanel.

She ditched the frills, taffeta and giant ballgowns and adopted more daring outfits, such as the figure- hugging sky blue Jacques Azagury dress that went as far above the knee as the designer felt he could go at the time with a princess.

Her look was widely copied and still inspires designers to this day. Online clothing site Asos launched a Diana-inspired range in October last year, playing on her off-duty look.

Her style even has a presence in the social media age.

An Instagram account, Princess Diana Forever, which has 160,000 followers, posts a daily picture of her in various outfits, bringing her to a new generation.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Princess Diana's enduring glamour'. Print Edition | Subscribe