Britain

Designer Diaries: Diana, Princess of Wales, and Versace

Gianni Versace learned about fashion at his mother’s knee. Francesca Versace owned a fashion boutique, and Gianni grew up watching her work all aspects of design and marketing. Moving to Milan in 1972, he worked for several Italian ateliers before forming his own design house. A savvy businessman as well as a talented designer, he was so well established by 1978 that his sister Donatella and brother Santo were working for him.

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Looking back at Diana’s style through the eighties and early nineties, it’s remarkable that the two found sartorial compatibility. Versace was known for overtly sexy designs, including bondage gear, babydoll dresses and mesh see-through togas. He developed a chainmail called Oroton, which was featured prominantly in many of his designs. Diana had been dressed as a proper princess by the Emanuels, Bellville Sassoon and Catherine Walker. But the separated – then divorced — princess was ready to streamline her style as Versace was moving into more elegant, although still sensual, designs.

This pink suit, fitted to perfection and just slightly frisky, was worn by Diana while inspecting members of the Queen’s and Royal Hampshire Regiment in May 1995. Proof positive that suits need not be dowdy and Versace could do demure with a wink.

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In November 1995, Diana visited Argentina. The fitted white shift was chosen to project cool, calm vibrations in the late Southern Hemisphere springtime.

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In June 1996, Diana made her only visit to Chicago, and wore this purple halter gown at a gala dinner at the Field Museum. She zhuzzed it up with the royal pearls, to great effect.

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Australia famously loved Diana, and when she returned to the country in October/November 1996, she caught everyone’s attention in this liquid blue waterfall of a gown, tasteful but with a touch of the Versace sexiness.

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This fitted, low cut dress, embellished with gold studs and glass beads, was an early purchase from Versace. Diana wore it for the Patrick Demarchelier photoshoot in 1991, although it was most widely seen on the November 1997 Harper’s Bazaar tribute issue.

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Gianni Versace died in June 1997, from gunshot wounds inflicted by a stalker. The design house was sold in 2018, but continues under the creative guidance of his sister, Donatella. It is a testament to the designer’s talent that for many people, the Diana they remember is the Diana of the sleek Versace designs.

Thank you for re-living the Diana style evolution with me. She’s almost unrecognizable as the girl in pink Bellville Sassoon, right? I hope you enjoyed seeing her sartorial growth through the lens of the designers.

Next up, we move to Denmark, and the designer who defined a generation (or two) of royal style. Stay tuned!