How Princess Diana became this season's style muse
"If anything happens to me, do you think people will see me as another Jackie Kennedy?" Diana, Princess of Wales once asked Phillip Somerville, one of her favourite milliners. It's a musing which reveals how conscious she was of her own legend, and her place in a pantheon of beautiful women. 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 ever 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 denote much more than a simple penchant for florals, sweatshirts or wide shoulders.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
Gianni Versace once described Diana as "Mother Teresa and Cindy Crawford" combined; she would wear bright colours to please children in hospitals, exhibit casual chic whilst raising awareness of landmines, have fun with diplomatic dressing (see her Japan flag dress) and 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 relevant.
At New York Fashion Week on Sunday, Tory Burch showed a collection inspired by Diana. Burch has undoubtedly given the 80s 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 at home in 1985, a reference relatively unknown until designer Alessandra Rich created a similar style which was worn by the Duchess of Cambridge last year, evoking viral comparisons.
Then there's a fabulous white tuxedo suit just like one which Diana wore to a Genesis concert in 1984, creating shockwaves with her masculine, royal dress code-defying bow tie and trousers.
Anyone with memories of the 80s 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.
But you don't get much cooler amongst the under-25s than Hailey Bieber, wife of pop star Justin and all-American supermodel, who created an Instagram sensation at the end of August with a Diana-inspired shoot for Vogue Paris. Hailey 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."
Paying homage to Diana's workout and casual wardrobe, Hailey 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.
"Lady Diana is an ultimate style icon," says Virginie Benarroch, Vogue Paris Fashion Editor-at-large and the stylist behind Hailey's shoot.
Having studied all Diana's looks, Benarroch landed on the sportswear as "her greatest style moment", adding "obviously 90s 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 Benarroch focussed on 90s 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-90s 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.