Tuesday 21 January 2020

Diana's best dresses: 'She shed her princess look - it was a little bit naughty'

She was a style icon, but what were the princess's standout looks? Our reporter asks the experts

Diana wears Versace for the cover of Harper's Bazaar
Diana wears Versace for the cover of Harper's Bazaar
Diana in Paul Costelloe tuxedo jacket
Diana in off-the-shoulder Gina Fratini dress
Diana in Catherine Walker's white pearl dress

Deirdre Reynolds

She was the 'People's Princess', but two decades after her untimely death, Diana will forever remain the Queen of Fashion.

Next Thursday marks the 20th anniversary of the Princess of Wales' tragic death in a Paris car crash.

And reluctant royal, devoted mother, global humanitarian and style icon are just some of the ways in which she's sure to be remembered.

From 'shy Di' to the 'revenge dress', Diana's 36 years of tumult were reflected as much in her fashion as the front pages.

Here, some of Ireland's biggest names in fashion hand-pick her most unforgettable looks.

Paul Costelloe

Fashion designer

"Naturally, she was wearing Paul Costelloe. It was in Hyde Park at a Pavarotti concert where she was wearing a double-breasted tuxedo jacket with pearl buttons. It was from my collection, but it was made specially to fit her. She was very tanned and it had been raining, so her hair was all wet, but she looked amazing. I think it was the fact that she was very happy - she was smiling. You wouldn't have called her the most raunchy woman, but in that situation she looked pretty amazing. It was a golden period, I suppose, for the Costelloe brand. It's ridiculous how she's stood the test of time in so many ways."

Louise O'Reilly

Model and blogger

"I've always been a huge Diana fan. My mum adored her style so it was always something I was familiar with, even as a child. One of my favourite looks is the hot pink frock coat and matching skirt she wore during an appearance in Manchester in 1993.

"At the time, she was newly separated. But she looks like she's glowing with happiness here. I love how she just embraced everything with this look - legs, colour, everything. Timeless, effortless and stylish, it's an outfit you could easily wear today, although I doubt anyone could ever look as good as Diana does in it!"

Don O'Neill

Fashion designer

"My favourite Princess Diana dress is a one-of-a-kind white chiffon gown created by royal couturier Gina Fratini for the House of Hartnell for a royal visit to Brazil in 1991. The one shoulder gown was draped tightly around the body using up to 40 yards of silk mousseline, requiring several visits by Gina to the Palace to perfect the fit.

The neckline was hand-embroidered with tiny crystals, while the high-low hemline was made up of several tiers of flared skirts intended to tango the night away in Rio. Diana loved the gown, which made Gina - who told stories of her twirling in front of the mirror - so happy."

Jennifer Wrynne


"When I think of Diana, I obviously tend to think of her hats. My favourite is the black and white polka dot outfit and wide-brimmed hat she wore to the Epsom Derby in 1986. The whole look is just so complete, even with her hair, the way it sits under the hat.

"She was probably one of the first stars to put Irish milliners like Philip Treacy on the map.

"Day to day, we still get pictures of Diana from customers wanting a style like hers. We actually have that shape hat and it's one of our most popular styles. We call it the 'Maria' hat - we should actually call it the 'Diana' hat!"

Emma Manley

Fashion designer

"Princess Diana's style evolved as she did, in confidence. Diana's early years were spent being drowned in ruffled gunas - that's not the Diana I remember.

"To me, she was at her best when being non conformist, but embracing her own sense of style, and that happened in Versace.

"There are so many Versace numbers to name but the look that stands out is the one featured on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in 2017. Photographed by Patrick Demarchelier, she looked at ease, radiant and confident. We rarely saw that Diana, but to me, that's the most beautiful Diana."

Brendan Courtney

Fashion designer and stylist

"People forget Diana looked naff when we were kids. She had big flouncy clothes, wore silly pillbox hats and her hair wasn't very cool. She didn't have the impact on high street fashion that someone like Kate Middleton has because you couldn't buy what she was wearing.

"For me, she wasn't an icon until she went to New York and famously slicked her hair back. The look I remember most is the navy Catherine Walker dress she wore to the Fashion Awards in New York in 1995. She looked gorgeous with her hair slicked back because that was so anti-establishment for a posh person to do that with their hair, in a way."

Courtney Smith


"The big one for me was the off-the-shoulder cocktail dress she wore to the Serpentine Gallery summer party in 1994 just after Prince Charles admitted he had an affair. It was designed by Christina Strambolian and was a little bit sexier than she'd ever been before.

"It was like she had kind of shed her princess role. It was a little bit naughty. It was the ultimate revenge dress and she just looked phenomenal. After that, she got a little bit sexier in all of her choices, so for me, that was kind of like a turning point for her in terms of her style and her fashion."

Martha Lynn


"I went to the exhibition [of Diana's dresses] in Kensington Palace and it was amazing. A lot of the dresses in the exhibition were Catherine Walker, but probably my favourite one is the white pearl dress and jacket nicknamed the 'Elvis dress'. Although it's quite covered up, it was also quite tight fitting. Walking through the exhibition, you could really see her style evolving - that was when she came into her own.

"From then on, everything changed, even her hair. All the meringuey style outfits that she had been wearing were gone. Her personality started to show."

Irish Independent

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