Diana, Princess of Wales: the royal who redefined luxury
20 years on, we remember Diana’s effortless elegance and much-coveted style
In the 20 years since Princess Diana’s death she has been remembered for her tireless charity work – from working with HALO to end the risk of landmines to reducing the stigma of HIV and AIDS – and work with children, whether as doting mother to her sons Princes William and Harry, or lifelong patronage of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. But though Diana had a down-to-earth charm that won the hearts of people in every walk of life, she was also a champion of luxury brands, always knowing how to make an impact at a diplomatic event or where to holiday in style, both during her marriage to the Prince of Wales and after, until her death on 31 August 1997.
Her influence on British fashion was profound, making designers a household name with a single purchase. Her love for Jimmy Choo’s sling-back heels and V-cut pumps cemented the shoe designer’s reputation around the world. For Malaysian-born Jimmy, who has created bespoke footwear for royals around the world, his friendship with Diana bloomed over seven years of collaboration where he would visit her residence in Kensington Palace, London.
"She'd often wear the same shoes for two or three years instead of a different pair for every occasion," said Jimmy, who created the ‘casual’ pumps that would become a key element to Diana’s trademark off-duty look. “It meant a lot to me that she supported my skill and craftsmanship and design.”
She also formed lasting friendship with her favourite British designers Catherine Walker and Amanda Wakeley, who are still the go-to fashion houses for royal clientele including Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, who is following in her mother-in-law’s footsteps in both charitable patronages and reinventing the monarchy’s place in the style stakes.
Although Kate, who married Prince William in 2011, never met Diana, she has proven to have similar tastes – particularly when it comes to elegant jewellery. William popped the question by presenting his bride-to-be with the same 12-carat blue sapphire engagement ring that Prince Charles had given to Diana in 1980. Created by Garrard, the ring features a Ceylon sapphire set in 18-karat white gold.
Joanne Milner, CEO of London fine jewellers Garrard, says that similar rings in their collection are still the brand’s most popular seller – particularly from their Asian clients. “The Diana ring is our most popular piece of jewellery,” she said. “However, we would never make an exact replica because we treat that ring like a bespoke piece, and every bespoke piece is strictly a one-off.”
The brand featured heavily in Diana’s jewellery collection, with the Princess enjoying pieces such as an emerald and diamond choker originally commissioned for Queen Mary in the 1920s. The choker was passed down to Queen Elizabeth II, who then gifted it to Diana. The princess last wore the Art Deco style choker to the Tate Gallery Gala on her 36th birthday in 1997. Other gifts from the royals in her collection including her favourite choker, refashioned from a sapphire and diamond brooch that was a present from the Queen Mother. The brooch became the centrepiece to seven strands of pearls.
Asprey was another favourite brand – the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia sent her a suite of sapphire and diamond pieces on her wedding day in July 1981 – as was Cartier. Upon her death, a gold Cartier Tank Francaise watch worth £19,000 was chosen by William as a memento. Harry reportedly chose her engagement ring, but they later swapped when the older brother decided to propose to Kate Middleton.
Although Diana was famously determined to give her young sons a taste of ‘normal’ life, often taking them to the cinema near her apartment in Kensington Palace, or theme parks including Thorpe Park, she also knew how to vacation in style. From skiing at Klosters to relaxing at K Club on the Caribbean island of Barbuda, Diana spent idyllic holidays with her family in these discreet hideaways. Gaston Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, met Prince Harry during his royal tour last year and revealed the paradise location holds fond memories for the royals. He said: “Prince Harry said to me that he remembers going there with his mother as a little boy. It was one of her favourite spots. He said he was very much looking forward to going back there.”
The princess’s most iconic off-duty images involve yachting. A keen sailor, Diana often found happiness and relaxation on the waves, and before her death enjoyed a romantic getaway off the coast of Sardinia. She and boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed, who also died in the car accident that claimed her life, were photographed on board the 208ft superyacht The Sokar, owned by Dodi’s father and former Harrods boss Mohamed.
While Diana’s sports-loving sons seem to prefer the adrenaline of boat racing rather than relaxed yachting experiences, their commitment to causes like Heads Together and Centrepoint ensures her legacy of compassion is in safe and certain hands – and thanks to her exquisite taste in jewellery and fashion, Diana’s style is just as likely to live on forever.