A SYMBOL OF STYLE
NEW YORK — Princess Diana was widely regarded as more than the sum of her wardrobe and the fashion industry said Monday it lost an intimate friend and a symbol of style.
As Diana’s sense of sophistication grew, so did her friendships with a number of top designers. She sipped tea with Ralph Lauren, relaxed on Valentino’s yacht and, on several occasions, found refuge at Mariuccia Mandelli’s K Club on the Caribbean island of Barbuda.
She attended Gianni Versace’s funeral mass in Milan in July, where she was photographed holding hands with a grieving Elton John. Her presence made a deep impression on the Versace family as well as others in the fashion industry.
“I will never forget the generosity of Princess Diana, her thoughtfulness and the strength she gave me during the terrible tragedy that hit my family such a short time ago,” said Donatella Versace, from Milan. “The world has lost a wonderful person. My heart goes out to her children, who have lost an exemplary mother.”
“She had never looked so good, so fashionable as in the last six months,” said Karl Lagerfeld, in Paris. “I don’t know why for sure, but I think she probably felt more free without all the people from the court to worry about. She was finally free from all that stiff English fashion.
“I think even beyond trends — and she was a beauty in a classic way, not in a trendy way — her personal attitude, her roles as a young mother, as a caring woman, are what captured people’s attention, not her clothes. She was no Jackie O for fashion — the only style she set was the Lady Dior bag. I always suspected that she sometimes bought something ugly on purpose.
“But she was such a handsome and nice person, and had a classic style that everybody could relate to. Clothes looked perfect on her. And her legs — even among the models, no one has legs like this. Her best dresses were low-cut black evening dresses, and I always thought she was even prettier in person than in photographs.
“I think it was her human side that was more important and came through so strongly. I went to dinner with her and she was extremely charming, very chatty and light, not heavy. The people magazines like Voici, Gala, Point de Vue are really going to miss her. Who will they write about?”
“She was an inspiration the world over,” said John Galliano, “going beyond fashion, working for so many important causes. It made her far more than a style icon. On a personal level, she had a gorgeous sense of irony, and was always one of the girls.”
“The most important thing to remember,” added Oscar de la Renta from his Connecticut home, “is that she had tremendous star quality. When she walked into a room, there wasn’t anyone who did not notice. She had the most beautiful smiling eyes I have ever seen on any woman.
“As a person, she was captivating. I met her a long, long, long time ago at the beginning of her engagement — she used to wear some of my clothes before she became the Princess of Wales and began to wear only British designers.
“She had a fantastic sense of humor and a very sharp, quick wit. It’s such a great loss all the way around, because she had a natural sense of royalty that no royal can match. She was charm and light.”
Asked about her changes over the years, from blushing bride to worldly woman, de la Renta said: “That is a reflection of all the things that happened to her, her unhappiness at finding out that her marriage would not be the kind of marriage she was expecting — it was not a fairy tale. Reality was different. She overcame her shyness, but she paid a high price.
“As she grew up, she always made an effort — she always did. And she always looked the part. At times you may have thought it not right, but she looked a way that was expected by her public. Remember, the subjects of the Queen Mother and of Queen Elizabeth think they are well dressed. Diana may have been dowdy to begin with, but she became fabulously well dressed. More importantly, she was a true person. And I will never forget her smiling eyes.”
A distraught Liz Tilberis, editor of Harper’s Bazaar and a longtime friend, said:
“Every time I turn the TV on, I start crying again. She has to be remembered for the way she looked, which was happy and smiling and always with her arm around a child. She was saintly. She was just getting into her stride when this tragedy happened.
“She very much wanted to be her own person and bring kindness and love to the world. She was worried when the divorce happened that she’d be cast aside. The royal family is very powerful, you know. She was scared she wouldn’t be able to continue her work. She so terribly wanted to help the desperate and destitute of the world. She wanted to put a stop to the suffering of humanity.
“She was suddenly getting men around her and supporting her who weren’t regarding her as a silly little bulimic princess. A bright light just went out.”
“She was a woman who had recently found some serenity in her life,” agreed Valentino, in Rome. “She found she was able to rise above her resentment of all the media attention and use it to sensitize the public to the issues she took to heart. This was perhaps becoming the best moment of her life — and it was too short.
“Her style had changed. She was more aware of herself as a woman — and she was a beautiful woman with a beautiful body. She had escaped the rules of the princess and the clothes a princess was supposed to wear and wanted clothes that were right for the new woman she had become.
“The most important thing about her was her capacity to give. She wasn’t just a woman dabbling in charities,” said Valentino.
At the time of her death, he said, they were working on an AIDS event involving the Red Cross and had been scheduled to meet later this month. He had designed a dress for her to wear to the event, a “pale green dress that for me is a beautiful memory of a friend who I sincerely miss.”
“She was bringing humanity to people who were sick,” Valentino added. “We saw her in a London hospital talking to people. and there was no fear — just love and concern. People tend to get caught up in her glamour and forget this side of her — her generosity and capacity to give herself.”
“We all watched her grow from a young woman into a stately woman,” remembered Ralph Lauren, calling from Telluride, Colo. “She bounced off every page in every magazine, and she managed to maintain an incredible amount of grace while going through a great many problems.
“I heard that I was one of the designers she loved, and we soon became friends. We had a nice friendship, one I feel honored to have had. It was flattering to dress her. I loved the way she looked in my clothes, particularly on a casual basis. We all know how wonderful she looked in an evening gown, but she had a great casual look.”
From his home on the island of Pantelleria, Giorgio Armani said:
“There are no words for the shock and sadness I feel at the death of Princess Diana. In fact, the feelings are heightened by the fact we have just finished making a special dress for her, which members of my staff were scheduled to take to her for a final fitting in London this week.
“Without question, Diana was the most powerful icon of fashion and style of her time, with a power that came from her believability and vulnerability as much as her great beauty. For a long time, it seemed as if she was a woman still searching for her own style, but even when she tried things that might not have been optimum for her, her modernity, freshness and vitality always gave her tremendous allure.
“Recently, however, she seemed to have found that style of her own, strictly controlling any temptation to overdo things, and favoring clean, modern lines that set off her great face and figure in a very up-to-date way. That’s what I was trying to emphasize with the dress I just did for her. It’s worth noting that she chose the design herself, the simplest one in the group of sketches I sent her.”
“Our friendship went beyond fashion,” said Mariuccia Mandelli. “We got to know each other well during the vacations she spent at the K Club, in Barbuda, where she was at ease because there she could really escape the nightmare of photographers.
“They called her ‘the melancholy princess,’ but I always saw her smiling, with an extraordinary ability to play with her children, sometimes involving other children, with tremendous spontaneity and an authentic ability to have fun, on the beach, in the water, amid happy splashing, running and laughing.
“She was an affectionate mother who adored her sons and was always available for them.”
“We all admired her so much as a woman,” added Carrie Donovan. “At the beginning she didn’t look too hot, but who would? She was dressed in the royal way. I remember, her first trip to the U.S. she had some terrible hats.
But she developed a wonderful style of her own. She had a magnificent figure, and could wear those skintight sheath dresses. The night of the CFDA awards, she looked ravishing!
“She was absolutely modern and glamorous. What a void! It hasn’t even sunk in. She would always have been controversial, but how fascinating!”
“She was the last lady — the last young lady,” said Isaac Mizrahi. “And I don’t mean a royal lady — in the sense of how we used it in Brooklyn, not how they use it at Eton. She was the personification of temperance. It’s so old fashioned, but millions loved it.
“In a sense, she was a world leader. She was a diplomat. She knew how to use the media, but she didn’t abuse modern life. She was always dignified. But, yes, she was modern. She wasn’t fancy or fettered by protocol. She overcame all the nonsense with her public and her peers and really managed to inspire people. She was an inspiration to me, really. She proved that it’s not true that the louder you scream, the easier it is to be successful.”
“She was a symbol of what one meant when one spoke of icons,” said Donna Karan. “She was a budding ingenue with style and grace and as a total person — a mother, a humanitarian, a lady. She took a role and created it with style and grace, under enormous, enormous difficulty. She was a mentor to women, and she set standards.
“She was sacrificed. This is going to have an impact. We have to see what can be done about this. People need privacy, they need justice. I’ve been exposed to it but not the way she was.”
Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, remembered: “I met her last year, when I co-chaired the breast cancer benefit [the Super Sale in Washington, D.C., that benefited the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer research at Georgetown University Hospital]. I didn’t know her well, but we had lunch a few times after that.
“She was a joy to work with, incredibly professional, and very funny. She was an amazing combination, a figure of mythic proportions, a fairy-tale princess, but also so warm and approachable. She wanted to help people and she was very driven, thinking she had a real gift of reaching out.
“She’s irreplaceable. Who else reaches that many people? She was growing in confidence and independence. She was unique among the royal family, the way she worked with the press. She set such high standards and dressed so wonderfully.”
“Despite not being a big royalist, I was devastated by the news on Sunday,” said Alexander McQueen. “She was a light through stormy clouds when it came to matters of illness and deprivation within her own country and throughout the world. She was an inspiration. She was a saint. As for fashion, like a designer, her knowledge was gained over years of experience.
“She was the only British royal I would like to have dressed.”
“She grew into her own style,” said Gianfranco Ferre, “a style that over time lost its affectedness and became refined, measured, natural and powerful. I liked to see her wearing her strict suits with short skirts that showed her long legs, with a white T-shirt under the jacket, a small bag and simple pearls on her ears. Or in jeans, with a white shirt and moccasins. But she was a tease wearing anything from an alluring evening gown to a business suit or jeans.
“She was — and still is — a symbol of our era, a model for us all.”
For a number of designers, Diana meant more than someone who wore clothes nicely.
“The least important thing about Diana was what she was wearing,” said Ann Demeulemeester. “By that I don’t mean that she was badly dressed, but that so many other things about her were more important.
“As a human being she dared to express her own vision, her own opinions and really her personality, and this was very new and was reflected in the way she dressed. In the fairy tale, it’s important what the princess wears. But with Diana it was her personality that was important, and that’s what fashion should be.”
“Diana possessed something more substantive than style,” agreed Gucci’s Tom Ford. “She possessed an inner strength which was incandescent. This quality transcended fashion. It was her sheer life force that was almost blinding, so blinding it is hard to believe it was not permanent, such a shock to discover that it could be destroyed or taken away. When you have this quality, this aura, what you wear is not important.”
“She was much more than her clothes,” said Bill Blass. “Despite all that can be said about her style, I believe that will be the least she’s remembered for — instead, it will be for her generous attitude, her simplicity, for being so successful. She was a natural — a naturally kind, good woman.”