Princess Diana Was London Fashion Week’s Most Refreshingly Low-Key Front Row Star

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Long before the Queen Elizabeth II Award recognised emerging talent, Princess Diana was sitting on the front row at London Fashion Week. The famously shy former nursery teacher, who graduated from sheep-printed jumpers to Versace tank dresses over the course of her time in the public eye, never made the shows about her. No duck-egg blue cushion was placed on her seat, the notion of posing for the paps was never entertained. Rather, a roster of black tailoring reflected a demure Di on personal business, and certainly not pulling off a press stunt.

The events the Princess RSVP-ed to said a lot about her character, such as the Lancaster House launch event for the March 1985 showcase, following London Fashion Week’s inception one year earlier. We imagine Di saw the furore surrounding Katharine Hamnett’s first riotous spring/summer 1985 show – and her subsequent landmark meeting with the Prime Minister – and was curious about the rebellious cohort exploding onto the fashion scene curated by the recently established British Fashion Council. Perhaps she was keen to see the work of the new, wildly romantic genius John Galliano, after Browns’s Joan Burstein snapped up his entire Central Saint Martins graduate collection, Les Incroyables. Certainly, the dance-loving Diana would have delighted in BodyMap’s counter-cultural celebration of Lycra-heavy fashion for all ages, sizes and genders. The royal’s first LFW look – a silky dressing-gown style dress by Bellville Sassoon – showed a bright twentysomething whose eyes lit up at clothing rails, according to her stylist Anna Harvey.

The grand opening of LFW in 1994.

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Di in business mode that same year.

Di in business mode that same year.

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By the ’90s, Diana had found her footing in fashion, and honed her formula of timeless Chanel skirt suits and athletic dresses by her friend Gianni Versace. All that Bruce Oldfield froth had been streamlined, the Laura Ashley blouses worn by “Dynasty Di” were a distant memory, and she took an interest in the designers subverting traditional British dresscodes, much as she was doing herself as part of the royal family. In 1995, the Princess attended her first actual fashion show courtesy of Joe Casely-Hayford. It would have been brilliant to see Diana wear the energetic, intellectual designer’s radical twists on Savile Row tailoring before her untimely death some two years later.

An enthusiastic Diana attending the 1985 LFW reception in colourpop Bellville Sassoon.

An enthusiastic Diana attending the 1985 LFW reception in colour-pop Bellville Sassoon.

2003 Getty Images

Front row at Joe CaselyHayford in 1995.

Front row at Joe Casely-Hayford in 1995.

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The Princess, who attended the 1989 Fashion Awards wearing a dramatic Catherine Walker “Elvis” dress, understood the power of her image. She attended other ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the seasonal presentations – which, let’s face it, are not the fun part – but did so with her Manolos on, that trusty Dior “Lady Di” bag slung over her shoulder, and a Sam McKnight blow-dry: her personal suit of armour. Later in 1995, she attended the Met Gala in Galliano. It’s possible to imagine that, were it not for her tragic fate, Princess Diana could have established her own nurturing talent initiative dedicated to brilliant outsiders.

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