The first time Amanda Wakeley met Diana, Princess of Wales, they both burst out laughing. Wakeley, a rising British designer, was scurrying around her small Chelsea studio preparing to face a police escort ushering in the royal. But when the buzzer rang five minutes early, she was not greeted by sniffer dogs. Diana herself stood there alone, as bemused by the whole supposed drama of it all as Amanda was. Giggling was the only thing to do. They hit it off right away.
Anna Harvey had made the introduction. The former British Vogue deputy editor and Diana style counsel was a keen advocate of young fashion talent and Wakeley’s fledging label, then just 18 months old, was carving out a reputation for what the designer calls her “clean glam aesthetic”. She quickly received Lady Di’s stamp of approval and created her a navy crepe double breasted suit with invisible button detailing and a tiny seed pearl dangling flirtatiously from a single tassel. “She was not a massively demanding client,” Wakeley remembers of a royal with few airs and graces. “She loved what I was proposing; nine times out of 10 she would go with the sample.”
Another sleek blackberry-coloured suit with velvet trims on the collar and cuffs–not dissimilar to the bottle-green two-piece she wore when she retired from public life–was indicative of Diana’s appreciation for quality fashion. “I always believe that the way clothes make you feel is incredibly important,” explains Wakeley, who lines her tailoring with silk for a luxurious feel that is both comforting and indulgent. “I think if you’re heading for a tricky moment, slipping into something that feels gorgeous is very reassuring.” The speech Diana gave in her empowering black blazer was during the height of the press scrutiny around her bulimia and, Wakeley recalls, the princess greeted her audience by saying something along the lines of, “I suppose you thought I wouldn’t be here, because I’d have my head down the loo.” “She used clothes to [send a] message very powerfully,” asserts Wakeley. “Just look at the revenge dress.”
Most of the off-duty pieces Amanda made for Diana – namely, exquisite cashmere jumpers and leather pants – were never photographed, but the designer recalls a particular red knitted body with a fabulous cut-out back, which she absolutely loved. “This is the sort of thing you could get in trouble wearing,” said Di at the time, with Amanda attesting: “She had a real sense of naughtiness”. In the showroom, the duo chatted about city versus country life and the inspirations behind Amanda’s work. “She loved detail,” muses the business owner, who laments not saving a cheque Prince Charles once sent to her, which would have been a nice relic from a time before iPhones.
Had Diana been around to see the Instagram age, Amanda says she would have been blessed with a generous number of pictures of the royal wearing her looks. The pair frequented the same Chelsea Harbour gym, with Wakeley witnessing the paparazzi frenzy around the princess’s car-to-club house looks. “I will never forget first seeing her in her cycling shorts,” she shares. “She had a Wakeley ecru cashmere jumper with satin cuffs thrown on over the top and I just thought it epitomised everything about her. She just looked so chic. It felt very ahead of its time.”
Those famous athleisure pictures represent the sartorial confidence Diana learned later on. “She had got through her Sloaney, pie-crust collar phase,” continues Wakeley. “Her hair was shorter, she became sleeker… It was extraordinary how young she was when she was thrown into the whole circus.” Her style during these later years is testament to what Wakeley’s own fashion meant to her. “Diana used clothes to empower her,” she muses. “In the beginning, she was sort of wearing a costume. Her style became effortless as the years ticked on.”
Originally published on Vogue.co.uk