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|Posted: Tue Jul 11, 2006 1:28 pm Post subject: Secrets of Diana’s stunning dresses
|Secrets of Diana’s stunning dresses
10 July 2006
MAN WHO GAVE DIANA HER VA-VA VOOM
Designer Jacques Azagury reveals for the first time how he transformed Diana’s look, turning the shy Princess into an alluring modern woman with dresses that made history
SOME say it with flowers. Diana chose to say it with a dress. Whenever the Princess of Wales had a message she could not convey in words, she made her clothes speak for her.
The man who taught her the language was Jacques Azagury, who became her favourite designer in the last years of her life. “Diana came to me when she wanted to let her dress do the talking,” says the Moroccan-born couturier. “She called them statement dresses, outfits which would show she had grown comfortable with her womanly sexiness. Diana was nobody’s fool. She had long recognised the power of a ‘performance’ dress, one that was guaranteed to turn heads and grab headlines.”
Azagury met Diana when she was bulimic and deeply insecure. Over a 10-year working friendship, he and his glamorous designs transformed her from a shy Sloane in frumpy frills into a global fashion icon.
At first, she resisted the change. “I urged her for years to make more of her allure, but she was always afraid of drawing criticism from the Royal Family,” says Azagury, whose clients include such celebrities as Davina McCall, Sharon Osbourne and Ulrika Jonsson. “Her natural instinct was to hide away her beauty. I told her, ‘You’re a beautiful woman – enjoy it!’ But it took years before she was able to believe that about herself.”
Only after her divorce from Prince Charles did she begin to grow in confidence. “The Diana I saw then was no longer the insecure, uncertain woman who would come to the salon with her shoulders stooped and head bowed. She looked at her very best – slim but not thin, fit and glowing with joy, standing erect with her head held high.
“She prided herself on being normal and didn’t like standing on ceremony. ‘I’m only flesh and blood like everyone else,’ she would often say. Whenever I visited her for fittings, Diana would always greet me at the door of Kensington Palace, rather than have the butler show me into the drawing room. She didn’t like formality. She found it oppressive.”
Finally, Azagury was allowed to put his plans into operation to make the Princess “sexy but not a sex symbol”. These were the years when Diana, in her early 30s and at the peak of her beauty, was the world’s most recognisable and most photographed woman, when her picture on a magazine’s cover guaranteed higher sales.
Azagury recalls her coming to his Knightsbridge studio in late June, 1997, looking for a “statement dress” for a charity dinner to be held on her 36th (and what turned out to be her last) birthday. He last saw the Princess the day before her birthday for a fitting of the dress she had ordered. She was “on fine form” he recalls.
“I could see that she felt free, unburdened, as if everything which had frightened her or troubled her, had all come into focus,” says Azagury, who went on to become chief of design at Hardy Amies, the Queen’s favourite fashion house.
“She saw it all for what it was and was no longer afraid. It’s difficult to explain how extraordinarily changed she was. There was an unmistakable determination about her, none of her usual uncertainty. She was no longer suffering, that’s the only way I can describe it.”
A few weeks later, Diana left for her holiday with Dodi Fayed and the rest, as we all know, is tragedy.
Speaking for the first time about the Princess of Wales, Jacques Azagury tells the story behind some of Diana’s favourite – and most famous – “statement dresses”.
1. THE CHARITY GALA DRESS: 1997
Diana’s crusade for a ban on landmines took her to America on behalf of the Red Cross two months before her death. She chose a dazzling, red sash-trimmed dress for the party.
Azagury says: “Diana agonised over what to wear. The landmine issue had reduced her to tears at my salon when she returned from her trip to Angola.
“She wanted people to concentrate on what she had to say, so the dress had to be serious but have a sexy twist.
“The high neckline at the front gave the dignified look she required and she chose the colour in honour of the Red Cross. “But I wanted to turn heads during the dancing – and
the deep V-shape in the back was just perfect.”
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2. THE CHARITY SALE DRESS: 1996
When Diana auctioned 65 castoffs at Christie’s, she needed a special dress to launch the sale of such historic outfits as the one she wore the night Charles confessed to adultery. She chose an intricately beaded white dress to draw attention to her largesse, the sale made £2million for charity.
3. SUPER COOL IN THIS ICE BLUE NUMBER: 1997 This outfit was in the high fashion THE LAST DRESS: Made in June, 1997. Never worn THIS beautiful black silk georgette reassurance. I smiled and told her, giggling our heads off dress, adorned with thousands of ‘You’ll look sensational. She and she was enjoying glittering bugle beads and with a needed no further encouragement.” herself like a child. This fishtail hem and train, was the most He visited Diana for a final fitting dress was expressly daring of Azagury’s creations for on the day before her birthday and intended to be the most the Princess. It was also the last. says she was “mischievous and full sexy creation Diana had
She was due to wear it the Tate of fun”. She had been photographed ever worn in public, with a Gallery on her birthday, but ended by Mario Testino and was split up the thigh and up wearing Azagury’s surprise thrilled that he had taught her how plunging cleavage which birthday gift instead. She then to walk like a catwalk model. announced her new-found planned to wear it to the film “She couldn’t wait to joy at being a woman. It premiere of Hercules in October. demonstrate and paraded up and wasn’t until she met Dodi Sadly, she never got the chance. down, catwalk-style, shimmying that Diana truly
Azagury says: “I was secretly and showing she had learned how blossomed. The change in delighted at her choice of this to ‘work the train’, to walk and turn her was very powerful and dress. She was still a little without the train getting in the way, wonderful to witness. Her vulnerable and looked to me for a difficult skill. We were both happiness was infectious.” colour of the time and Diana loved it. Azagury explains: “She had ordered a dress from me about six weeks before she wore it. She also ordered a dress in the same shade from Catherine Walker.
Diana was in the process of clearing out 79 old dresses for auction and wore Catherine’s dress for the event. The next night she went to the ballet and wore the ice blue dress I had designed. The photographers thought she had worn the same dress two nights’ running.
“Diana was highly amused by the confusion.”
4. VENICE IN (RED) PERIL: Reception at Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice, 1995 Diana wanted a sexy dress with “wow” factor for her trip to Venice to raise money for the Serpentine Gallery. This show-stopping mini was in red georgette with red bugle beads and a zip front. “This was 1995, a time when Diana was gaining confidence and starting to emerge as the sexy woman she was. She loved this dress but we argued over the hem length! It was one of the shortest Diana ever wore and I wanted it a little shorter but she wasn’t quite ready to be that daring.”
5. THE SURPRISE BIRTHDAY GIFT: Gala supper at the Tate Gallery, July 1, 1997 – Diana’s 36th birthday Azagury designed this full-length gown in chantilly lace, with sequins and beads, as a surprise birthday gift for the Princess. She had already ordered a dress for the dinner marking the Tate’s centenary. but Azagury delivered his surprise dress to Kensington Palace on her birthday. “She called me 10 minutes after she received it. She was genuinely overcome and touched by the gesture. She said, ‘I love it, Jacques!’” he recalls.
That evening, it was his turn to be touched when he switched on the news and saw that Diana had chosen to wear his birthday gift. “I realised she had worn it as a thank you to me. It was typical of Diana – always thoughtful and unexpectedly generous in her gratitude.”
A few weeks later, the Princess’s chauffeur delivered a parcel tied up in navy blue ribbon.
Inside was a framed picture of her wearing her three favourite Azagury designs. Her 36th birthday was the last occasion Diana was seen in a formal outfit in public. The dress is now
displayed at the Althorp Museum, along with her other Azagury favourites.
6. SERIOUS & SEXY: Dinner at The Ritz, 1994 The occasion was a party in London to celebrate James Goldsmith’s election to the European Parliament.
“Diana wanted something quite demure but sexy at the same time,” explains Azagury.
“She was conscious that the occasion was quite serious, so we used understated colours – graphite on black. But the thighhigh split gave the dress a sexy twist. It was one of Diana’s favourites.”
Diana, Princess of Wales is and always will be The People's Princess.