Princess Diana would have turned 60 on July 1, 2021. As her sons commemorated the date by unveiling a statue of their beloved mother, the world remembered the original modern royal style icon.
Lady Di cannily communicated through her wardrobe. A pioneer of fashion diplomacy, she cultivated close relationships with designers, who created wardrobes for her as an inspiring muse. But in the year after her divorce and before her tragic and untimely death, there was one thing this most fashion-conscious princess couldn’t bring herself to wear in public: A pair of Chanel shoes.
The fashion sense of Diana, Princess of Wales evolved along with her role in the public eye, from Prince Charles’s ingénue fiancé to his wife in the most-watched televised wedding in history through becoming the mother of the two princes and eventually the divorcee with a life of her own.
But after the shocking and scandalous divorce, Lady Di could no longer wear Chanel shoes, as a former stylist recently revealed. The problem was the interlocking Cs.
In 1996, after Charles’s highly publicized affair with Camilla, he and Diana had been ordered by the Queen to divorce. By that point, no one was truly surprised, and the princess seemed almost relieved to go about her own life. A compassionate humanitarian who cared deeply about her causes, Diana embarked on a tour of Australia to visit hospital charities during what would turn out to be her last tour of the continent. She touched the lives of more than 100 patients at Sacred Heart Hospice, in Sydney.
Designer Jayson Brundson helped style the princess for her visit to the Syndey hospital, which all knew would result in a media frenzy of photographers and videographers who followed her every move. Everything she wore would be highly scrutinized, as it always was. No detail was too small. As a stylist fixed her hair, Diana chatted on the phone with Madonna. Diana chose a cream Versace suit to wear. But when Brundson picked out lovely shoes to go with it, she regretfully passed them over, according to an exclusive report in Harper’s Bazaar.
“I found a pair of Chanel shoes, and I said, ‘Well these would look great with the Versace,’ ” Brundson told Harpers Bazaar. “And she said, ‘No, I can’t wear linked Cs, the double C.’ So I asked why, and she said, ‘It’s Camilla and Charles.’ ”
“It was definitely the timing, it being post-divorce,” Brundson went on. “She would have seen linked Cs and they would have just reminded her of Charles and Camilla. The shoes were quite boldly Chanel, I think they had gold linked Cs on them. And I think for photo optics, people would have honed in on that considering it was so fresh after the divorce as well.”
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Post-divorce, Princess Diana’s style had gone minimal and chic. She projected a strong and striking femininity in contrast with the girlish ruffles and big hats before her marriage. She was more streamlined and dignified, less frivolous.
“Diana: Her Fashion Story,” currently on exhibit at Kensington Palace, traces her evolution from demure and romantic ingénue to glamorous, confident woman of her own mind. She represents one of the best-dressed women in history, show curator Eleri Lynn told Vanity Fair.
Brundson hastened to add that the Princess didn’t have anything against the house of Chanel: “I mean few women do, but I think it was about the linked Cs and what it could stand for,” he told Harper’s Bazaar.
As a fashion icon, Princess Diana was in a league of her own, as curator Eleri Lynn told Vanity Fair. “She did clearly have fun with fashion, and she took risks… and experimented with her style,” Lynn said. “That’s what sort of takes somebody above daily fashion and helps make them a fashion icon: they have that elegance that is theirs and doesn’t move with the changes of fashion.”
Brundson put it aptly on his Facebook page, as a caption to an elegant photo of Diana in a striking criss-crossed black halter dress: “The world still misses her 20 years on. Such lost elegance and honesty. What a beautiful soul.”
E.L. Hamilton has written about pop culture for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Rolling Stone, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, the New York Post and the New York Daily News. She lives in central New Jersey, just west of New York City