Status symbol: Princess Diana and her handbags

One of the people who has an enduring influence on fashion, handbags in particular, even decades after her death is Princess Diana. Her sense of style has always inspired designers and artists; she used fashion as her armour and weapon, and still today her style is appealing to a new generation of fashionistas who learn about Lady Di through their icons like Rihanna [1], Hailey Bieber [15], Off-White’s designer Virgil Abloh [2], Instagram (@ladydirevengelooks one of many) and the latest season of a TV-show  “The Crown”.

Numerous writers (Tina Brown, Elizabeth Holmes) notice that after the separation from Prince Charles was actually when Princess Diana’s fashion became her most exciting and confident.  During their marriage, as a member of the royal family, she had to follow “protocols and properness of monarchy.” She was supposed to wear and endorse local designers and brands. “Diana never looked better than in the days after her divorce”, states her biographer Tina Brown. Award-winning fashion journalist Sarah Mower in the article about Lady Di and her bags, states that “the glossy European status bag was a symbol of independence after her separation from Prince Charles”. That was when we noticed her handbag game became really strong after that one iconic moment.

The moment that has forever got imprinted in fashion history as an ultimate “revenge dressing” is of course her appearance on the night of June 29, 1994 - the night when Prince Charles confessed to the whole country his infidelity to his wife and acknowledged his relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles. What was supposed to be all over the front page the next morning was overshadowed by the short black off-the-shoulders mini-dress by Christina Stambolian worn by Princess Diana to an event at Serpentine Gallery. In his book “100 Unforgettable Dresses” Hal Rubinstein describes,  Lady Diana “stepped out of a car, looking ravishing and flagrantly audacious, her gym toned body poured into Stambolian’s all-ruches black dress, its sleeves pulled down as low as the neckline, its minitrain flying off her hip as she strutted down the sidewalk in a pair of killer black stilettos - and a winning smile”. What writer's didn't mention was that she paired the look with a small black clutch by Salvatore Ferragamo Vara bow clutch; she was holding by her red-manicured hands.

According to Rubenstein, Princess Diana ordered this dress from Christina Stambolian’s boutique in London in 1991, three years prior, without even knowing the occasion she might ever wear such a “daring" dress [14]. But three years later it became her second-most-photographed dress she ever wore and that graced the front page of every London newspaper. It even got a publication in Telegraph on its twenty-fifth anniversary (the dress had its own anniversary mention and not Prince Charles’ interview)! Up until today, Rihanna recalls this moment as “this Diana bad b**ch moment” that blew her away [1].

In her earlier looks, Princess Diana’s handbags were less branded and identifiable. According to Sarah Mower, during her royal appearances to get a precise colour-match, her discreet evening envelope-style bags were often made by her dressmakers rather than designer handbag firms [7]. Unlike the black Ferragamo clutch, which is why it was an important moment not just for the “Revenge dress” but also Lady Di’s relationship with fashion. As an ultimate style icon, it can be seen not only through her memorable looks, enduring influence on style but also her personal friendships with designers, like Gianni Versace. She is credited to give birth to the “It-bag” movement [7] and also there isn't just one, not even two, but FOUR luxury handbags that are named after her.

Christian Dior

The first handbag is of course, an iconic Lady Dior by Christina Dior. The legend says that during Princess Diana’s visit to Paris in 1995 for Cezanne Art Exhibition, the First Lady of France, Madame Bernadette Chirac, gave Lady Di, the latest handbag design by Dior, as a diplomatic gift. Created in 1994 under the creative direction of Gianfranco Ferre, the tote was first called “Chouchou,” which means “Favorite”  in French [5],[8]. Lady Diana fell instantly in love with the bag, and as the most photographed woman in the world, the bag was highly photographed on the arm of one of the world’s most beloved woman of all time. The “Lady Dior” handbag became an instant success. In honour of Lady Di, Dior decided to rename its iconic bag and pay tribute to the Princess of Wales, and since 1996, the bag has been known as the “Lady Dior” handbag.

Marie Claire reports that the late Princess loved it so much, she ordered the bag in every colour [6][9].

This was the time when Lady Di’s divorce from Price Charles finalized, so the handbag also became a symbol of her new-found freedom, both personal and sartorial. She has been photographed wearing the variation of the bag multiple times, for official, gala and state visits. Most memorably she paired it with a tangerine Versace suit on a visit to Liverpool that year, and with a John Galliano for Dior slip to the Met Gala in 1996, devoted to 50 years of Christian Dior [10]. That was the only Met Gala that she attended [6].

 

 

Great selection of Lady Dior bags available at Lux Second Chance

https://luxsecondchance.com/search?q=lady+dior

  

Salvatore Ferragamo

Another Salvatore Ferragamo purse that was favoured by Princess Diana so much that now bears her name, is called the Lady D handbag. According to Sarah Mower, in 1990 Lady Di began buying from Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo. Overall Diana had more than 20 calfskin Ferragamo bags with distinctive gold-hooped Gancio clasps. She has been seen wearing those multiple times, paired with business suits in different colours, from neutrals to kelly green, matching them with her variety of Ferragamo crossbody bags. 

  

Selection of Salvatore Ferragamo - https://luxsecondchance.com/collections/salvatore-ferragamo

  

Tod’s

After the divorce, many of Princess Diana's appearances were photographed of her leaving the gym and during those appearances she was often spotted wearing the Tod’s tote bag. As with everything that Princess Diana’s name was associated with, it became very popular and soon after her passing in 1997, Tod’s renamed the tote as D Bag .

Diego Della Valle, the son of the company’s founder, revealed why it was such a natural decision to name the bag after Diana. "She was an incredible supporter of our product," he told the Times in an interview. He explained that the Princess of Wales had discovered Tod’s herself, by browsing in the shops, unlike many high-profile women these days who are gifted with the bags they carry in order to generate press coverage. "It was interesting for us because she used the D-Bag in many different situations, between official dinners or when she was in Africa," he added [12].

In 2019 it was relaunched as a D-Styling bag [11] and has a slightly different look - more of a satchel than the original tote, favoured by Lady Di. Since the original D Bag was discontinued, for the feature film “Diana” starring Naomi Watts, Tod's made sure that the leading actress would be able to carry the original tan D-Bag that the Princess of Wales owned [17].

Today, fans of Princess Diana's iconic style can either shop the new Tod's D-Styling Bag or hunt for vintage treasures on websites like Lux Second Chance.

https://luxsecondchance.com/collections/tods

 

Anya Hindmarch and “Cleavage” bags

British luxury handbag designer Anya Hindmarch, who is famous for her  “I’m not a plastic tote” bag, opened her first boutique in Chelsea in 1993 and Princess Diana soon became a great supporter of her company. In the interview to Telegraph, Hindmarch told that "She was a very loyal customer and a lot of fun”. So much fun, that the royal kept her appointments very informal. And it was Princess Diana, who came up with a cheeky name for the project they were working on. According to Hindmarch, "We used to laugh when we designed what she called her 'cleavage bags,' little satin clutches which she would cover her cleavage with when she stepped out of cars.” [16] The term definitely got right to the heart of it. Every time Diana stepped out of a car in a low-cut dress, her purse shielded her chest from photographers, trying to capture her in unflattering or embarrassing situations. Now, the “cleavage bag” is considered as one of the signatures of the red carpet style of the People’s Princess.

 

Anya Hindmarch bags available here - https://luxsecondchance.com/collections/anya-hindmarch


Chanel

Although there is an urban legend saying that Princess Diana didn't wear Chanel after the divorce because of interlocking CC [13], that can also signify Charles and Camilla, she actually did a couple of appearances with Chanel handbags and shoes.

 

The first memorable opportunity for her to wear a Chanel handbag was in November 1988, on a royal tour to Paris, France, because that was allowed to be seen as a diplomatic gesture, as a nod to a hosting country. [7] She was wearing a red coat paired with a classic Chanel flap bag. Meanwhile on most other occasions she was supposed to support local English brands.

In 1989 Karl Lagerfeld created a version of Chanel Classic Flap, that got renamed after the Princess of Wales wore it. Now it is known as Chanel Diana bag. It's been in production until late 1990's [18]. Nowadays it is one of rare vintage finds and sought after by Chanel collectors. 

She was spotted with other Chanel handbags a handful of times. During one of her last appearances in June 1997, speaking in support of the Red Cross landmine campaign in Washington, she wore a lilac business suit and a white Chanel handbag with top handle, as well as in New York, at the auction event of her outfits for AIDS charity.

  

 

Versace

In the mid-90’s Princess Diana established a nice friendship with designer Gianni Versace. He created some of her chicest outfits of the decade, including business suits and red-carpet gowns. Their friendship was the most fruitful in the years when Gianni was at his prime and where Lady Di found herself. According to his interview in 1997, Versace notes how “serene” she was. He continues, “It is a moment in her life, I think, when she’s found herself - the way she wants to live”. [3]

She wore his handbags and accessories as well. In 1997 after his assassination, she was memorably wearing a glossy python Versace handbag, to his memorial service in Milano, as a final tribute to a maestro and her friend. Very soon afterwards she passed away too. 

Versace selection - https://luxsecondchance.com/collections/versace 

 

Gucci and Louis Vuitton

Some other luxury brands that were photographed in Princess Diana’s hands later in the 1990’s include Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

In the mid-90’s Lady Diana was photographed shopping on Bond Street, running errands or leaving her gym with a big suede taupe Gucci tote with bamboo handles. As of now, the brand has no connection or stories regarding their relationship with the former Princess of Wales. 

  

In 2017 Gucci relaunched a tote with bamboo handles under the name “Bamboo Forever”. You can find similar on Lux Second Chance website.

Similar Gucci bag - 

https://luxsecondchance.com/search?q=gucci+bamboo

With a Louis Vuitton pouch, Lady Diana was photographed in one of her last paparazzi photos while vacationing on a yacht in St. Tropez, France with Dodi Al-Fayed. To be exact, that was August 22, 1997- a week before her death.

Similar Louis Vuitton pouch can be found here - 

https://luxsecondchance.com/search?q=louis+vuitton+toiletry

 

Looking back at these photos, one can only imagine how Princess Diana's handbag collection could have expanded if only her life hadn't abrupt so suddenly! 


 

 

Sources:

1. https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/434ggd/rihanna-princess-diana

2. https://www.wmagazine.com/story/how-virgil-abloh-off-white-paid-tribute-princess-diana-paris/

3. Elizabeth Holmes, “HRH: so many thoughts on royal style”, Celadon Books, New York, 2020

4. Hal Rubenstetin “100 Unforgettable dresses”, Harper Design, New York, 2011

5. https://www.tatler.com/article/dior-lady-art-bags

6. https://www.harpersbazaar.com.au/fashion/princess-diana-dior-handbag-17696

7. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4751792/Diana-birth-Bag.html

8. http://dianalegacy.com/princess-dianas-insanely-luxurious-handbags/

9. https://www.crfashionbook.com/fashion/g26977287/the-women-who-inspired-fashions-most-coveted-handbags/?slide=15

10. https://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/style-file-diana-princess-of-wales?image=5f468ebabae3dd1c942e1778

11. https://www.instyle.com/fashion/accessories/bags/tods-d-bag-update

12. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1380502/Royal-bride-Kate-Middletons-1-665-Tods-D-Bag-tote-named-Princess-Diana.html

13. https://www.harpersbazaar.com.au/fashion/why-princess-diana-didnt-wear-chanel-1-16400

14. https://www.rd.com/article/story-princess-dianas-revenge-dress/

15. https://stylecaster.com/hailey-bieber-princess-diana-photoshoot-reactions/

16. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/fashion/news/a44343/diana-cleavage-bags/

17. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/princess-diana-tods-bag_n_3842865

18. https://fashiondigestlondon.com/chanel-bags-that-have-been-overlooked-non-classics/ 

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