Past Perfect: Lady Di

©artwork by Charles Bals / Another Slang

The short blonde hair is perfectly put into place, dark kohl pencil frames the blue eyes and makes them seem even bigger. She wears golden XL clips combined with a plain black blazer – underneath, only a white T-shirt. That is how Diana Princess of Wales, popularly known as Lady Di, stepped in front of the cameras for BBC on 5 November 1995. She invited the journalist Martin Bashir to her living room in Kensington Palace, to conduct the interview. At that time she had been living apart from her husband Prince Charles. The interview should save their marriage – both Charles and the media had represented her as the person responsible for their estrangement.

According to Diana her husband’s relationship to Camilla Parker Bowles triggered the failure of their marriage. By means of the interview she wanted to explain their point of view: back then they spoke about her bulimia, her unhappy marriage and how she was hurt by the Royal Family. Diana’s confession, which was watched by 23 million Britons, led Queen Elizabeth II. to push forward the legal procedure surrounding their official separation. On 28 August 1996 Prince Charles and Princess Diana were officially divorced.

Why start a style portrait about Lady Di with this particular interview and not perhaps, with the day of their wedding?  On 29 July 1981, when Diana said yes at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral (wearing a puffy silky dream gown by Elizabeth Emanuel) and was appointed Princess of Wales, she became style icon for women around the world. Each of her appearances was coined as a fashion event by the press – in the 1980 Lady Di was the most photographed woman in the world. Her official visit to the White House in 1987 made fashion history when she appeared in a strapless, black velvet dress, topped of with a diamond necklace.

But back to the question of why the look for her BBC interview was so significant. At that point it became crystal clear that she used her style to express a public a statement. The unpretentious outfit she wore during her major television confession should enhance her credibility, the black kajal, which highlighted the big blue eyes showed her vulnerability and the big gold ear clips represented her strength. Her playful way of expressing these ambivalences, is what made Lady Di so interesting to the media – Diana knew that and cleverly used it to her advantage. A year earlier, in 1994, when Prince Charles assured in a BBC interview that he had not been unfaithful during his marriage, Diana did not permit him to act as if he was innocent.

That same evening she went to a summer party at the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Hyde Park and drew the media attention by appearing in a tight mini-dress of black silk by Christina Stambolian and by that stole the adulterer’s thunder. During the separation phase Diana expressed her sovereignty Buckingham Palace, by means of her new style. It was obvious that she had left the royal repression behind. The conservative outfits (like the neat dress with bows and Polkadots she wore shortly after the birth of her first son), belonged to history.

Instead she wore figure-hugging looks and showed herself as a confident woman who had escaped an unhappy marriage. At a charity concert in Italy in 1995, she appeared in a sexy Versace dress, which accentuated her legs and delicate figure, she had clearly emancipated from her old life. Along with this new kind of sex appeal, came new men in Diana’s life. She tried her luck with the Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and spent the last months before her accidental death with businessman and playboy Dodi Al-Fayed by her side – supplying the paparazzi with photos of of them on a yacht near the coast of St. Tropez.

Many would probably have liked to see as a pleasure-loving ex-Royal, but even in Diana’s new life there was another side. After the divorce, Diana fought in particular for the abolition of landmines. In 1997, she visited a hospital for of victims of landmines in Angola. In a sleeveless denim blouse with the “Red Cross” sign on her chest, a pair of 7/8 chinos and Tod’s loafers and very down to earth – she came to Africa. Without shyness she walked toward the patients and let herself be photographed while surrounded by a crowd of children, to make their grievances the center of attention.

Diana’s death was equally ambivalent as she was herself. Ultimately the media, which she so skillfully used for her purposes,  was to blame for her tragic end. On August 31, 1997 Diana and Dodi died in a car accident in a tunnel in Paris after a chevy with the paparazzi.

Translation: Jessica Aimufua

Born in Cologne, Christine Korte is a truly a cheerful soul from the Rhineland. After studying German language and literature in Marburg, she gained her first experience in fashion in Milan and Paris in the correspondence offices of German Vogue and the Women's Wear Daily. After going on to work at Glamour, Grazia, and Flair, she now lives as a freelance journalist in Berlin and writes for online magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and Refinery29. Aside from fashion, theater, and film, her passion lies in long walks with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Udo.