x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A designer of elegant discretion

More than any other designer, Catherine Walker defined the way the late Princess Diana dressed.

More than any other designer, Catherine Walker defined the way the late Princess Diana dressed. She took the young Diana from beruffled Sloane Ranger to the most elegant woman in the world with her simple shift dresses, beautifully tailored jackets and elegant ballgowns.
One of the most famous outfits was a red military-style suit and another was the beautiful mauve skirt and red jacket she wore to be photographed in front of the Taj Mahal, sending signals to the world about her unhappiness. It was an unforgettable image, and Diana knew the photographs of her would be published everywhere. She was an expert in using clothes to make a public statement and chose every outfit with meticulous care. Who can forget the white, jewelled “Elvis” dress with its high-necked jacket worn to a banquet in Hong Kong in 1989, or the white lace halter-necked ballgown that she wore to the White House? The simple pink-and-white evening dress she wore to the ballet in London spawned hundreds of high-street copies.
And they were all Catherine Walker – creations of the dignified French-born designer, who battled breast cancer twice before dying this week at the all-too-young age of 65.
Walker’s impact on the princess’s wardrobe may be measured by the last thing Diana wore: she was buried in a stylish black dress ordered from Walker just weeks before her death.
The designer herself was above all discreet – although she must have known what her royal client was planning and her emotional state every time she designed an outfit. Walker guided Diana carefully through her early years, helping to give her confidence with every new beautifully tailored suit; and she saw her through her demure days as a young bride to emerge later, post-divorce, as a stunning fashion vamp. The designs may have been show-stoppers but they were always elegant.
Walker never blabbed Diana’s secrets to the media unlike, almost everyone else connected to the princess, and she never tried to capitalise on the connection in any way. In fact, she once actually hired a public-relations consultant to keep her name out of the press.
One anecdote in an obituary reveals that when Diana was looking for a tailor, she went through the Yellow Pages ringing up each one anonymously and asking for the names of their celebrity clients. Any who gave up the names were instantly crossed off the list. Walker clearly passed the test and never betrayed the princess’s trust.