Princess Diana’s stylist and former British Vogue editor Anna Harvey once showed her royal client a picture of Naomi Campbell wearing a beaded Versace column gown. Lady Di—who loved to experiment with clothes, but was never preoccupied with being perceived as fashionable—loved the look. Gianni Versace, who became a close friend of Diana’s after she modeled an icy blue Atelier Versace gown on a 1991 magazine cover, and his sister Donatella set to work making one for her.
“Diana was waiting with her bags packed for a trip to New York and, as she wanted to take the dress with her, I rushed round to Kensington Palace with it,” Harvey recalls of securing the look. “When we opened the box, it was the wrong dress and did nothing for her. She sent it back with a charming note (and, incidentally, despite being HRH she always insisted on paying for everything).”
No matter: the years that followed would see the princess wear several striking dresses synonymous with Versace’s high-octane glamour. As Gianni pulled up the roots of bourgeois taste with his super-charged, sassy fashion, Diana carved out her own charity-focused lifestyle away from Prince Charles and the Kensington Palace spotlight. She began mixing in Gianni’s world, socializing with influential creatives from the arts, such as Elton John and George Michael, and dressing for herself, rather than the royal platform given to her at the age of 20.
In the July 1997 issue of Vanity Fair, of which Diana was the cover star, Gianni said of his friend, “I had a fitting with her last week for new suits and clothing for spring, and she is so serene. It is a moment in her life, I think, when she’s found herself—the way she wants to live.” Gianni was murdered shortly after the interview was published on July 15, and Diana died in a car crash in Paris on August 31 the same year.
For that time in the mid ’90s, Diana radiated confidence in Gianni’s signature form-fitting dresses and peppy suiting. As Harvey reflected, “The sample Versace shift dresses and evening columns that Catherine Walker was doing for her were probably her most successful looks to date.” Here, nine pictures that prove Versace was the perfect brand for Diana.