The style transformation of Princess Diana’s is the stuff of fashion legend: how shy Di – all diaphanous skirts and sensible sweaters – became a glamorously poised style icon, with her sharp designer skirt suits and sleek evening dresses.
But she did not do it alone. Enter Vogue fashion director Anna Harvey. Over 16 years, Harvey helped the Princess with every aspect of her style, from outfits for foreign tours to pieces for her private life.
“I think probably in choosing me, Vogue was playing it quite safe,” she says, reflecting on then-editor Beatrix Miller’s decision to assign her the task of putting together a wardrobe for the newly engaged Diana, who had been brought into the magazine’s fold because her older sisters had worked there.
“The editors could see the danger of turning her into a fashion plate, and the criticism Vogue would get for that, and I think they thought the risk was less with somebody like me.
“I was unbelievably excited and nervous and terrified that people would say, ‘My God, why is she wearing that? Who helped her choose that?’ ” says Anna of the first engagements Diana carried out wearing looks she had styled.
The pair quickly forged a partnership that over the years saw Anna source everything from sundresses for Diana’s honeymoon to dazzling evening gowns, leggings for the gym and chinos to wear off-duty. “She did go down to Kensington High Street and do the odd bit of shopping, but I think it was mainly for the boys. I think she didn’t enjoy all that attention of buying things for herself.”
It’s little wonder that Anna – one of the loveliest fashion editors you could hope to meet – not only styled Diana but became a close friend and confidante.
On the day we meet, it is pouring with rain and everyone around us is looking sodden. But Anna, who retired in 2015 from her job as editorial director of new markets for Vogue’s publisher, Condé Nast, is serenely chic in a Burberry raincoat and luxe-looking H&M silky blouse. The ensemble attests to her ability to put together a look that is as elegant as it is utterly suited to the occasion.
That flair put Anna in perfect stead to help Princess Diana find the sweet spot between diplomacy, glamour and propriety. Anna juggled her day job with introducing the Princess to designers such as Catherine Walker, Bruce Oldfield and Victor Edelstein, picking out pieces for her to try on at their regular sessions together at Kensington Palace.
Lately, Anna has been perusing the Princess’s looks on Pinterest. “I did think all those huge shoulders [might have been a mistake], and I notice on Pinterest they don’t actually have any of that sort of era up. Clearly nobody liked that,” she says, raising a wry eyebrow.
Of course, those shoulders were the look of the ’80s, so it was only natural that Anna would nod to them, and that the British designers she worked with Diana resolved early on to support homegrown talent – would incorporate them.
In the early days, Diana would mostly allow herself to be guided by Anna’s recommendations. “She was only really interested in what worked for the job she had to do. I think she was anxious to look good, and not dated or frumpy, but there was no real interest in following everyone on the catwalk.” The pair both studied the press religiously for feedback.
Diana’s rapid introduction to world of high fashion gave her an insight into another kind of life. Anna remembers a meeting that was set up between Diana and the supermodel Linda Evangelista. “She was such a supermodel-looking person herself, and I think she just wanted to see what their life was like. In another world, who knows if she would have been on the catwalk?”
Anna’s repertoire was phenomenal: she turned her hand to sourcing everything from floral maternity looks to ravishing cocktail dresses, helping Diana to adjust her look as her life changed.
As her confidence grew, Diana began to know her own mind. “There were some things that never saw the light of day, so I had to ask her, ‘What happened to that?’ ” Anna recalls. “It was always a bit of a vague answer, so perhaps she gave them all away. She gave a lot of clothes away.
“It was much freer after the divorce. You will notice that necklines dropped and skirts rose. Much more leg was shown,” she smiles. “I don’t blame her – she had amazing legs. And she was building a new life for herself. She wanted to be positive and I admire the way she picked herself up and got on with life and didn’t sink into a sort of oblivion.”
Princess Diana’s style has recently come back into fashion, with millennials emulating her LBDs, pearls and early- ’80s flounces. “I was rather relieved to see it,” says Anna, of the Alexa Chung for Marks & Spencer blouse that was a sell-out in the UK last year. “People are so rude about those pie-crust frills and actually I think most of us had one in our wardrobe. I certainly did.” But Anna insists she is surprised by the longevity of Diana’s style legacy. “I thought it would just be here today and gone tomorrow, like most fashion.”
Anna Harvey, photographer Kim Knott, Diana, Prince Harry and Prince William. Photo: Kim Knott/Camera Press/Australscope