It’s an iconic image in British history – a poised and defiant Princess Diana, aged 32, announcing her shock retirement from public life, in 1993, wearing a beautifully tailored bottle-green suit.
For its creator Amanda Wakeley, that image marked a life-changing moment. “I was very, very lucky,” she told Kate Thornton on Yahoo UK podcast White Wine Question Time. As press shots of the princess in a 'Wakeley' flew around the world, the career of the fledgling British designer – who started her business with no formal training and a £20,000 loan from her father – exploded.
Despite her subsequent success, it was the designer’s multiple collaborations with Princess Diana that remain the most defining of her career.
“She really loved clothes,” Wakeley told Thorton. “And she had a great figure. Beautiful height and legs… she was an incredible figure to be dressing.”
Yet it was clear to Wakeley that Diana’s interest in fashion went beyond the aesthetic. “She knew the power of the messaging through her clothes.”
Much of Wakeley’s designer/client relationship with Diana, however, remained private, focusing on the princess’ “informal, off-duty wear”. She recalled the princess’s “cheeky sense of humour” and the way she had “fun” with clothes, and loved a “twist”.
“I was doing a beautiful black cashmere roll neck bodysuit, with the whole back cut out, and she took it in several different colours,” Wakeley recalled. “She just loved this – demure from the front, and super sexy from the back.”
Tragically, Diana did not live to meet her sons’ future wives. So it has been a poignant reference each time Kate, Princess of Wales, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex have honoured their late mother-in-law over the years, choosing Wakeley’s designs time and time again for public appearances.
Most notably, both followed the late People’s Princess’ lead for their early engagements as part of the Royal Family. For one of her first appearances after marrying Prince William in September 2011, the Princess of Wales opted for a white Wakeley knee-length dress to visit patients at the Royal Marsden hospital, whilst in March 2018, Markle chose a cream coat by the British designer for her first royal engagement with the Queen following her and Prince Harry announced they would be married in May that year.
Wakeley went on to dress the most famous women on the planet, including Beyonce and Scarlett Johansson, famously placing Theresa May in a pair of “beautiful” leather trousers.
Her passion is dressing women in clothes that make them feel confident, like “armour”, whether it’s for a public appearance as a new Prime Minister, or for their wedding day.
Yet alongside her enormous success, 60-year-old Wakeley has also experienced her own tragedies. She lost her fashion business twice, once due to a divorce in the 1990s, then to liquidation in 2021, following the pandemic. Two weeks later, her brother died. “So not only was I grieving my brother, I was grieving my business.”
Wakeley refused, she told Kate Thornton, to focus on the negatives, however, instead starting the day with the thought, “How am I going to make a difference today, in my life, and the world, if I can?”
She is now launching an “exciting” new chapter in her career, as a fashion commentator, writer and founder of Amanda Wakeley’s Style DNA, a new podcast where she asks such guests as Trinny Woodall and Sophie Ellis-Bextor about important fashion moments in their lives. She also plans to collaborate with other brands.
In the meantime, she was delighted to note that Carrie Johnson rented a blue Wakeley suit to wear to the 2021 G7 Summit, and that the burgeoning dress rental market will allow thousands more women similarly to “still dip into the brand”.
A whole new generation of princesses, politicians and everyday women, dressed in Wakeley “armour”, taking on the world.