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Why are people so obsessed with buying Diana's things?

Diana's belongings regularly fetch historic prices at auction, but why are people so keen to own a piece of the late princess? (Getty Images/Sotheby's)
Diana's belongings regularly fetch historic prices at auction, but why are people so keen to own a piece of the late princess? (Getty Images/Sotheby's)

Princess Diana is still so widely popular, everyone wants a piece of her.

The longevity of Diana’s cultural impact is hard to overstate: she’s a Gen Z icon, her looks are still regularly replicated, she’s inspired TV shows and movies and the causes she chose to champion changed their trajectory permanently — and her sons William and Harry have also dedicated themselves to keeping her philanthropic legacy alive.

Perhaps then, it's no surprise that whenever items that once belonged to Diana go up for auction, they regularly record historic prices and attract the attention of faces almost as famous as the late princess.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - July 17:  
The late Princess Dianaâs historic black sheep jumper is on display at Sothebyâs auction house with a sale estimate of £40,000-70,000 ($50,000-80,000) in London, United Kingdom on July 17, 2023. (Photo by Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The late Princess Diana's iconic black sheep jumper is on display at Sotheby's auction house ahead of the auction in September. (Getty Images)

Given the extensive influence of Diana's fashion legacy, items that once made up part of her iconic collection attracting the attention of her devotees and of fashion aficionados alike makes sense, as does the fact if you want to own one yourself it will likely cost you an arm and a leg.

Diana's black sheep jumper has become the latest of her high-profile pieces to be listed for auction at Sotheby's and will be the headliner of their inaugural Fashion Icons sale in New York this September.

Eloise Moran, author of the Lady Di Look Book, explains to Yahoo UK the appeal of this particular item lies in the self-awareness it demonstrates that infused Diana's personal style.

"This sweater became so iconic because of all the various meanings that can be taken from it," Moran explains. "Diana feeling generally like the odd one out (especially relatable to young women) and inside the firm and the family; her issues with self-image (I'm sure it was very hard for her to be on show constantly, while she was facing so many battles with bulimia etc).

"The self-awareness of it is brilliant, and obviously depicts her cheeky sense of humour. I think the reason it's still so loved is so many of us can relate to the feeling of not belonging, or feeling a bit different from the rest."

Sotheby's has estimated the black sheep jumper will sell for between £40,000-£70,000 and earlier in the year the auction house set the record for a dress sold of Diana's going for nearly £476,000, nearly eight times their initial estimates.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - July 17:  
A private letter from Oliver Everett, the late Princess Dianaâs press secretary Mrs Joanna Osborne regarding the black sheep jumper is on display at Sothebyâs auction house with a sale estimate of £40,000-70,000 ($50,000-80,000) in London, United Kingdom on July 17, 2023. (Photo by Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
One of the letters being sold with Diana's 'black sheep' jumper. (Getty Images)

Will the black sheep jumper, designed by Warm & Wonderful, also exceed expectations come September? Moran says it has become a "piece of history" such is its significance.

"[It] wasn't just a garment, but is so telling about Diana's story, and that's why it's been iconised.

"We know she had a real soft spot for this piece as the first version was slightly damaged and she asked the Warm & Wonderful designers for a new one.

"It's an incredibly exciting item to own, and for Diana lovers, a sweater that truly encaptures the Princess and who she was."

LONDON, United Kingdom:  Celebrity portrait photographer Mario Testino poses in front of one of the pictures he took of the late British Princess Diana at an exhibition in Kensington Palace in London, 22 November 2005. Some of the portraits to be exhibited have never been displayed in public before. Also on show will be nine of Diana's gowns, four of which are featured in his portraits. AFP PHOTO/CARL DE SOUZA  (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images)
Mario Testino poses in front of one of the pictures he took of the late Princess Diana at an exhibition in Kensington Palace in 2005. Sotheby's auctioned the dress she is wearing for a record breaking price in early 2023. (Getty Images)

Fashion psychologist Carolyn Mair echoes Moran's sentiments, explaining that a likely reason why many Diana fans want to own something of hers as "a way [of] signalling affiliation and feeling a connection with her through the item’s ‘essence’".

"The psychological phenomenon of essentialism is super interesting," Mair explains. "Essentialism suggests that objects possess an inherent, intangible essence or set of essential properties that define their true nature, such as authenticity, rarity, historical significance, or association with a particular person or event.

"In this case, Diana," says Mair. "The perceived essence of the item can elevate its desirability and make it more valuable in the eyes of collectors or enthusiasts. For example, an item that previously belonged to Diana may be considered valuable because it has been touched by her; it embodies her essence."

TETBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 08:  Princess Diana Driving Her Ford Escort Car On Leaving St Mary's Primary School In Tetbury.  Bodyguard Graham Smith In The Passenger Seat  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Diana's cars have been bought at various auctions by museums and private collectors alike. (Getty Images)

It's not just essentialism that might attract buyers to these kind of auctions, Mair notes, the motivation can also be simply financial, because a bidder might expect the value of an item of Diana's to keep increasing

"We are motivated by social comparison which describes how we might imagine being part of Diana’s royal world, glamorous lifestyle, wealth, and luxury (social comparison) and dramatise her tragic end," says Mair. "Memorabilia (Diana’s or anyone’s) can help us reconnect with positive memories as it often holds sentimental value."

It's not just her clothes, of course, that attract collectors. There are two letters regarding the replacement of Diana's favoured jumper going on-sale alongside the piece, and this year has seen private correspondence to her close friends also go on sale.

LONDON - JUNE 11: A charming handwritten letter from HRH Diana Princess of Wales to William Tallon dated 30th July 1981 (the day after her wedding to Prince Charles) which is estimated at 1000-1500 GBP, on June 11, 2008 in Colchester, England. The lifetime collection of William Tallon (known affectionately as 'Backstairs Billy'), a longstanding servant of the Royal Family, goes to auction on July 5, 2008 at Reeman Dansie Auctions and includes letters, notes and gifts Tallon received from members of the Royal family over the years.  (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)
Over the years many recipients of Diana's correspondence have auctioned the letters off. (Getty Images)

The letters that she had written to close friends — the Kassems — in the two years before her untimely death, and they gave insight into her turbulent state of mind as she adapted to life outside the Royal Family after her divorce.

Although the Kassems had "treasured" them for 25 years, according to the auction house, "the ownership of these poignant documents is a responsibility that the Kassems do not wish to pass on to their children or grandchildren".

In a way, it's logical. What do you do with private letters from one of the most famous women of the last century? Is it right to ask someone else to deal with them down the line?

Diana Princess Of Wales, Prince William & Prince Harry Visit The 'Thorpe Park' Amusement Park. (Photo by Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images)
Diana's personal belongings regularly generate incredible prices at auction. (Getty Images)

In the end, more than 30 letters went for a total of £145,550 — which went to charities Diana supported — and the Kassems kept some of the more confidential ones, for obvious reasons.

Perhaps whoever ended up buying the private correspondence really feels like they now own a part of Diana's essence, which they can now fit easily into the palms of their hands.

From the Ford Escort car she drove in the eighties, her private thoughts shared with friends, to her iconic jewellery collection, one thing is for sure: people aren't going to stop trying to capture Princess Diana anytime soon.

Read more on Princess Diana:

Watch: The real story behind the shocking Princess Diana's phone call featured in The Crown