When it comes to royal fashion icons, many think of Princess Diana with her trademark frilly collars from her ‘Shy Di’ days and her fairy-tale princess wedding gown, to her high-octane, glamorous wardrobe such as the famous midnight blue velvet evening gown she wore while dancing with John Travolta at the White House, or the much talked about ‘Revenge Dress’ – a sexy, off-the-shoulder cocktail number she dazzled in for her post-divorce appearance.
However, with the rise of leisure-wear resulting from the global pandemic, it is Diana off-duty style and her love of whimsical sweaters featuring llamas and sheep motifs, as seen in the latest season of the Netflix series on the royal family, The Crown, that has sparked a renewed interest in the princess’s enduring fashion legacy.
Who can forget the images of Lady Diana Spencer in the eye-catching, red sweater adorned with rows of white sheep and a single black sheep, at a polo match in 1981 to cheer on her fiancé, Prince Charles. The London designers of the sheep sweater, Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne of the knitwear label Warm & Wonderful, didn’t even know that Diana owned the sweater until they saw her photo in the Sunday paper. Apparently, it might have been given as a gift to Diana by the mother of one of her page boys in her upcoming wedding.
Muir and Osborne were then inundated with “mail bags full of post” (this was before social media) after Diana’s picture appeared on the front page, and the sheep sweater — one of their original six designs first made in 1979. It became a cult hit and was sold to celebrities such as David Bowie and Andy Warhol as well as to stores around the world. One of the sweaters was added to the fashion collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Diana liked her black sheep sweater so much that she wore it again publicly at another polo match two years later, but the original design has never been reissued since 1994. Until now.
I spoke with Jack Carlson, founder of Rowing Blazers in New York, a brand launched in 2017 with an ironic, tongue-in-cheek take on preppy style. Carlson was fascinated with the Diana sheep sweater as a child in the Nineties as his mother had owned an original one, and he had always wanted to bring it back. So when it was time for his label’s first foray into womenswear, it was a fitting pop culture tribute. Carlson reached out to Joanna Osborne two years ago and she agreed to an exclusive collaboration with Rowing Blazers in reproducing the sweater from its original design.
As Carlson tells me, “To take some of the magic of something from the past, we try to do things the right way with these collaborations and with the original designers. It was really special to work with Joanna and Sally and do it exactly how the original sweater was made, including the Warm & Wonderful label.”
Due to the popularity of the Diana sheep sweater, the designers have seen it imitated over the years with cheap and high-end versions. Carlson indicates, “The intention is to keep this collaboration going, not just do a limited edition where it burns quickly. I think it’s important that this stays in the market as there have been so many instances where this design has been copied and knocked off without recognizing the original creators.”
The other Diana sweater Rowing Blazers is reissuing is a pink sweater emblazoned with “I’m a Luxury” in the front, and “Few Can Afford” in the back. In an official collaboration with Gyles & George, the original creators of the design, it is also available for the first time since the 1990s.
The princess, who had a cheeky sense of humor, and was known to make a statement with her wardrobe, was photographed wearing the “I’m a Luxury” sweater while pushing William and Harry on a swing set. Gyles Brandreth, one of the brand’s co-founders and a former U.K. Member of Parliament, says it was Diana’s and his favorite sweater. He donated the original design of it to a charity auction in 1990 where it was bought for £3000 by the Duchess of Westminster, who also happens to be Prince William’s godmother.
Carlson admits that they should have made more of the Diana sweaters when they were launched on the Rowing Blazers website on October 8, 2020. He says, “We sold out all of the sweaters we originally made in a day. Demand has been phenomenal – we can’t make them fast enough!”
Both styles of the Diana sweaters are currently available at www.rowingblazers.com in both men’s and women’s sizes for $295 each.