I’ve been thinking about style icons and influencers lately. One that’s been top of mind (thanks to The Crown, the upcoming film Spencer, and a general mood of the zeitgeist) is Princess Diana. The endearingly nicknamed people’s princess was perhaps the preeminent modern dresser. What she wore was watched so closely it began a cultural practice of reading meaning from fashion choices.
I think very often of how the famous black, off-shoulder revenge dress and similarly sexy pieces telegraphed a new independence for Diana in the later, post-divorce years of her life. There’s so much talk these days about what famous people’s outfits mean – and it all really did kick off with Lady Diana.
It also got me thinking about how we qualify style icons. I think a pretty good barometer is having something named after you. Jane Birkin and the eponymous Hermes bag, Jackie Onassis and her Gucci purse… in more recent times, perhaps Alexa Chung and the wildly popular Mulberry satchel of the 2010s.
Diana, Princess of Wales, photographed at the airport in Buenoes Aires, Argentina in 1995.
Princess Diana, as the title of this story might have given away, has cred like that too. I’m referring, of course, to the Lady Dior bag.
Here’s a summarised back story: in 1995, French First Lady Bernadette Chirac gifted a Dior bag to Lady Diana. At the time, it was unofficially named the ‘Chouchou’ (say shoe-shoe), a rather cuddly French way of referring to a favourite.
The question of whose favourite was really only answered later that year when Lady Diana was photographed carrying it in Buenos Aires. The name was a good omen: she quickly became a fan, picked up a few more versions, and was photographed carrying it a whole lot. Seeing the association, and perhaps recognising the powers of alliance, the French brand officially christened the bag the Lady Dior.
As the house’s most iconic handbag, the Lady Dior gets an endless slew of wicked reinventions. Artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri has introduced contemporary versions, made from embroidered textiles and with new elements of customisation. A novel take from the Cruise 2022 season is this very picnic-chic one made from wicker.
And while I appreciate the connection to Princess Diana and the mythos of the bag, its appeal has sometimes eluded me. That in mind, I made the trip to several boutiques to touch, feel and endlessly turn it over to try and get an understanding of why this was, and remains, the brand’s flagship handbag.
Dior’s own description offers an insight. On the website, it’s said to be the epitome of the house’s “vision of elegance and beauty”. What that means, I’ve discovered, is that the bag can be seen as a symbolic embodiment of the whole house of Dior.
Also new this season: an East-West horizontal version, rendered in microcannage raffia.
And what’s really at the heart of Dior is haute couture. It’s one of very few houses left that still makes clothes in that incredible, personalised and craft-intensive way. That the Lady Dior bag is well-made is no surprise: craftsmanship is intrinsic to a couture house. There’s even a quote by Christian Dior in which he expressed a wish for his dresses to be constructed like buildings.
The closing look of Dior haute couture Fall Winter 2019, a golden rendition of 30 Avenue Montaigne.
Funnily enough, the Lady Dior does remind me of a building. Bear with me here: it’s firmly structured and holds a defined shape. Even the top handles are designed so they can rest on each other and sit up without much tinkering. (A surprisingly valuable quality, by the way! Ease of use lends itself readily to chic.) While not a direct reference, it reminded me of a very literal, very camp couture look by Maria Grazia Chiuri of the brand’s Avenue Montaigne headquarters.
When I offered this revelation to an assistant at a Dior boutique, they generously laughed and offered plausibility. Taken by this idea of architecture and structures that last, I then asked them if the lambskin that the bag is made of would soften and slouch over time. The answer was an emphatic “no”, followed wryly by “maybe in a decade”. So, maybe a bit like a building after all.