Bruce Oldfield will forever be known as the man who dressed Princess Diana in the Eighties. He created more than 100 dresses and styled her for more than a decade. The fashion designer, dubbed the Barnado's Boy for a childhood largely spent in care homes in Yorkshire, insists: "Princess Diana didn't make me." 

 

Born in London to a half-Irish woman and a Jamaican boxer, he was pushed from pillar to post in children's homes around Ripon before he tried teaching in his 20s. Later a course at Central Saint Martins led him to a career in fashion. Oldfield's fame only really took off when he started dressing Princess Diana, weaning her off her uniform of Sloane classics and Laura Ashley smocks. They first met in 1980, when a nervous newly-wed of 20 came to his boutique in London's Knightsbridge and asked him to make her something to wear to switch on the Oxford Street Christmas lights. 

 

"When she started she didn't have a clue. She was a little country bumpkin, a typical Sloane with cardigans and Laura Ashley see-through skirts. She wasn't at all sophisticated. We met after she came back from honeymoon and we got on well straight away. I have always wanted to concentrate on occasion wear and Princess Diana needed clothes for lots of occasions so it was a no-brainer for us to team up. She got gorgeous later on," he said.

 

Earlier though, after her engagement to the heir to the throne, the shy 19-year-old Lady Diana got a full-on Vogue makeover, complete with racks of high-fashion clothing hand-picked by the magazine’s top stylists. Oldfield recalled: "When it was first announced that she was to be the next Princess of Wales through her marriage to Prince Charles, the palace asked English Vogue to give her some guidance. They got a few of the editors to go around and pick clothes from different designers, take them to the editor's office, it was Beatrix Miller at the time, and she had a major try-on of everything. A lot of those girls from the shires, they're well-born young ladies. But they don't have that urge for frocks. Princess Diana was very lucky, because it was sort of thrust upon her."

 

However, when Princess Diana wore a black velvet evening gown for an official portrait by Lord Snowdon, and at the first night gala opening of Les Miserables at the Barbican centre in 1985, it raised Oldfield's profile enormously. The dress would later be auctioned off for charity, making around £50,000. 

 

He said: "I think with Princess Diana there was too much comment and there was too much negative comment. I’ve got a huge archive of this stuff: the hits, the misses, the none out of ten, the one out of ten. It was just so unnecessary. You'd have to be really thick-skinned for it not to affect you to some degree. Well, I helped. I pushed her in a certain direction, towards this more glamorous, more international look, and away from that Englishy, big collars thing. Then Catherine Walker certainly carried that forward.’

 

After her separation, Princess Diana was no longer wearing his designs after nine years of relationship. "Sometimes you just want a change. I get a lot of ladies from the racing world. They need a lot of outfits. Then, they get divorced and they say: 'Thank God I don't have to go to Ascot any more', and so your services are no longer required. Princess Diana's life changed with the separation. The sad thing is that after her divorce, she dropped me. She dropped the charities as well, so she dropped everything that reminded her of her life as a royal. Anyway, I always thought she looked best with clean hair and a white shirt and jeans, rather than all dressed up. She looked just fabulous like that."

 

Through his designs, Oldfield was able to take Princess Diana, who for a time cited him as her favourite couturier, from a shy, newly married 20-year-old to what he called: "A very elegant, confident woman who could look down the lens of any camera. She really did become her own woman. You could see it happen. You could see it even over the period of a year, because she was so photographed."

 

Sources:

  • The Daily Mail: Bruce Oldfield: 'I Gave Diana Her Glamour' By Liz Jones, First Published In 16 February 2014

  • The Huffington Post: Princess Diana Had A Vogue Makeover By Rebecca Adams, First Published In 27 February 2014

Princess Diana Is Seen Chatting To The Fashion Designer At A Charity Gala In 1987