The new Princess of Wales was expecting her first baby, and her lady-in-waiting contacted the design company requesting for a collection of maternity wear. "This was the beginning of a long professional relationship and friendship with the Princess of Wales. I was extremely moved by the idea of making clothes for her," said the designer, who made one thousand iconic dresses for her special client for sixteen years.
By the mid 1980's, Catherine Walker's coatdresses and evening gowns were becoming a staple of Diana's wardrobe. "I tried to hone a clean silhouette that matched my own brief for the formality and presence I wanted Princess Diana to have. She saw how the slim elongation of the torso increased her poise and matched her clean smile," Catherine said.
The French born designer worked closely with British milliners, who created the significant hat designs for the Princess of Wales, such as Philip Somerville. For instance, during the Princess's state visit to the Gulf in March 1986, Catherine Walker created a pink and red coatdress with a slim skirt, golden flat buttons, a high neckline, long sleeves, and below the knee hem. "The colours pink, red and gold were inspired by images of the vegetable-dyed traditional colors of the Bedouin. We felt they played beautifully against the heat of the Arabian sands," she said.
The matching large brimmed hat was created by British milliner Philip Somerville, and was a collaborative effort between him and Princess Diana. "She wanted it in the two colors of the dress, but Somerville was at first hesitant about using such strong colors together. He later admitted that it was quite terrific. I always like the fact that Princess Diana didn't follow fashion, but did what was right for her," Catherine added.
After ten years of designing for the Princess, Catherine Walker was well aware of the fact that Diana was photographed from every angle. With that fact in mind, the designer created more feminine designs with intricate details using motif embroidery, sequins, lace and pearls. "There were many royal occasions that filled the calendar, and the Princess was inspected in every detail on every occasion, right down to her nail varnish," she said.
Shortly before the separation in 1992, Catherine made one last state dress for Princess Diana. Since then, the Princess's clothes became demure for a period of two years; which reflected the status of her troubled married life. By 1994, Princess Diana's look and physique had changed dramatically. "The demure phase was over. I had completely rethought, and the new collection had become stronger. The designs were more relaxed and younger. I was dressing a real body, full of corners. Diana was tall, narrowed hipped, with muscles, a bust and strong legs," said the designer.
Auctioning 79 gowns of the Princess of Wales for charity was one of the huge projects Catherine Walker was involved in. In April 1997, the Princess's favorite designer, along with her team, met at Kensington Palace to help Diana select and sort out 50 dresses that will be auctioned to raise money for the Royal Marsden Hospital Cancer Fund and the AIDS Crisis Trust. Catherine, who herself had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, proclaimed: "I am deeply moved that my designs, through the Princess, are now being used to save lives".
The last order Catherine worked on for her special client was requested by her former Butler, Paul Burrell. In 31 August 1997, a day after her death was announced, Paul called the designer requesting for a dress for the Princess of Wales to be buried in. The designer chose a black dress. "It's not a dress I wish to describe or talk about. While it was undoubtedly the saddest and difficult commission of my life, just being asked to do it made me feel immensely grateful. I am still a part of her life forever in away, and a little part of me will be with her forever," Catherine said.
An Autobiography By The Private Couturier To Diana, Princess Of Wales: Designing For Princesses. By Catherine Walker. Publication Date: 07 September 1998
Princess Diana And Catherine Walker Displays One Of The Dresses, Which Was Commissioned In 1990
Catherine Walker's Design Team Poses For A Photograph With Princess Diana At Kensington Palace In April 1997