One of his earliest creations was the "fairy princess" dress, which the Princess wore shortly before announcing her first pregnancy. Sassoon said: “We called it the fairy princess dress because we received so many letters about it, especially from children, who thought that was what a fairytale princess should look like. Diana loved this dress, it appealed to her sense of romance.”
During Princess Diana’s pregnancy, Sassoon sent sketches to Kensington Palace, on to which she scribbled her ideas to be incorporated into the designs before fittings. One sketch of a turquoise, bouclé maternity dress features her notes: “Please could I have this one without the high collar and bow?” Sassoon said: “She had a very clear idea of what she did and didn’t like, and she’d look at sketches and make notes asking if we could put a sleeve or a neckline from one design on to another dress.”
Another sketch for a claret taffeta dress with bows, shows her enthusiasm to have the dress made up, with the words “Yes please!” next to the design which she wore to the opening of the Barbican Centre with the Queen in March 1982, when she was six months pregnant.
“We had to let it out at the very last minute because her bump had suddenly grown,” said Sassoon. “She was very excited about the baby, but also conscious of looking appropriate for the occasion during her pregnancy.” Sassoon made another sketch for a maternity dress made of velvet and a white lace collar. She sent back the sketch with a note: “This one in dark blue please.” Sassoon made the dress in 1982 using lace which had belonged to Queen Victoria.
He added: “Diana didn’t like coats. I used to ask 'are you going to be warm enough wearing that?’ and she’d say, 'don’t worry, I’ll wear my thermals underneath’. She was a great one for thermals.”
Where other Royal family members would earnestly practice curtsying in their new clothes, the Princess would delight in removing her thermal underwear before trying on a designer dress. Sassoon said: "She was very proud of the fact that she wore thermals because she didn't like overcoats. When she was going into the fitting room, she would say 'Just a minute, let me take my thermals off'. I think she enjoyed all that."
Sassoon said: “Diana enjoyed fashion and getting a reaction from her outfits. In fittings, she’d say this will get them going, this will get a response. Everyone thought she was fussy about clothes but she wasn’t. Many other members of the Royal family would ask for hundreds of changes in fittings and ruin the whole outfit, but not Diana.”
Princess Diana Chatting With David Sassoon At The Preview Party Of Her Dresses Auction In London In 1997
The Caring Dress
The dress Princess Diana loved most was a more modest number. She called it her "caring dress". She was determined to defy public criticism and keep wearing it.
Sassoon explained that the Princess's devotion to the floral crepe-de-Chine design was because she realised its bright colours was attractive to sick or suffering children, making them relaxed in her presence. It meant that when she faced comment from a public, unaware of her reasons for wearing the dress, the Princess told Sassoon she would not bow to popular pressure.
Sassoon said: "She would say 'I keep being told not to wear it, but I love this dress, my caring dress'. Of course, Diana was the first member of the Royal family to break all the rules." Sassoon designed the dress for a foreign tour in 1988. The Princess went on to wear it in Lagos in Nigeria, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and also while visiting a London Aids hospice.
Press reports in the 1990's speculated that Diana loved the dress because of its colour, but Sassoon explained: "She happened to wear that dress when visiting a hospital, and children seemed to clamour round and like it. If you are like the Princess of Wales, who loved children, you don't want a strictly formal suit for a hospital visit. You pick a very informal dress with bright colours, which that dress was. The reaction is one of awe from young children."
Sassoon, who made more than 70 outfits for the Princess, revealed how the Princess never took clothes too seriously despite the extent to which her appearance was scrutinised. She could even pop into his London shop and choose an outfit just hours before wearing it at a formal engagement.
"She just appeared in the shop saying 'help'. I have never enjoyed such an informal relationship with a member of the Royal family, and I am sure I never will again. Princess Diana was much more relaxed about dressing, but she always got it right, she had the figure and the sheer charm. Before her divorce, her clothes could never be overtly sexy. But just think how amazing she looked in the last years of her life. She was a red carpet glamour girl." Sassoon said.
The Telegraph, By Adam Lusher. Publication Date: 29 November 2008