The black sheep sweater famously worn by Princess Diana, arguably as emblematic of her style as the "Revenge Dress," sold at Sotheby's New York this week for $1.14 million. The piece was part of the inaugural Fashion Icons auction and was expected to go for $50,000 to $80,000. Alongside the sweater, two letters detailing the late royal's sentiments about the article of clothing were included. In one, Princess Diana called the sweater a "much loved knit," and in a second letter, a thank you note, she penned her gratitude for the new sweater.
The Princess was first seen wearing the red and white sweater when she was 19 years old at one of King Charles's polo matches, just one month before their marriage. It was only revealed to the designers of the sweater, Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne of Warm & Wonderful, that Princess Diana owned one of their products after photos from the events circulated from the Sunday Times. The power of the press catapulted the then-small business Warm & Wonderful into stratospheric popularity.
"Princess Diana’s wardrobe often pushed the boundaries of societal norms at the time and had a unique way of transcending her personality through to the public," Cynthia Houlton, Sotheby’s Global Head of Fashion & Accessories tells T&C. "The second she was captured donning this sweater, it immediately sparked a conversation amongst both the media and the general public, speculating what message she was trying to send to the world."
In 1983, the two designers received a letter from Buckingham Palace explaining that Princess Diana had damaged her original sheep sweater, and requested for it to be repaired or replaced. An entirely newly knitted sweater was sent to her, and Muir and Osborne received a thank you letter from Princess Diana's private secretary, Oliver Everett CVO. Shortly after, Princess Diana wore the sweater again, this time with white jeans, a large white collar, and a black ribbon tie.
The production of the sweater ceased in 1994 but the brand reissued the design in 2020 in collaboration with the Rowing Blazers. In the same year, a replica of the sweater was also worn by Emma Corrin in the fourth season of The Crown. The whereabouts of the original sweater worn by Diana in 1981 were unknown until last March; it had been tucked away in a small box in the attic of the original designers.
Though whimsical and light-hearted in appearance, the sweater's black sheep design perhaps foreshadowed, then signaled Princess Diana's relationship with the royal family. With the understanding of the restricted life the royal lived following her marriage, it may be assumed that though the first time she donned a black sheep sweater may have been a coincidence, the second time, two years into her royal life, was not.
"As one of the most photographed women of all time, she made a firm decision to wear this design not once, but twice in public - further alluding that it was a deeply personal item to 'the people’s princess,'" Houlton says.
Online bidding was open from August 31 through September 14 and the sweater was displayed in New York starting September 7. For more information, please visit Sothebys.com.
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