Charm candy: why Dior’s ‘Lady D’ is still a royal hit
Simply sign up to the Style myFT Digest -- delivered directly to your inbox.
The success of a handbag is not necessarily down to what, but who. Yes, the design is important – functionality, recognisability and a reflection of the times are all key – but more often it’s the person who carries it that makes it a hit. Take the Hermès Kelly, which previously went by the forgettable moniker of Sac à Dépêches, used by Grace Kelly to conceal her pregnant belly from the paparazzi in 1956. The style became a sensation – it still commands waiting lists – and was later named after the actress. There’s the Gucci saddlebag, often seen slung on the arm of Jackie Onassis in the ’70s and ’80s, which was referred to as “the Jackie” internally at Gucci HQ before being officially named after the former first lady and re-released in 2020. The new style has boosted the trend for shoulder bags with a retro feel.
Dior’s answer to the famously named It bag, the Lady Dior, celebrates its 25-year anniversary this year – and is still a runaway success. Originally created in 1995, the then unnamed bag was given to Diana, Princess of Wales, by the first lady of France ahead of a Cézanne exhibition in Paris. The royal took a liking to the black-leather style, with its boxy shape and quilted cannage pattern – inspired by the Napoleon III chairs used by Christian Dior to seat guests at his shows – and carried it with her everywhere from Liverpool to Buenos Aires. The house officially named the bag after Diana in 1996, and reportedly sold 200,000 in its first two years of production.
“[The Lady Dior] became iconic thanks to its association with a role model beloved by so many,” says Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri. She is particularly fond of the style because it was first designed under Gianfranco Ferré, the only other Italian to head up the French maison. Chiuri has reimagined the bag in numerous ways, including the Lady D-Lite, a sportier version in embroidered canvas. “A good part of my training was in accessories, and I have a real passion for bags,” says Chiuri. “I made the bag soft, changed the dimensions and the materials, then added opaque finishes and an ultra-opaque leather. I transformed it into a piece with infinite potential.” Most importantly, Chiuri designed it with a wide shoulder strap in line with today’s taste for hands-free practicality.
To mark the anniversary, which coincides with the year Diana would have turned 60, Dior is releasing a micro version (£2,750) as well as different colours of the Lady D-Lite, including a fuchsia Toile de Jouy edition (£3,450), launching in June at the Dioriviera pop-up in Selfridges. The Lady Dior will also feature in August at a pop-up in Harrods, where it’s long been a bestseller. “The Lady Dior is the ‘must-have’ style when buying into the brand,” says Harrods fashion director Lydia King. “Dior has had other incredibly successful styles, but in terms of longevity and timelessness, the Lady Dior is a cut above the rest.” She says special editions or anything with particular rarity are always popular – the Blue Palms iteration (£3,800) has drawn notable interest this year – with some customers buying a new colour or fabrication every season. “The timeless nature of the style means clients can cherish the bag for life.”
The Lady Dior has collectability and resale value as well as longevity. Variations in colour, patterns, decorations and sizing mean the style “appeals to a wider range of collectors than almost any other handbag”, says Caitlin Donovan, the vice president and head of sale for Christie’s Handbags. Last year, the auction house sold a 1997 shiny-pink alligator mini Lady Dior for £8,125 – four times its estimate. “Like other iconic handbags, such as the Hermès Kelly or Chanel Flap Bag, this style remained at the pinnacle of high-fashion accessories since its inception,” adds Donovan. At luxury resale website Vestiaire Collective, the Lady Dior is one of the top 10 most-sold luxury bags, and a Classic Lady Dior typically retains at least 45 per cent of its retail price. (Season four of The Crown last year, which renewed appreciation for Diana’s style, boosted demand by 15 to 20 per cent on the platform.)
The Lady Dior has accompanied many of Diana’s most famous looks – from the prim skirt suits she donned during her official duties to the slinky, John Galliano-designed slip dress she wore to the 1996 Met Gala in New York, paired with her equally famous sapphire and pearl strand choker. “It seduced Lady Di,” adds Vestiaire co-founder Sophie Hersan. Just as it still seduces us.