"Diana," a new biopic about Princess Diana has arisen a rash of controversy, particularly in how it depicts the love affair the princess had with a Pakistani doctor in the two years leading up to her 1997 death. But there's one matter that everyone can agree on when it comes to Diana Spencer's legacy: she had a fabulous sense of style, which the film brings to life with the help of one of Diana's friends and favorite designers. Couture dressmaker Jacques Azagury collaborated with the filmmakers to revisit some of Diana's most iconic looks, refitted for Naomi Watts, who plays the Princess of Wales in the film.
"At first I was a little bit apprehensive, because for me the last time I saw Diana was 16 years ago and so much has happened since. So I thought, do I want to go back to that time?" Azagury says. "But in fact it ended up being a really joyful experience for me to revisit."
Azagury first met Diana in 1987, introduced to her by a fashion magazine editor while the up-and-comer designer was showing off some of his dresses.
"She had this amazing ability to make you feel completely comfortable within seconds, so we started chatting and when I was talking to her I could see her looking at a specific dress." Three weeks later royal officials called to set up a fitting for Diana at Azagury's atelier. From there he continued to create some of her most iconic gowns, up until a dress he was working on that was awaiting her return from Paris – a return she would never make.
For the film, Azagury recreated two specific dresses he had once made for the princess: the blue dress Diana wore to the June 1997 opening of "Swan Lake" at London's Royal Albert Hall (which is featured prominently in the film's advertising) and the black one she wore on her 36th birthday for a dinner at the Tate Gallery.
He made replicas of all the gowns he originally made for Princess Diana and still had the fabric that he that he could fashion to fit Watts. Azagury doesn't like to pick favorites among his dresses, but says he has a special affection for the black gown, because Diana wore it on her last public appearance before leaving for Paris.
He made six other dresses for the film which were not replicas per se, but what Azagury calls "Diana-esque" – "what she would have chosen for those scenes in the movie," he says. "I didn't really want it to be a costume for costume drama."
While critics have many a bone to pick with the film – with its overly sentimental tone, its accuracy issues and its cheesy dialogue – most have acknowledged that Naomi Watts did capture Diana's look, an achievement certainly helped out by Azagury's dresses.
"The first time [Watts] came to see me in the shop she was already in the zone. She had been rehearsing and rehearsing. She had already been advised by many people about the stature, about the looks," he says. "The first dress we put on her she pretty much transformed in front of me in the mirror with her position, her posture and her head, and everything came together."