Jacques Azagury met Princess Diana in 1987, dressing her for events and elegant evenings out before her death in 1997. He’s part of the reason Kate Middleton has such big shoes to fill. Azagury had a role in dressing Naomi Watts as she played the princess in Diana the movie, as well, which opens in New York on November 1 (the Red Carpet premiere is on October 30). He regularly makes his pret-a-couture for clients from Dame Helen Mirren to Brit model Kelly Brook in Knightsbridge, London, and graciously took time away from fittings to speak with me about Diana’s style, her best-dressed moment, and her killer legs.
What was Diana’s personal style like when you met? What sort of things did she gravitate toward?
I’m kind of known as the designer that changed Diana’s look to sort of a more of an international, streamlined look; I took her away from all the frills and flounces that she was wearing. That was the direction she wanted to go anyway. She was traveling much more in those days and she was seeing what things were looking like in Paris and Milan and New York. She had a very good fashion eye. She still wanted to be in fashion.
Were there things she chose to wear in order to send a certain message?
She always came to me for a specific event. She always had something in mind. For instance the Red Cross ball in Washington. We made her a long red dress. She knew it was going to be a serious party, so it wasn’t too decorative. She knew that after the speeches it would turn into a party, so we made a very deep V on the back. Everything was designed specifically around an event, whether it would be the color or whether it would be the style.
When she separated from Prince Charles, did her look change? Did she become more daring?
I think she always had a slightly daring side to her anyway, but royal protocol held her back. As soon as she was divorced she had a blank page to do whatever she wanted to do. But even then, sometimes she would want to go slightly too short on her skirt and I would advise her along with her minders that maybe three or four inches above the knee is high enough, you know? [Azagury laughs.]
I mean, she looked great.
Yeah, exactly. She was working out a lot throughout that period. She had a great body. Her legs were phenomenal. She was very toned. She was a young woman, she wanted to look great, feel great, and she brought that out through her dresses.
I know she came to you for specific events. But what was her signature when dressing?
It was pretty much… I mean… she ended up going for my signature look. It’s very female forming. It’s sexy without being too vulgar. Always a beautiful cut. Great fabric. And just simplicity really. She was the main event, the dress was secondary. But each one complemented each other.
Of all the times you dressed her, when did you think she looked her best?
Probably the little blue dress that she wore for the Royal Ballet, for Swan Lake. The color was so great on her. It was a great summer’s night. She was tanned. The blue was the color of her eyes. It was just a really young, sort of… I mean it looked like a little shift, but in fact it had did have this heavy, constructed, inside. It had a bodice. It was deceptively simple, let’s put it that way.
As all the best fashion is. Can you tell me about your role in the film? How did that come about?
After I read the script, and I knew Naomi [Watts] was going to be doing it, I agreed to do it. I only replicated two dresses exactly, from the same fabric as Diana’s. And we did one dress in a different color. The others were just dresses I’ve made that were sort of “Dian-esque”. I didn’t want to make a costume drama look, I just wanted to give a hint of Diana and then some new dresses.
For women hoping to channel Princess Diana’s style, what advice would you have?
Well the thing is we’re 16 years on now from when Diana was wearing those dresses. They are so classic, and one could possibly wear the same dresses. But I’d say to pick up on what suits the person, and stay with not too much fuss. Concentrate on the cut. Look at your body.