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Fashion Comes at a Price! Princess Diana’s Beloved “Black Sheep” Sweater Sells at Auction for $1.1 Million

Fashion is much more than a piece of cloth. There’s quite a bit of history involved – as Sotheby’s explains with its recent Fashion Icons sale.

Do you feel that September is a month when nearly everyone gets energized and focused on the last quarter of the year? We do! In fact, we’re giddy with excitement on the cusp of the fall season as the world of fashion falls into step with catwalk shows, and international art shows pick up the pace amid the dramatic fall foliage that Mother Nature provides as a backdrop. 

Princess Diana sheep sweater
We were especially jazzed up about the inaugural Fashion Icons sale at Sotheby’s New York Auction House, and before the auction closed its online bidding, we hopped uptown to preview the top ten objects spanning two centuries (yes, 200 years!) of fashion history in person. Little did we know that the online auction would set a world record for an article of clothing worn by the late Princess Diana, as well as the most valuable sweater ever sold at auction! 

In the words of Cynthia Houlton, Sotheby’s Global Head of Fashion & Accessories, “These striking garments and accessories belonging to and worn by some of the most celebrated individuals across the worlds of fashion, film, music and politics each possess a unique narrative in the wide-spanning history of fashion and cater to the passions and enthusiasm of fashion aficionados and collectors alike.” The ten iconic pieces represent a highly curated selection of bespoke and designer couture fashion and accessories from the most influential people, designers and cultural moments from the 1800s to modern day. 

Princess Diana Murray Arbeid gown

The headliner, Princess Diana’s most beloved “throw on” sweater, which appeared on the market for the first time, was the “Black Sheep” sweater in red and decorated with a flock of white sheep and one black sheep – which was auctioned for a flabbergasting $1.1 million. On hand were the two ladies who knitted the sweater, the founders of Warm & Wonderful, Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne, who enlightened me about the sweater that Diana donned in June of 1981. Ironically, the next day, I visited the Rowing Blazers’ flagship store to see the Warm & Wonderful ladies, again, who were instore to launch their collaboration with Rowing Blazers. Yes, it’s the sweater plus some other endearing items like handbags. 

Not to be overshadowed by the flock of sheep, Princess Diana’s Murray Arbeid black and white gown, worn by the late Princess in 1985 was also on view. The black velvet, lightly boned, and strapless bodice carries down just past the knees and opens into a white taffeta quasi-mermaid silhouette, supported by layers of tulle petticoats. It became an instant fashion sensation around the world. And, consequently, it went under the hammer for $381,000. 

Kate Winslet Alexander McQueen for Givenchy gown

The green silk gown, detailed with gold hand embroidery and crystal beads, depicts willow branches and a dragonfly, is what Ms. Winslet lovingly referred to as “an embroidered sculpture.” 

Perhaps just as glamorous, if not more so, was the custom Givenchy gown and matching bolero designed by the late designer Alexander McQueen in 1998 for 22-year-old Kate Winslet at the 70th annual Academy Awards for her portrayal of Rose in the epic film, “Titanic”. The green silk gown, detailed with gold hand embroidery and crystal beads, depicts willow branches and a dragonfly, is what Ms. Winslet lovingly referred to as “an embroidered sculpture.” 

Across the pond, in America, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, the star of the series and movies, “Sex in the City” and “Just Like That” where she portrays a sex columnist, wore a taxidermy blue Bird of Paradise headpiece for the wedding of her character, Carrie Bradshaw, to Mr. Big. The vibrant colors of this wedding headpiece, which dates to the 1800’s, created another brazen fashion statement. This tiny bird was swept up for $25,400. 

Sarah Jessica Parker Sex in the City taxidermied bird headpiece

Walking among these icons, you could see how innovative fashion has been in the past two centuries, and its role in shaping cultural history. 

Isabelle KelloggIn addition to a career in communications and marketing focused on the luxury lifestyle sector, including co-authoring and lecturing a case study on French heritage jeweler Mauboussin with Harvard Business School, Isabelle continues to share her experiences about fine art, wine, travel, jewelry and culture as a freelance writer for internationally based digital publications.