Princess Diana adored Amanda Wakeley’s effortlessly elegant designs.
A regular customer, time and time again she turned to Wakeley, creator of graceful and fluid evening gowns and uber-feminine suits, to not only look good, but feel good.
In many of the images of the Princess now captured forever in our mind’s eye, it is a Wakeley piece she is wearing.
It was in a bottle-green Wakeley suit that Diana made her famous 1993 speech announcing her retirement from public life.
How fitting, then, that the young woman now beginning her public life, and walking in Diana’s shoes so successfully, also turns to Wakeley for clothes that whisper easy sophistication and understated glamour.
The Duchess of Cambridge, the daughter-in-law Diana never got to meet, has worn Wakeley at numerous Royal functions.
And, as Kate is just a year into the job, surely a long partnership between Duchess and trusted couturier lies ahead.
I can’t help but wonder, though, which of the two stunning Royal fashion horses has been the best to dress?
“Ah, I can’t say. I can’t talk at all about the Duchess,” Amanda says, the model of discretion.
The she grins enthusiastically: “But I can talk about Diana...”
The two women, both of a similar age, were introduced by the deputy editor of Vogue in the early Nineties. It must have been like a dream come true for Wakeley, who at that time had only just launched her label
“Oh, it was. Diana was THE fashion icon,” she says. “At that time we had Hollywood stars, but we didn’t have the red carpet glamour that we have today. The world looked to her.”
She found the Princess not only a pleasure to dress, but a pleasure to know. “She was warm, friendly and approachable; the type of woman you felt you could be good friends with if circumstances allowed.”
The two occasionally bumped into each other at their gym, the exclusive Chelsea Harbour Club. The daughter of the second baronet of Liss, Sir John Wakeley, Amanda grew up in Cheshire then attended Cheltenham Ladies’ College.
Her entry into fashion was not as a result of an illustrious fashion degree. She is entirely self-taught. She began making clothes as soon as she was old enough to reach the pedals on a sewing machine.
For any girl who dreams of being a famous fashion designer as she snips up her latest charity shop find, Amanda Wakeley is the ultimate inspirational figure.
She laughs as she remembers the very first garment she ever made: “It was a Little Red Riding Hood costume for a school play I was in. I was seven.
“But I wanted to make it myself; I knew exactly how I wanted it to look,” she explains. “And it all worked out. I wore it with pride.”
After a secretarial course she went to New York to model. On her return, she decided to do what she had loved doing since the days of that Red Riding Hood costume – make clothes. With a modest loan from her father, she set up in business in 1990.
She is proof of what can be achieved from an innate talent, sheer determination and an intuitive sense of what women really want to wear.
Amanda has never claimed to be a mistress of high fashion. She describes what she does as ‘creating style’.
“I do wear my own designs but I’m not my own muse,” she explains. “I have a few different women in mind when I design; I create clothes I think will suit them – and just as importantly, the different occasions in their lives when they will wear them. There’s nothing worse than buying clothes you love, but which you can’t wear.”
The Duchess of Cambridge must be the biggest feather in her cap, and she’s delighted to now be attracting glamorous new stars like Scarlett Johansson and Charlize Theron
“It is great to see that whole younger crowd appreciate what I’m doing,” Wakeley has said.
But many of her clients have been with her for 20 years and you can’t help but feel that, as Wakeley approaches 50 and still looks in her 30s, that this is one of her greatest achievements.
She has won their loyalty with clever cutting techniques and pure silk lining, which allow clothes to be body-conscious, yet skim over areas that need to be disguised, and styles that are relevant and contemporary, yet comfortable and appropriate to their lifestyle, sexy, yet not overt
“I make clothes that make me feel skinnier, taller, sexier. I think that’s what all women want from their clothes. And when I say skinnier, I’m not saying we should all be obsessed with being thinner – not at all. I dress many curvy women. But I think we do want clothes that flatter us,” says Wakeley, an OBE and the holder of three British Fashion Awards for Glamour.
“I think all women over 25 also want to wear clothes that make them look younger without looking inappropriate. I strive to do that myself,” she says. “But the most important think I can tell any woman is that looking good at any age is about staying true to yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin while staying open to new styles and ideas.