Obituary: Catherine Walker, couturier to Princess Diana
Catherine Walker, the couturier born Catherine Marguerite Marie-Therese Baheux, who has died of cancer, was best known for creating some of Princess Diana's most famous outfits. Walker first dressed Diana after the Princess's marriage to the Prince of Wales in 1981, and a quasi-sisterly bond developed between the two women, not least as they shared the same height (5ft 10in) and the same star sign.
Her most famous client, Walker said, demanded "total care", and for more than 15 years she was happy to provide it. In all, she created more than 1,000 iconic items for the princess, including the dress in which Diana was buried in 1997; it was the last item of clothing that the princess had bought from the designer, shortly before her death. Catherine Ostler, editor of Tatler, said: "She was the Hardy Amies of her generation, or the Vera Wang of England, before Vera Wang. She was one of the people who transformed Diana from dumpy Sloane to global icon, and then gave her the confidence to become a trend-setting figure."
Walker began designing after winning a bet with her mother-in-law that she could not give up smoking. The win funded the purchase of an Elna sewing machine and set Walker on her career path. Though she had studied philosophy at the universities of Lille and Aix-en-Provence, she was familiar with the fashion world from a young age through her stepfather's work in the wool industry. Widowed at 30 when her lawyer husband died on a family holiday, she was left with their two young daughters to support. After taking a fashion course in London she began selling her designs from a basket "like a gypsy" as she walked along the fashionable King's Road, Chelsea, in London.
She later married her business partner, Said Ismael, with whom she set up the Chelsea Design Company. The shop sold children's clothing, expanding on Walker's first designs of sailor dresses for her daughters. When she moved into designing for adults she swiftly established a strong client base, and in 1990 was named Designer of the Year for Couture at the British Fashion Awards. Walker developed breast cancer at the age of 49 and was as pragmatic as ever. She embarked on a strict diet, avoided watching too much "silly" television and bought herself a motorbike. She also became a founding sponsor of the charity Breast Cancer Haven.
She is survived by her second husband, Mr Ismael, and her two daughters, Naomi and Marianne, from her first marriage.
Born June 27, 1945. Died September 23, 2010.
Published: October 2, 2010 04:00 AM