Representing the creative future

A Love Letter to Princess Diana’s 1981 Peruvian Jumper

An ode to Diana Spencer's iconic llama printed knit sweater

We rant a lot. We know. We can’t help ourselves! So, to make sure we never forget about the delightful joy of fashion, we asked you to share what made you fall in love with it – from tiny crushes to full-on fetishes. This week we are diving into the fascinating story behind Princess Diana’s Peruvian Jumper.

When The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook was published in September 1982, it struck a national nerve. The brainchild of Ann Barr then features editor of Harpers & Queen, and writer Peter York, the tongue-in-cheek guide documented a new breed of upper-middle-class Londoner dubbed the Sloane Ranger. Populating Chelsea’s Sloane Square, hence the name, Sloane Rangers were united by a shared love of the country and marked by an unmistakable wardrobe, consisting of Barbour jackets, pie crusts, wellies, and lots and lots of tweed. Sparking the interest of thousands, the handbook became an unlikely chart-topping success.

More recently, the tribe captured my imagination when I purchased the guide for a university project. Humorously divulging “what really matters in life”, from how to kill salmon to why you should eat jelly with a fork, the guide’s front cover is graced by the most famous Sloane of all, Diana, Princess of Wales. Almost thirty years on from its initial release, the brilliantly-illustrated pages of the handbook act as a time capsule, revealing the true extent of the impact the Princess had on fashion during her pre-marriage years.

As a young Sloane Ranger stomping through the streets of ‘80s London, Diana cared little for fashion trends, but she did have her preferences, and the garments she chose became the standard Sloane Ranger uniform. There are many stand-out looks worn by the then Lady Diana Spencer that I could have dedicated this love letter to. From the heart-printed midi skirt sported by a 19-year-old Diana at the nursery, she taught at, that famously looked sheer when hit with sunlight, to the royal-blue suit purchased off the rack at Harrods worn for the announcement of her engagement to Prince Charles. But, for me, an aspect of the late Princess’ style that I gain the most pleasure from is her penchant for novelty patterned jumpers. One oft-forgotten piece, in particular, that I gravitate towards is a llama-printed knit worn in May of 1981 during a “pre-honeymoon” photo-call at Balmoral Estate.

A bashful twenty-year-old at the time, Diana pairs the jumper with typical Sloane staples – velvet knickerbockers from Margaret Howell, a frilled neck blouse, and green Hunter wellies. Purchased from the Peruvian export shop, Inca, the brightly-coloured pullover triggers fond memories of the month I spent exploring the country back in 2017.

"Knit Your Own Princess Diana Sweaters"

Home to some of the finest raw materials in the world, the textiles of Peru have been used throughout civilisations in the Andes for over 5000 years. Appreciated for its softness, breathability and hypoallergenic qualities, the country’s native Alpaca wool was once regarded as the ‘gold of the Andes’ and reserved for dressing Incan royalty. Today, it is blended with a mix of natural and synthetic fibres to create high-quality knits, including the durable and versatile Peruvian Pima cotton, allowing the fabric to dye in beautiful technicolour shades.

From the sprawling coastal metropolis of Lima and the ancestral magic of Cusco to the vivid colours that saturate the district of Lucre, the age-old craftsmanship of the places I visited and the tradition threaded into the richly-hued fashions of Peru is perfectly encapsulated by Diana’s dazzling magenta-pink knitwear.

Images from my trip in Peru

Fun, magnetic, playful; the jersey embodied everything Diana was and why she is so dearly remembered today. Refreshingly contemporary yet always respectful of protocol, the late Princess’ wardrobe helped redefine what the modern English woman could be. A particularly experimental choice for the young royal, Diana’s llama-patterned pullover challenged the strict language of English fashion through a groundbreaking appreciation for the history and dress of another culture. It symbolised a growing confidence and individuality and marked the beginning of her transformation from shy Sloane to one of the world’s most enduring style icons.

Nowadays, the jumper, among others, is at the centre of a small but dedicated culture, who delight in at-home craft and the sharing of online knitting patterns to reproduce their favourite garments. On top of that, Rowing Blazers, an American-born fashion label, recently released remakes of the late royal’s most iconic pieces of knitwear for the first time since 1994. Unfortunately, my beloved Peruvian jumper was not featured in the collection. And, while it may continue to be an overlooked gem in Princess Diana’s extensive fashion legacy, the joyful memories it conjures up will stay with me forever.

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Princess Diana's Peruvian sweater digital knitting patterns by Dianne Marty