Within the British monarchy, subtle cues are employed to convey the royal family members’ emotions without uttering a single word or disturbing their camera-ready smiles.
In June of 1981, the then 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer utilised these codes by not just making her feelings towards “the firm” apparent, but also boldly wearing them across her chest.
It was a polo match, and the Princess of Wales had only been engaged to King Charles III for a mere four months, yet in her iconic ensemble, she made her position known by donning a rather loaded sheep sweater.
Designed by Warm & Wonderful,the red sheep sweater worn by Princess Diana featured rows of knitted white sheep, save for one oddball black sheep, inadvertently revealing to the world her innermost thoughts: “I am the black sheep”.
The sweater has since gone on to be one of the late Princess’s most memorable garments and a symbol of her masterful prowess in sartorially articulating her true feelings. In 2023, thanks to a Sotheby auction, owning this piece of royal history became a reality. The knitted sweater was the headline piece at Sotheby’s inaugural “Fashion Icons” sale this September.
“This exceptional garment, meticulously preserved, carries the whispers of Princess Diana’s grace, charm, and her keen eye for fashion,” Sotheby’s global head of fashion and accessories, Cynthia Houlton, described in a statement. The piece itself is estimated to fetch between $50,000 to $80,000. However, for collectors of rare and unique fashion pieces, owning this signature garment is priceless—well, kind of. On September 14, the sweater sold for well above the expected price: $1.1 million USD ($1.71 million AUD approx.), breaking the record for the highest price ever paid for an item worn by the late royal. While the lucky bidder is currently unknown, the auction house noted in a press release that a 15-minute bidding war took place, resulting in the figure quickly skyrocketing from $190,000 to its selling price of $1,143,000.
Until now, this sweater has remained in the custody of Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne, the owners of Warm & Wonderful, returned to them by Buckingham Palace after Princess Diana damaged the sleeve.
Rather than returning the original amended garment, Muir and Osborne produced a completely new sweater for the Princess, which is a piece she “re-wore” to the polo in 1983—that time, over a pussy bow blouse—and now remains part of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s permanent collection.
This second sweater was also recreated for Emma Corrin in Season 4 of The Crown.
As for the original, the piece resided in Muir and Osborne’s attic for over forty years.
“As we were rummaging through the attic searching for an old pattern, we spotted a small box,” Miur and Osborne revealed in a statement. “Inside, tucked away beside a cotton bedspread, was Diana’s original red sheep sweater from 1981. Now, almost four decades later, this one-of-a-kind sheep sweater is ready to make its way into the hands of a fortunate collector.”
Of its contemporary aficionados, Harry Styles sartorially referenced the red sweater with a blue vest variation that he wore while out in New York in 2019.
Kim Kardashian has also made herself known as a keen proprietor of rare fashion items once owned by exceptional women, even spending $197,000 on Princess Diana’s Attallah cross.
While there’s nothing compared to owning the original, a reissue of the design is also currently available to purchase at a far less hair-raising price tag.
This article originally appeared on Grazia International