May 01, 1988 12:00 PM

A royal riddle: What is worth more than a million dollars, weighs well over a ton, comes in every color of the rainbow and requires as much attention as William and Harry? Answer: Diana’s wardrobe. The estimated 500 day dresses and outfits and nearly 100 evening gowns contained therein are arranged by color, and files keep track of when each has been worn and where to. Diana once said “clothes are not my priority; fashion isn’t my big thing,” but nobody believes that—or wants to. She is Britain’s international Barbie doll. Not to dress her up just wouldn’t be fun.

In truth, dressing up may be what Diana likes best about being a princess. Even as a kindergarten assistant she was clothes-happy, but peer pressure, as well as her job, called for Laura Ashley and the general Sloane Ranger look—something on the frilly side of American prep—plus a few pairs of jeans on the side. Today, with the help of a task force of British Vogue editors, Diana has evolved from a dirndl-skirted naïf wearing white, ruffled collars into a sleek, cosmopolitan princess. “She’s learned an enormous amount about what works and what doesn’t,” says Felicity Clark, the magazine’s beauty editor and one of Di’s early advisers. (For a look at what has worked and what hasn’t, see pages 68-71.)

Diana spends an estimated $60,000 a year on clothes. She uses between 20 and 30 British designers each year, plus sprinkling of European fork makers such as Mondi and Laurel. She gets all of her British designer clothes at wholesale. No whopping markups are expected. If a designer is especially eager to sell the princess a high-priced outfit, he might even bill her at cost. As a special courtesy, she sometimes gets advance peeks at the clothes appearing in Britain’s fashion magazines, all of which she reads with the eye of a zealot.

Although some designers call on Di at the palace, she still relishes the pleasures of the hunt. “Going shopping helps to remind her that she’s not locked up in the palace,” says one Di watcher. At least twice monthly, Diana sets off in search of chic thrills. She usually parks illegally, but she’s entitled to the perk. She then dashes inside with her detective in tow, usually the long-suffering Graham Smith, whose fashion advice she often solicits and frequently ignores. Since royals never carry cash, all payments are handled by the detective; it is he who produces an American Express card stamped Duchy of Cornwall or an Access card (the British version of MasterCard).

Where does Diana practice her conspicuous consumption? Mostly in the Knights-bridge-Kensington-Chelsea circuit, a three-square-mile area chockablock with boutiques and studios. Come along, if you will, on a composite shopping trip with Di—the kind of royal splurge she might like if she hit all her favorite shops in one day. But if you come, remember this: Bring money.

First thing in the morning, Diana might head for venerable Harrods in Knightsbridge. To beat the crowd of tourists, the princess is allowed to nip in before the store opens at 9, snapping up casual wear for herself and OshKosh dungarees for the boys, at $40 a pop.

Next Diana slips down Brompton Road to Charles Jourdan, where she orders identical, simple, hardworking pumps in five different colors ($200 each) with matching handbags. (She buys clutch types because they’re easier to tuck under her arm when she’s meeting people.) “She knows what she likes, they know what she likes,” says a Di watcher. Practicality isn’t the only consideration. The princess has been known to splurge on sexy satin pumps for a night on the town.

Just around the corner from Charles Jourdan is the stylish department store Harvey Nichols, which caters to women well-dressed and well-heeled. A longtime Nichols shopper, Di sends her ladies-in-waiting here for items such as panty hose and cotton briefs (“Harvey Knickers,” as they are called), but she buys belts and other accessories herself. She steps up to the Clinique counter, where she buys “masses of products” in a single swoop, according to a saleswoman. Then it’s on to the Dior clerk for more makeup before fellow customers have a chance to start gawking.

Once Di has her face in place, she travels down Sloane Street to tony Courtenay for underwear. The slinky La Perla gray silk combinations she favors come from there; the bras cost $158, the bikini briefs $118. (It may have been these that she showed off unexpectedly last year on a visit to Catherine Walker’s Chelsea Design Co. After slipping out of her clothes, according to an eyewitness, Di was “jumping around in her silk grays in the changing area while Walker fiddled with a dress.”)

Near the heartbeat of Sloane Square, Di stops in at the fancy goods store, the General Trading Company, which carries everything from fine china to Tibetan wood carvings and has earned no fewer than four royal warrants. (Think of those as you would Good Housekeeping Seals of Approval, except that they come from Buckingham Palace.) Diana may snap up a wedding present for a pal. No surprise. Diana herself was registered here as a bride-to-be. A number of people came through with the $170-a-place-setting Herend Hungarian china and the Royal Worcester botanical-design china serving pieces she wanted.

For knitwear, Diana heads back up Sloane Street to the oh-so-trendy Joseph Tricot, where she buys pretty pastel handknit mix-and-match separates, such as a cotton floral sweater for $650 and a matching miniskirt for $100.

While she’s in the neighborhood, it never hurts to drop in at Bellville Sassoon. Belinda Bellville retired five years ago, and now it’s David Sassoon who oversees things at the Knightsbridge salon. Sassoon has contributed to Di’s wardrobe “from the beginning,” he says; perhaps she came to him because her mother, Frances, is a fan. In any case, Sassoon says that Di is “a joy to dress.” And she’s not too proud to check out what’s on the rack: simple cocktail dresses for $800, ballgowns for $1,000.

Located about a mile away is a bleak alleyway called-Cromwell Mews, where Diana’s chum Claire Went-worth-Stanley provides customers with swimwear at Plunge Ltd., a tiny by-appointment-only swimsuit design house. Di lends her support by buying made-to-order bikinis.

A two-minute drive and Diana is in Chelsea, on the fashionable end of Fulham Road. First stop is quaint Souleiado, the British version of our Pierre Deux. Known for its flowery fabric patterns, the store once sold Di a quilted tote, which she sometimes turns up with at polo matches. Today it’s cosmetic cases, catchalls and scarves.

One of Diana’s absolutely favorite places is Butler & Wilson, where she loads up on costume jewelry. This time she makes a beeline for the racks of earrings in the back of the store. (Her ears are pierced to accommodate them; the clip-ons, she has found, always fall off.) “She’ll get adventurous and start hanging on the counters, holding things up to her ears. She’s really into it,” says the shop’s manager, Debbie Byrne. “First of all, people don’t think it’s her,” says Nicky Butler, the shop’s co-owner. “They think, ‘Oh, it can’t be.’ When they realize it is, they don’t want to leave the shop.” Sometimes Diana comes in with Fergie in tow; when that happens, says Butler, “They’re just like two girls out having lunch and going shopping.” (Which they usually are.) Today she has the itch for some rhinestone teddy bear heads ($75) and a fizzing glass champagne brooch ($60). Diana loves buying little presents for her friends, and picks up a pair of cuff links for one of the many. (News flash for L.A. trendoids: Butler & Wilson is opening a Sunset Boulevard boutique in June.)

Diana didn’t have to leave her own neighborhood to shop. If she likes, she only has to go several blocks west from the palace to reach bustling Kensington High Street or the charming, winding side streets around it. She regularly stops on Ken High Street at The Body Shop, which sells the natural cosmetics that Diana prefers—partly because the formulas have not been pretested on animals. The colorful shop also sells all kinds of soothing body lotions, soaps and shampoos, deliciously named for flowers, fruits and herbs. Di buys sweet-smelling lotions at $5.60 a bottle: cocoa butter for her hands and peppermint lotion for her feet, camomile shampoo ($3.40) and glycerine fruit soap ($1.90). Diana is so fond of The Body Shop that she cut the ribbon for the new company headquarters in Sussex in 1986, bringing home a basket of men’s shampoos and face packs for Charles. (No word on whether the prince proceeded to start packing.)

In season, Diana takes a quick look around Snow & Rock, the ski store where she bought a snazzy Kitex ski suit ($600) two years ago—the same one she wore on her ill-fated trip to Klosters in March.

Across the street is her favorite Benetton outlet. She likes the store’s casual sportswear for weekends at High-grove; today, though, she’s more into kid stuff, picking out trousers, shirts and sweaters from Benetton’s children’s shop. Aware that people are staring, the princess, seeming a bit shy and flushed, tells a clerk, “I’m used to it,” then adds, “Can you send the bill to me at home, please?”

Anthea Moore Ede, an elegant infants’ and children’s clothing shop nearby, has 1,000 Americans on its mailing list. The store itself is tucked away on quaint Victoria Grove. Di seldom takes the boys with her when she shops, but she knows exactly what they need. She picks out Start-Rite shoes with ankle straps ($50 and up), then throws in some hand-stitched white shirts and romper suits ($50), Harris tweed overcoats ($160-$220) and socks (about $10 a pair for white cotton, $14 for wool).

Knowing Wills and Harry may have limited enthusiasm for such fussy attire, she softens the blow by going next door to Frog Hollow, a crammed toy shop where, says the staff, Diana (“really nice”) “loves browsing and buys lots of everything.” She ponders the stuffed rabbits ($21) and muses over a needlepoint pillow bearing the dead-on inscription “There’s No Place Like Home Except Grandma’s.” Another reads “Before You Meet the Handsome Prince You Have to Kiss a Lot of Toads.”

Back toward Kensington High Street is Tomlinson, the sweater and sportswear shop, where she likes to scoop up gifts. It’s not cheap (sweaters run from $100 to $400) but, hey, she’s a princess. She shows off her knit wit by purchasing a pullover carrying the legend “I’m a luxury that few can afford.”

If it’s crystal or malachite gifts and bibelots the princess craves, she heads across town to May-fair and Asprey on New Bond Street.

When she’s in the mood, Di is likely to wind up on chichi Beauchamp Place (pronounced Bee-chum), there to check out nearby Dragons, another children’s store, where a large toy box with a military motif sells for $300. She might stop in at Caroline Charles, owned and operated by the designer who provided Diana with tiny-jacketed dirndl suits during her young-and-innocent phase and who has outfitted her on and off for seven years. (It is Charles who supplies many of the tartan-inspired plaids Di wears to the Braemar Games in Scotland. The designer’s paisley look is ever popular among hardcore Sloanes, and day suits go for around $800.)

If her journey to Beauchamp Place falls around the lunch hour, and she has planned ahead, Diana will duck into San Lorenzo, owned by Mara and Lorenzo Berni, for something to eat. She is notably fond of seafood pasta; should she feel like splurging on dessert, which normally she does not, she’ll go for fresh mango. The meal might set her back $70 for two. Afterward, she might continue on Beauchamp Place for a peek in the window of Bruce Oldfield; then it’s across the street to the Jasper Conran boutique, where things are just a bit funky and unapologetically pricey ($700 for a wool suit). He’s one of the few British designers whose clothes Diana wears off-duty.

By the end of the afternoon, Di is exhausted and trundles off toward Kensington Palace, where her two dressers, Evelyn Dagley and Fay Marshalsea, will make room for the new arrivals in the princess’s vast closets. Maybe it’s time to banish some of the old stuff to moth-balled boxes deep in the basement. Or maybe Di’s sisters, Jane and Sarah, wouldn’t mind a few hand-me-downs. At any rate, Di would find this trip exhausting and wouldn’t look at another stitch of clothing. Not until tomorrow, anyway.

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