Fashion Icons Online Auction: 31 August–14 September 2023 • 11:00 AM EDT • New York
S otheby’s inaugural Fashion Icons sale features a highly curated selection of fashion pieces from the most influential people, designers and cultural moments. The Fashion Icons sale celebrates the legendary people, unforgettable events and unparalleled creativity through the lens of fashion.
Headlining the Fashion Icons sale is Princess Diana’s Warm & Wonderful Black Sheep Sweater. The Black Sheep sweater is one of the most iconic pieces worn by Princess Diana to ever come to market. Media attention has spanned over 40 years from the first newspaper covers of Lady Diana in 1981 to wide press coverage of Rowing Blazers reissue of the Black Sheep design in 2020.
In June of 1981, a newly engaged Lady Diana Spencer wore a red sweater dawned with a whimsical black and white sheep motif: one of the first designs by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne of ‘Warm and Wonderful’ knitwear established in 1979. The newspaper coverage in 1981 was the advertisement of a lifetime and one Muir and Osborne would later accredit as the stratospheric launch of their small business.
A few weeks after Diana was captured wearing the sweater, a letter was received from Buckingham Palace politely explaining that Diana had damaged her much-loved sheep sweater and requested either a repair or replacement. A new sweater was knitted entirely and they received a grateful thank you letter from her private secretary, Oliver Everett. Two years later, the now Princess of Wales wore the sweater again in 1983, styling it with sharp white jeans, a large white collar and a thin black ribbon tie.
Fashion outlets highlighted the sweater, dissecting its design and discussing its cultural significance. This exposure not only amplified the popularity of the Black Sheep Sweater but also influenced the broader fashion landscape. The media's endorsement of the garment as a must-have item influenced consumer preferences, leading to a shift in demand and subsequent production of similar designs by fashion brands. The cultural impact of this moment from the 1980s is exemplified by the head of Rowing Blazers, Jack Carlson, who in 2020, requested to partner with the original designers and license the sheep design to be reproduced for his own fashion line. The business partners reported an outstanding response from consumers, emphasizing the immortality of Diana’s taste and her influence on popular culture.
In an attempt to keep up with demand, the designers assumed the original had been repaired and sent to a customer… until March of 2023. Joanna was in the attic searching for an old pattern and spotted a small box. Inside, along with an old cotton bedspread, was a red sheep sweater. After careful examination of the condition, damage to the sleeve and extensive comparisons to the 1981 photographs, Sotheby’s confirmed this is the original sweater worn by Princess Diana over 40 years ago.