Friday, September 28, 2007

Royal Profile: Catherine Walker

You may not be familiar with her name, however if you followed Diana's fashions, you have most definitely seen her work. A notable example would be the green polka dot dress Diana wore when she left the hospital after the birth of Prince William. Diana had many designers that she favored and for 16 years, Catherine Walker was one of them. So much so..that the dress Diana is buried in bears her label.

Catherine Marguerite Marie-Therese Baheux-Lefebvre was born on June 27th, 1945 in Pont de Briques, a village near Boulogne. She has two older siblings, sister Nicole, and brother Patrick. Her parents were divorced in 1949. Her mother moved the family to the Alps in September 1950 and in 1955 her mother remarried. During school holidays her time was divided between her mother's home in Lille and her father's home in Normandy.

She attended elementary school in Lille, run by nuns of the order Les Dames de St. Maur. She later attended school at a Dominican convent called St. Jeanne d'Arc, excelling in math, and Latin. At seventeen she went on to the University if Lille, studying philosophy. She finished her degree at the University in Aix-en-Provence and afterwards moved to London, with the eventual intention of moving to the United States. She found a job teaching French but went back to Lille for post-graduate studies in Aesthetics. After graduation, she took a job in the French Embassy Lecture Department, and later took over the Film Department at the French Institute.


In February 1967 she met a young lawyer, John Walker, a lawyer, and in June 1969 they were married in the town of Le Touquet. They settled in London and had two daughters, Naomi, born in May 1971, and Marianne, born in November 1972. In the summer of 1975, her husband died suddenly after a tragic accident. After his death, she sent her children to live with her mother in the Alps, while she stayed in Aix. She would move back to London, and through some friends she met her second husband, Said Ismael.

She was never formally taught dress design and started doing so as a form of therapy after becoming suddenly widowed. In 1976 she started her own business, designing children's clothes. Walking from door to door in Kings Road in Chelsea, she sold her designs from a basket. In 1977 she set up her own studio in a dilapidated house in Chelsea, eventually calling it The Chelsea Design Company.

The Prince and Princess of Wales with their newborn son Prince William on the steps of St Mary's Hospital, London, June 1982. (Photo by Jon Hoffman/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images) In 1981 she moved away from designing children's clothing. Her first venture into adult clothing was designing maternity wear, which brought her to the attention of Diana, Princess of Wales. She would eventually discontinue designing maternity wear to focus on day, cocktail, and evening dresses. Throughout her career she has sought to elongate the body by lenthening the torso. In this she has been influenced by the work of British photographer John French and by the technique and spirit of traditional French couturiers such as Madeleine Vionnet.

In 1990 she was awarded Designer of the year for Couture and in 1991 Designer of the year for Glamour. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1995. In 2002 her work was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert museum in an exhibit called 25 years of British Courturier: Catherine Walker. In 2003 she launched Catherine Walker Skincare. She continued to design fo rmembers of the royal family: Lady Gabriella Windsor, Viscountess Serena Linley (wife of David Linley), and Lady Helen Taylor.

Update: Catherine Walker died of breast cancer on September 23, 2010.

© Marilyn Braun 2007

3 comments:

Claudius said...

I have to say that as a man who love to see women dressed up, Catherine Walker will be on my list to dress my future wife. She really bring a elegance back to our mordern fashion would. I really get tierd seeing women in jeans all the time. Catherine did such a great job on Diana and I feel she will do a great job on the future royal brides like Chelsy and Kate. If they wear her designs, they will never go wrong.

Marilyn said...

I love the way her designs look too. I wonder how her relationship with Diana would have evolved had Diana lived. During her royal life she wore many beautiful outfits but I think that Catherine gave her something special.

Hopefully she will continue to design for royalty, maybe even make Kate's wedding dress! It would have to be someone who can afford it - from what I've read her wedding dresses start at $10,000.

Valentine-Eagle said...

On this picture she look like as my wife Nadia absolutely! My dear wife dead in 2005.She was born in 1953.