Princess Diana’s famous ‘black sheep’ sweater is going up for auction

The media have for a long time speculated over Diana's choice of the design. (Courtesy CNN)
The sweater was damaged a few weeks after Diana's first outing in it.
The celebrated “black sheep” sweater was first worn by Lady Diana Spencer at a polo match in 1981 when she was engaged to the now King Charles III.
The sweater will be on display at Sotheby's in New York at the start of Fashion Week on September 7.

(CNN) — Princess Diana left behind a vast style legacy, and soon enthusiasts will be able to bid for one of her most famous looks.

The celebrated “black sheep” sweater first worn by Lady Diana Spencer at a polo match in 1981 when she was engaged to the now King Charles III will headline Sotheby’s Fashion Icons auction in New York and online between August 31 and September 14.

The original sweater, which is expected to fetch $50,000 to $80,000 when it goes on sale for the first time ever, will be on display at the auction house from September 7, the start of New York Fashion Week, according to Sotheby’s.

“This exceptional garment, meticulously preserved, carries the whispers of Princess Diana’s grace, charm, and her keen eye for fashion,” said Cynthia Houlton, Sotheby’s global head of fashion and accessories, in a press release on Monday.

“It’s an honor to offer this historic sweater in our inaugural Fashion Icons auction, placing it in dialogue with other memorable and culturally important items of clothing,” she added.

Artists Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne and their knitwear label Warm & Wonderful created the knitted, bold-red, wool crew neck, which is adorned with rows of white sheep and one black sheep on the front, in 1979.

Diana’s look went viral, popularizing the small clothing business. “Much to our amazement, the first we knew of Lady Diana Spencer wearing the sweater was when we saw her on the front page of one of the Sunday newspapers,” said Muir and Osborne in the release.

“Her influence was impactful almost immediately thereafter, leading to a surge in sales and public awareness of our small label, for which we will be forever grateful,” they added.

A few weeks after Diana’s first outing with the garment, Muir and Osborne received a letter from Buckingham Palace informing them that Diana had damaged her beloved sheep sweater (a small tear in one of the cuffs is visible in images supplied by the auction house) and politely requesting either a repair or replacement, according to Sotheby’s.

The palace returned the sweater to the designers, who knitted Diana an entire brand-new one. The palace later sent the designers a letter of gratitude.

Diana was pictured wearing the new sweater at another polo match in 1982, according to the Warm & Wonderful website. In the photograph, the lone black sheep appears to be on a higher row of white sheep on the new sweater than on the original.

The original sweater was rediscovered in March this year by Muir and Osborne in their attic, according to Sotheby’s. It had been tucked away in a small box beside a cotton bedspread.

The media have for a long time speculated over potential hidden meanings in Diana’s clothing choices, and in this instance, the release says the sweater prompted speculation about whether the princess felt a connection to the lone black sheep because of her complex relationship with the royal family. Others simply interpret it as a celebration of Britain’s countryside and agricultural history.

A version of the sweater is on display in the permanent collection at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and, while Warm & Wonderful stopped producing the lone black sheep style in 1994, in 2020 it resumed making copies of the design, which are still available for pre-order online for £250 ($295).

A replica was also created for actor Emma Corrin, who played Diana in the fourth season of “The Crown,” the hit Netflix drama about the British royal family.

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