For those of us who followed the fashion and life of Princess Diana, the name Catherine Walker is very familiar. She was Diana’s favorite designer, and she created many of her most recognizable gowns. Catherine passed away yesterday at the age of 65 after a long battle with cancer. I wanted to write about Catherine today to commemorate her amazing life that is truly a story of hard work, dedication, creativity, and overcoming adversity.
Catherine, who was French, moved to London when she married a British lawyer. At the age of 31, her husband was killed in an accident, and she became widowed with two small children. To support her family, she worked a day job in retail and studied fashion design at night. In 1979, she was able to open her own business, and with her talent and work ethic, it grew quickly.
Shortly after Diana married Charles in 1981, she was introduced to Catherine Walker. They formed an immediate friendship and bond that continued until Diana’s death in 1997. From the velvet dress that Diana wore when she was twirled by John Travolta at a White House state dinner to the chic beaded sheath styles that were her signature look in later years, they were all Catherine Walker designs. Diana was even buried in a black Catherine Walker dress.
Unlike other designers who sought out fame and publicity, Catherine shunned the limelight. She never showed her collection at runway shows and rarely gave interviews. She didn’t ride the coattails of her famous clientele. Instead, she focused on her work – designing beautiful clothing and raising her family. She grew her business through word of mouth and despite her lack of self-promotion, is considered one of the most important British designers of all time.
Catherine Walker also bravely battled breast cancer twice while continuing to run her business up until her death. While Catherine was certainly not as famous as her friend Diana, she is just as inspiring. Her entrepreneurship, devotion to her children, and fighting spirit in the face of adversity are truly worth celebrating.
Good Bye Catherine! Your legacy will continue on in your work and your inspiring story.