Haute couture and colourful jewels aside, the house of Dior has a knack for creating irresistible handbags.

The proof is in the product: the Dior Saddle is a pop culture icon, while the Dior Book Tote has become a favourite of the modern jet set. Yet neither can boast the royal associations of the Lady Dior bag, which might be the Maison’s most timeless design of all.

The history of the Lady Dior tells something of a Cinderella story: it goes from being a mere handbag — no doubt, a sophisticated one — to the preferred companion of the world’s most beloved princess. How did it transform into an enduring symbol of elegance? Here, we find the answers in the past and present of the quilted accessory.

The ‘cannage’ motif

Lady Dior Spring/Summer 1997 (Photo credit: Dior)
Dior Spring/Summer 1997 (Photo credit: Dior)

The first Lady Dior handbag materialised in 1994, when Dior was helmed by Gianfranco Ferré. But it didn’t go by that name yet; it was instead referred to as “Chouchou”, a French term of affection. Indeed, there was plenty to love about the top-handle handbag.

Its dangling alphabet charms, for instance, were not just mere adornments meant to spell “Dior”. They were a nod to mystical nature of Christian Dior, who surrounded himself with talismans that continue to inspire his Maison today.

There was also that distinctively quilted façade, a design detail borrowed from the Napolean III-style chairs that lined Dior’s haute couture salons. These featured a “cannage” patten, a lightweight weave made with materials like cane and raffia that was later mirrored in the signature stitching of the Dior bag.

Lady Diana meets Lady Dior

What’s in a name? In the case of the Lady Dior, quite a bit. The handbag had its Cinderella moment on 25 September, 1995, when a Paul Cézanne exhibition opened in Paris. It was there that France’s First Lady Bernadette Chirac presented her guest Diana, Princess of Wales, with the bag. It came in leather for the first time and, according to legend, was made in a single night. And Diana loved it.

She would later collect the bag in all of its colours and flaunt them at the countless events on her social calendar, be it an official visit to Liverpool in 1995, or the 1996 Met Gala. In the public eye, both Princess Diana and Dior’s handbag blossomed into fashion icons. The latter was finally rechristened to “Lady Dior” in 1996, in homage to its most adoring fan.

Dior Lady Art

Over the last two decades, the Lady Dior has taken many forms. While staying true to it classic silhouette (why change a good thing?), the Maison’s craftsmen have reworked the handbag with various types of leather, fabrics and colours. The most imaginative interpretations, however, were birthed in the Dior Lady Art project.

Spearheaded by the Maison’s Artistic Director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, the project invites artists to use the signature Dior bag as their canvas. The results are always spectacular: to date, the bag has been reinvented with intricate embroidery, layers of paint and even 3-D printing.

Lady D-Lite

Lady D-Lite from Dior S/S 2020 (Photo credit: Morgan O'Donovan, courtesy of Dior)
Lady D-Lite from Dior S/S 2020 (Photo credit: Morgan O’Donovan, courtesy of Dior)

Under the creative direction of Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior has also given us the latest incarnation of the Lady Dior: the Lady D-Lite. First unveiled at the Maison’s S/S 2020 show, the Lady D-Lite bears the same classic form of its predecessor while embracing a minimalist look fit for the modern times.

The signature cannage motif is recreated with 3-D embroidery instead, spelling out “Christian Dior” on the Lady D-Lite’s façade. The frills-free design, which comes with an embroidered strap to match, has already found fans in celebrities such as Nina Dobrev and Larsen Thompson.

Once again, the Lady Dior has proven its ability to shape-shift with the times, while keeping its essence intact — just like a true icon.

Discover the Lady D-Lite and Lady Dior handbags on www.dior.com.

Pameyla Cambe
Senior Writer
Pameyla Cambe is a fashion and jewellery writer who believes that style and substance shouldn't be mutually exclusive. She makes sense of the world through Gothic novels, horror films and music. Lots of music.