He created showstopping frocks for Diana and eight of the dresses for the Naomi Watts film which premieres tonight. Jacques Azagury talks princess style — and how he rose to the top
Published: 05 September 2013
Updated: 13:03, 05 September 2013
Jacques Azagury very nearly refused to allow his iconic gowns, the ones he designed for Diana, Princess of Wales, to appear in the forthcoming film, Diana, “because it was dragging the whole thing up again”, he says. “It was such a long time ago. I thought: do I want to rehash that part of my life again?” He insisted on reading the script, however, and then heard Naomi Watts would play the lead. “And at that point I thought, well, okay, this is a serious movie.” Not tacky? “Exactly.”
In the end the experience was “joyous”. “It took me back there again,” he says. He provided eight dresses for the movie (“most of the evening wear is mine. Versace did one”). This evening Azagury will take his seat for the film’s premiere. He is excited. Will he cry? “I hope not,” he giggles. “But I do miss Diana a lot and it’s going to bring up some sort of emotion. It’s got to, really.”
Jacques Azagury is petit, buff and polished, his buttons fastened fastidiously on his tight white shirt. We are sitting in his neat Knightsbridge shop with a buff, handsome mini-me PR in a T-shirt, who is as attentive, charming and helpful as Azagury, and as impressively informed about fashion, fabrics and the history of Diana. Around us on high rails are Azagury’s fabulous creations in stiff nets, beaded lace, sequins, soft silks, a spectrum of colours bold against the chalk walls. Outside the air is choked with Ferrari exhausts. A Rolls pulls up and a liveried assistant packs it with shopping bags.
Azagury loved working with Watts, he says. “At first I thought it was going to be a bit of a challenge because of the different proportions of Naomi and Diana. Diana was 5ft?10 without shoes on, so by the time she put shoes on she was 6ft?1.”
Diana was, he says, “what they call ‘a handsome woman’: tall with lots of presence, very statuesque. She had amazing legs. Funnily enough, the biggest she ever got was a size 12, even at that amazing height.”
Naomi, on the other hand, “is shorter, a six/eight. But she was lovely to work with.” She did six fittings in one morning, which, he tells me, is unusual “for an actress”. “She was in and out of the dresses so quickly — in the changing room, zip, out, yes, in again, zip, and so on. It went really well. No dramas. No fuss.” Did he give her any tips about Diana? “I think she was already in the zone,” he says. “Diana was a little bit inside her by then.”
Azagury first met Diana in the mid-Eighties when showing his designs to Barney’s and Bergdorf in New York — “I turned around and the princess was looking at something on our stand. Anna Harvey [then fashion director at Vogue] introduced me and two weeks later she was in our showroom wearing my dress — the one with the black velvet bodice, the stars and blue organza.” He turns to his PR. “She wore it in Italy, didn’t she?”
“Florence,” he confirms. “1985.”
“I usually take everything in my stride,” Azagury says, “but I have to admit, every time I saw Diana wearing my clothes I did get very, very excited.”
Kate Middleton in Roksanda Ilincic (left); Princess Diana in Azagury
Azagury was interested in clothes from a young age, he says, and a YouTube collage of old family photographs shows him as a young boy in “proper French” Casablanca where he grew up, sharply dressed, and striking a pose.
His mother Alice “encouraged me”, he says, allowing him to express his style. His father, Marcel, was a photographer and “always immaculately turned out. He’d have suits sent over from Paris and the prices he used to pay in those days — thousands today! His big joy was shoes and suits. My parents were a big influence.”
The Azagurys and their five children moved to Whitechapel in the Sixties where the young Jacques was able to spectate as London went through a fashion revolution. Although it was rough — he remembers “a piano being thrown from the third-floor window” at school, and “rowdiness and fighting” — there were opportunities, too. “Opposite my house was a clothing factory and these two very sweet guys would give me remnants of fabrics. I’d make up little things and show them, and they’d be impressed.”
In his teens he liked to dress as Fred Astaire (“the wide Oxford bags, black and white shoes, the blazer, the spotted handkerchief round the neck. Maybe a beret”), and spend hours in the cinema “being blown away” by Hollywood style. “We’d say, ‘That’s how we’re going to look next week’, and then after the clubs shut we’d go to the flea market in Brick Lane at 5am and scour the heaps and heaps of clothes. You’d get some treasures there.”
Inevitably, Central St Martins recognised his talent and even invented a “specials” course around him. While he was in Browns perusing the rails one day, a buyer noticed his shirt. “It was a copy from the flea market — one I’d unpicked and remade in crêpe de chine because it had such a great shape.
“She said, ‘Will you make some for us?’ And that was my first commercial venture.” Next he sold to Feathers, then Harvey Nichols, and so it went on.
While his time with Diana was the “highlight” (he made 18 dresses for her), Azagury is still a very prominent “red carpet” designer. Among the many stars he dresses are Helen Mirren (“We love her. She’s very matter of fact”), Elizabeth McGovern (“wonderful”), Helen McCrory (“fabulous”) and Sheridan Smith (“brilliant”). Asked if he’s dressed the Duchess of Cambridge, he says: “Not yet,” and smiles. “She’s been very sensible, very clever at dumbing down the whole thing after the whole Diana episode. She’s being conservative, very pretty Princess Kate. She always looks great.”
He describes his designs as “prêt à couture” — a phrase he coined himself — “glamorous eveningwear, never fussy, fabulous fabrics, great cut, and always concentrating on the female body”. But he says that the female form has evolved a lot in recent years. “Women are getting bigger all over but you can really see it in the waist: they’re much squarer now. Even the dummies have upsized. If you measure a size 10 dummy now to a size 10 dummy maybe eight years ago, it’s gone up maybe one-and-a-half inches on the waist.”
So are we losing the hourglass shape? “Yes. Would I say it was less feminine? Hmm. I’d say it was a bit more of an athletic shape.” He smiles diplomatically. Is that a shame? “Not for a designer because you adapt. You can get that shape with a tiny bodice and a big skirt: suddenly you’ve got a tiny waist.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Azagury believes many women have “body dismorphia”, seeing themselves as smaller than they are. “You get someone coming in [to the shop] saying, ‘I’m a Chanel two.’ And I look and clearly they are not. A Chanel two is a size six, and they’re a size 14. They look at the rail at a 12 and say, ‘Oh, it’s too big for me.’ I say that we cut very small, try it on. And of course they can’t do it up.” He shivers as if cold. “There’s something very weird happening with the whole size issue.” In part he blames clothing companies that size down bigger clothes in a “big marketing thing to make people feel thinner”.
We return to Diana as he shows me her dresses. Azagury designed the low-cut, sky blue, beaded georgette dress in which Diana made her last public appearance — to see Swan Lake in 1997. It’s the dress Watts wears in the publicity poster for the film. “Diana loved it so much,” he says holding the fabric in his hand. “And I made her this long black one for her birthday two months before she died. It’s my personal favourite.” He is visibly moved as he shows me the intricate beading work in the lace.
Will there ever be another Diana in fashion, I ask? “No,” he answers without hesitation: “There will not.”
A FORMER Special Forces operative last night described how rogue SAS elements could have murdered the Princess of Wales.
Published: Sun, August 25, 2013
If a rogue SAS element did take part in the operation to kill Diana, he would have had a wide range of techniques and skillsBob, SAS agent
"Diana", a biopic of the late princess of Wales who died in a Paris car crash, has its world premiere Thursday with its star Naomi Watts already defending her involvement in the controversial film.
The movie follows Diana's romance with London-based Pakistani surgeon Hasnat Khan, whom many friends of the princess say was her real love and the man she allegedly called "Mr Wonderful".
Based on Kate Snell's 2001 book "Diana: Her Last Love", the film suggests that Diana started dating Dodi Fayed to make Khan jealous -- a claim challenged by many close to the princess.
Diana and Fayed died when the Mercedes in which they were travelling slammed into a pillar in a Paris road tunnel in 1997 while being pursued by press photographers.
Diana and heir to the British throne Prince Charles divorced in 1996 after 15 turbulent years of marriage which produced two sons, Princes William and Harry.
Watts, dressed in a figure-hugging white gown, was joined on the red carpet at London's Leicester Square by British-Indian actor Naveen Andrews, who plays her on-screen lover.
The British-Australian actress who came to prominence in "Mulholland Drive" in 2001, admitted that she was taking a risk by accepting the role of the "People's Princess".
She was asked if she felt the film would offend Diana's sons.
"Hopefully if they get to see the film, they will feel that we have done it in a respectful and sensitive way," she told BBC TV.
"We try to honour the depiction of her character in the best possible way."
But on Wednesday, Watts stormed out of a separate interview with BBC radio, apparently because a question offended her.
The surprised presenter, Simon Mayo, tweeted that Watts had "seemed a tad uncomfortable with the questions."
The film has been largely ignored by the royal family. Its producer Robert Bernstein claims the royals gave some help in allowing filming in Kensington Gardens, where Diana used to go jogging, although a spokesman for the royals told AFP the area was not under its jurisdiction.
Some critics have noted that Watts bears little physical resemblance to Diana, and had to wear a prosthetic nose for the film.
She is the only established movie star in the film. Andrews is best known for his role in the TV series "Lost" although he also played Juliette Binoche's love interest in "The English Patient" 17 years ago.
Watts claimed in an earlier interview that she "found herself constantly asking for (Diana's) permission to carry on" in the film.
"I felt like I was spending a lot of time with her. There was one particular moment when I felt her permission was granted," Watts told the Mail on Sunday.
Khan, who still works in Britain, has described the film as "completely wrong" and said he did not intend to see it.
He has never spoken of his relationship with Diana, meaning the filmmakers had to imagine the scenes between him and the princess.
As if on cue ahead of its release, new conspiracy theories about Diana's death have begun circulating after police revealed they were investigating claims that a member of Britain's special forces was involved.
Scotland Yard said in August that detectives were checking the "relevance and credibility" of information they had received.
Reports said the claims came from the estranged parents-in-law of a member of the elite SAS. The soldier in question gave evidence at the trial of a former colleague who was found guilty of possessing weapons illegally.
Official investigations into Diana's death have concluded that the chauffeur of the Mercedes, Frenchman Henri Paul, was driving under the effects of alcohol at the time he ferried the couple from the Ritz Hotel across Paris.
Previous film depictions of the British royals have received a distinctly mixed critical reception.
"The King's Speech" starring Colin Firth and "The Queen" with Helen Mirren as the monarch were garlanded with awards.
But a 2011 made-for-TV movie about the romance between William and the-then Kate Middleton was described by the Daily Mail as "truly terrible" and "shoddily cast, poorly executed, badly edited".
It's been one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year with everyone keen to see how Naomi Watts will portray royal icon Princess Diana.
And Thursday evening was her big night when she finally walked the red carpet in Leicester Square for the premiere of movie, Diana.
While she may have flashed a bit more flesh than the late Princess Of Wales would have opted for herself, she would have still no doubt have approved of Naomi's stunning choice of outfit.
Leading lady: Naomi Watts steals the show at Thursday night's Diana premiere in Leicester Square in a white gown with large side split
Familiar: Naomi channels Diana in various outfits throughout the film and even managed to look similar at the premiere compared to Diana seen here in 1996, the year before her death
The actress, 44, wowed in a figure hugging white frock with a large side split up one side and a cross-over cut exposing her chest.
She showed off her impressive physique in the ensemble which emphasised her petite frame.
Naomi even gave a hint of her toned legs as well as she put her left leg on display through the split and wore a pair of black high heels.
She's got style: Naomi knew all eyes would be on her for the coveted role so made sure she stunned for the evening
Toned: Naomi looked confident as she paraded around for the cameras on Thursday evening
The wait is over! It has been one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year and is finally set for release on 20 September
The star wore large earrings and a simple bracelet around her right wrist, but she kept her hair 'do simple.
Watts opted for an up 'do for the occasion with her long fringe hanging loose.
Naomi revealed at the premiere that she wanted to play Princess Diana because she was such a "complex" woman.
Stunner: Naomi walked the red carpet outside the Odeon in Leicester Square along with her castmates
The 44-year-old actress portrays the late royal in new movie Diana - which is based on the book Diana: Her Last Love and focuses on the last two years of her life including her romance with Dr. Hasnat Khan.
Naomi initially turned down the part twice but was compelled to take on the role because she found Diana - the mother of British Princes William and Harry - so fascinating.
Speaking at the world premiere of the film at the Odeon cinema in London's Leicester Square tonight, she said: 'Any woman I take on (on screen) I want them to be all things. I'm fascinated by women who are complex, full of contradictions, who are fun, intelligent but fragile at the same time.
'Someone who is going through something, some kind of transformation and this story is definitely that.'
Naomi did a lot of research on Diana - the ex-wife of Prince Charles who tragically died in a Paris car crash in 1997 - and found her to be a very funny and mischievous person.
The Hollywood star was determined to bring that side of the princess to the movie.
She added to BANG Showbiz: 'It seemed to me, in the research that I did, that Diana had a great spirit and a great sense of humour and a mischievous way and I definitely wanted to incorporate that in my portrayal.'
Naomi was joined on the red carpet by Naveen Andrews - who plays her on screen lover Dr. Khan - the film's director Oliver Hirschbiegel, Douglas Hodge, who portrays Diana's butler Paul Burrell, and star guests including Andy Serkis.
The British-born actress - who moved to Australia at the age of 14 - also recently spoke out about how nervous she feels about the upcoming release of Diana.
Crowd pleaser: Before she headed inside for the screening she ensured she greeted the waiting fans and signed autographs
Photo opp: Naomi posed up next to her movie co-star Juliet Stevenson, who wore a floorlength silver lace gown
Camera ready: Naomi made sure all camera angles were covered as she twirled around in her dress
'I might go into hiding,' Naomi told Instyle magazine. 'More than twice I thought about not doing this.'
The talented star even added that she 'might have to leave the country' if the film doesn't get a good reaction.
Diana - a biopic that traces the life of Princess Diana of Wales - is scheduled for release on September 20 in the UK and November 1 in the USA.
Reunited: Naomi cuddled up to Naveen Andrews, who plays Dr. Hasnat Khan in the film, the doctor she once dubbed Mr Wonderful
Centre stage: Naomi got camera ready as she posed in her stunning white dress
Her big night: Watts has previously admitted she's nervous about how the film and her portrayal will be perceived
All together now: Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews were joined by Stephen Jeffreys (writer), Juliet Stevenson, Daniel Pirrie and director Oliver Hirschbiegel
All white: Naomi greeted guests before finally making her way to her seat to watch the film and the all important reactions
She also recently revealed that during that process she fell 'in love' with the late Princess of Wales.
Actress Laura Dern has interviewed Naomi for a feature on the star in Hamptons Magazine, and Naomi reveals how she admired Diana's quest to survive some of her most testing times.
'I can't really think of many people who can survive that level of fame,' Naomi told Laura.
Proud: The pair looked happy to finally be showing off their hard work at the screening
Interacting: She made her way down the row of waiting fans taking her time to chat to them
Taking her time: She accessorised with some large earrings and her blonde locks in a simple up 'do
Star status: The movie will be seen on cinema screens later this month in the UK and from November in the US
'It's horrible to imagine that life. But she kept trying to get better - that's why I fell in love with her.'
'She was doing so much work to survive that, and fighting to be happy. Already she was going to have a tough time because of being separated from her mother for such a long time, then getting thrust into the royal lifestyle at 19, and being pushed out of it with the breakdown of her marriage.'
At Thursday night's premiere she was also joined by her co-star Naveen Andrews, who plays Dr. Hasnat Khan, the last man she ever loved.
Focusing on the public pressure and media spotlight affecting their romance, a trailer that was released last month proves to be a harrowing insight into the movie's focus on the private life of the former Princess of Wales.
The production have done well to recreate classic images of Diana throughout the film, focusing on the last two years of her life as she continued her charity work, supporting AIDS victims and campaigning against landmines with the Red Cross.
But it was her little known relationship with a heart surgeon that grips our attention as the truth behind their failed union comes out in the trailer.
At first, Diana's attraction to Khan stems from his treatment of her as a normal person, with her saying to a friend: 'He doesn't treat me like a princess, it's almost like he doesn't know who I am.'
And while the trailer shows a montage of clips of the two enjoying the early stages of their romance, it seems the media attention surrounding the princess was far too much for Hasnat to handle.
ON the night Naveen was reunited with Watts once more and cuddled up to photos with her as he showed of his dapper style in a suit.
Naomi Watts has revealed she nearly decided against playing the late Diana, Princess of Wales, due to how Prince William and Prince Harry would feel about the film.
“The biggest reason that made me pause was how the princes were going to feel about this,” the 44-year-old told the Sunday Times.
Naomi has revealed she rejected the role of Diana, Princess of Wales, twice before accepting it.
The oscar-nomimated actress also revealed she turned down the role twice before accepting the job.
“I was a little bit torn, but once I’d said no, I wasn’t completely at peace,” she said. “Sometimes when you say no, you feel free, but it just wasn’t the case.”
The upcoming biopic titled ‘Diana” will tell the story of the late Princess’ final two years before her untimely death. Naomi, who was most recently nominated for an oscar for her role in The Impossible, has explained how being a mother herself made her consider how Diana’s sons William and Harry would feel about the film.
“I do care deeply about how the princes feel, of course,” Naomi told the paper. “I am a mum of two boys. But it was a story that was bound to be told at some point, and it’s possibly fresher than people expected.”
Diana will be released in September.
The film revolves around the relationship the late Princess had with Doctor Hasnat Khan in the two years before her death. Hasnat has dismissed the movie as being based on “hypotheses and gossip.”
“It’s based on gossip and Diana’s friends talking about a relationship that they didn’t know much about,” he told the Mail on Sunday.
The world may never know the real Princess Diana. Nearly 16 years after her death at age 36 in a car crash in Paris, royal watchers all over the globe are still fascinated by the late "People's Princess." Many hope to get the inside story on her life via a new biopic, Diana, starring Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews -- but Diana's ex-lover Hasnat Khan (whom Andrews plays in the film) says the movie got it all wrong.
Speaking with the U.K.'s Mail on Sunday about the big-budget flick, Khan denied claims that he had given the film his approval (tacit or otherwise). He also said that the movie's portrayal of his two-year romance with the Princess of Wales was inaccurate and based on hearsay.
"I don't see this movie doing well at all. It is based on gossip and Diana's friends talking about a relationship that they didn't know much about, and some of my relatives who didn't know much about it either," he told the Daily Mail. "It is all based on hypotheses and gossip."
Khan, who has not seen the biopic, added that he could tell all he needed to know about it from a single still image showing Andrews and Watts in character at the hospital. "You could tell from that picture that it is all just presumed about how we would behave with each other, and they have got it completely wrong," he explained.
Asked whether he planned to watch the movie in theaters, the 54-year-old heart surgeon balked. "A friend asked me the other day if I would sneak into a cinema to see the film. But there is no way I will watch it," Khan, nicknamed "Mr. Wonderful" by Princess Diana, told the Mail. "There's no way I am going to go anywhere near it, not now or ever."
"Most of it is going to be based on gossip, and if I watched it I would be sitting there saying, 'That's wrong, that's wrong, that's not right' every second," he continued. "I couldn't put myself through that. It would be absolutely terrible."
Diana, set to be released in September of this year, centers around Khan's romance with the Princess, which was also the focus of a recent Vanity Fair cover story about Prince William and Prince Harry's late mother. According to VF, Khan was the true love of Diana's life, even though she was linked to Dodi Fayed at the time of her death.
"Diana was madly in love with Hasnat Khan and wanted to marry him, even if that meant living in Pakistan," Jemima Khan, the former wife of Hasnat's distant cousin Imran Khan, told contributing editor Sarah Ellison. "And that's one of the reasons we became friends."
The relationship ended, Jemima said, because Khan was reluctant to commit. "Hasnat was a decent, intensely private man from a traditional, conservative Pakistani family, and he was worried about how it would work," Jemima explained. "And he hated the thought of being in the glare of publicity for the rest of his life."
As a result, Diana sought comfort with Fayed. He was killed along with the Princess in the car crash in Paris on Aug. 31, 1997.
The book, “Out in the Army,” by James Wharton, recalls an incident in which Harry, younger brother to Prince William, stood up for the soldier, who was being bullied for being gay. The two were serving in the Blues and Royals of the Household Cavalry Regiment.
During the incident, detailed by the Daily Mail on Sunday, Wharton, who was Harry’s gunner during training, turned to Harry for help after six soldiers threatened to “batter” him.
As the Daily Mail tells it,
I told him, “I think I’m going to be murdered by the infantry.” I climbed into the turret and talked Harry through exactly what had happened. He had a complete look of bewilderment on his face. I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. He said, “Right I’m going to sort this s*** out once and for all.”
Wharton watched as the royal confronted the group, warning they would face “severe discipline” if their threats continued. He then reported the threats to his senior officer. The prince returned 10 minutes later to tell him it had been “sorted.”
Writes Wharton, who was 21 at the time, "I will always be grateful to Harry and I will never forget what happened. Until he went over and dealt with everything I was on track for a battering."
- The Historic Royal Palaces charity is selling the scarf at Kensington Palace
- It features illustrations of Diana from unofficial photographs
- It has been labelled a 'cynical commercial exercise'
The official merchandise shop for Kensington Palace has been accused of acting in ‘bad taste’ for selling a scarf featuring images of Princess Diana.
The silk scarf is being sold for £85 by independent charity The Historic Royal Palaces.
But Rosa Monckton, who was a close friend of Diana, said: ‘I think that this is in very bad taste.
‘The Diana Memorial Fund spent millions of pounds in lawyers’ fees in trying to protect her image, specifically against an American company producing a Diana doll.’
Ms Monkton, 59, who chose Diana to be godmother to her daughter Domenica, added: ‘If the Diana Memorial Fund still existed, would it now be suing the Royal Palaces?
'This is clearly a cynical, commercial exercise.’
The scarf was designed by renowned fashion illustrator Julie Verhoeven, who has previously worked with top fashion houses.
Nearly all the drawings on the pattern are from unofficial photographs of Diana.
A spokesman for Princes William and Harry declined to comment about the scarf, but it is understood that Royal aides are not pleased by the decision to sell it.