It’s been called the most famous sweater in the world and now the price tag that it fetched at auction proves that to be true.
We’re talking about Princess Diana’s “black sheep sweater”, featuring a black sheep among rows of white ones, and it has sold for $1.14 million (£920,000) at an auction by Sotheby’s in New York.
Bidding opened 31 August, and the top bid stayed under $200,000 (£161,000) until the auction’s final minutes.
Sotheby’s had estimated the value of the “sheep jumper” at $50,000 to $80,000 (£40,300 to £64,500). It turned out that the estimate was WAY off!
The auction house did not disclose the identity of the winning bidder.
In what proved to be a surprise even to the experienced auction house, the simple piece of knitwear, which was unearthed in an attic in March, commanded a higher price than many other objects tied to the “People’s Princess” that were sold at auctions in recent years.
Diana’s car, a Ford Escort, may be the closest, going for $806,000 (£650,000) in 2022. The amethyst-bedecked Attallah Cross that Diana frequently wore was sold to reality star Kim Kardashian for roughly one-fifth of the sweater’s amount – $203,000 (£163,800) – at an auction in January.
What is so special about this modest sweater? Diana was known for her clever manipulation of the press as she fought against the dictates of the Royal Family. She frequently wore clothing or accessories meant to “send a message” about her secret feelings. This sweater, featuring the one black sheep in a field of white ones, is often described as symbolic of how Diana saw her place within the royal family.
However, not all fashion historians believe this to be true. According to some, Diana was not sending a message, as she may have done in later years with her famous “revenge dress”. When she wore the sweater in 1981, a month before her wedding to then-Prince Charles, the antagonism that later defined her relationship with the Royal Family had not developed yet. Instead, many say Diana was simply sporting the “Sloane Ranger” style she helped popularize.
In the era before social-media influencers, newspaper photos of Diana in the sweater gave its maker, Warm and Wonderful knitwear, a “stratospheric launch” and inspired copycat designs, according to Sotheby’s.
Shortly after her marriage, Buckingham Palace wrote to Warm and Wonderful that the sweater had been damaged and sought a repair or replacement. Princess Diana then wore the replacement to another polo match in 1983.
Sotheby’s included the letter to Warm and Wonderful as well as a thank-you note for the replacement in the auction lot. It also used the sweater’s small hole to confirm authenticity.