Obituary: Lady Tryon

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The Independent Online
Dale Elizabeth Harper, dress designer: born Melbourne, Australia 3 January 1948; married 1973 Anthony Tryon (succeeded 1976 as Baron Tryon; two sons, two daughters); died London 15 November 1997.

The Australian dress designer Dale Tryon was both a colourful figure in royal court circles and a vibrant and successful businesswoman in the treacherous waters of the international fashion world. From the early 1980s her clothes were sold in shops from England to America to Australia, France and Spain, and her own boutique in Knightsbridge was later joined by branches in Salisbury, Hong Kong and Dublin.

She was born Dale Harper in Melbourne in 1948, the daughter of a wealthy printing magnate, Barry Harper. As a child she suffered for many years from paralysis and spina bifida, which she fought off successfully, the first of many health problems which were to plague her life.

It was in 1966 that she first met the young Prince Charles at a school dance when he was a pupil at the Geelong Grammar School in Victoria. Her early jobs in Melbourne included a brief stint as a reporter for the society pages of the Australian Women's Weekly. In 1969, when she came to London, she worked for the London office of the Women's Weekly in Fleet Street.

A pretty, spirited and vivacious blonde, she had a strong sense of fashion and although living on a strict budget could still be persuaded by the redoubtable Lady Rendlesham to spend a little in the sales at the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche shop which opened in New Bond Street in 1969.

Dale kept in close touch with her sister Cherie, who was an air stewardess with Alitalia and flew regularly between England and Australia. One of Cherie's friends in Melbourne, Patricia Tryon, gave the girls a letter of introduction to her brother, Anthony Tryon, a merchant banker at Lazards.

After a couple of years of temping in London, Dale prepared to return to Australia, but on the eve of her departure Anthony Tryon proposed to her over lunch. He then flew half way round the world to ask for her father's permission to marry. Tryon's father had been Keeper of the Privy Purse, and he himself had been a page to the Queen, so the wedding in 1973 took place in the tiny Chapel Royal in St James's Palace. A daughter, Zoe, was born a year later, followed by Charles, whose godfather is the Prince of Wales. Twins followed four years later.

It was at this stage, on a stopover in Hong Kong on her way to visit her mother, that Dale Tryon met a Hong Kong-based American designer, Diane Fries, whose speciality was a one-size-fits-all, uncrushable, drip-dry, elasticised-waist dress. Tryon considered it perfect for the expanding figure, and agreed to be Fries's agent in the UK.

She returned with 20 samples in a suitcase, and set up premises with another agent in Great Titchfield Street, the fashion trade area just north of Oxford Street. The dresses sold well and Tryon went on to become a designer with her own label, printing her own polyester georgette in Japan, and manufacturing clothes in Hong Kong. The Prince of Wales's nickname for her, Kanga, became first a label and later, in 1983, the name of her shop in Beauchamp Place.

Seven years later she launched the Dale Tryon couture label with a selection of Italian and French textiles. In addition to showing her collection from her showroom, she exhibited at the biannual trade shows at Olympia and Birmingham and at times enjoyed an annual turnover of more than pounds 1m. Thanks in part to her business success the family were able to move from Ogbury House at Great Durford near Salisbury back to the estate's Old Manor House, which had previously been run as a girls' school by the dowager Dreda, Lady Tryon.

Both the Kanga and Dale Tryon collections were shown at high-profile charity events such as the Berkeley Hotel Debutante Ball, the Fleur de Fleur luncheons at the Dorchester and the White Dove Ball at the Savoy. The latter two were in aid of the Royal Marsden Cancer Appeal, in which Tryon had become involved thanks to a fellow Australian, the Melbourne- born Lady Buckinghamshire. She also organised several balls in aid of Sane, the mental health charity. By this time she was receiving treatment from the Royal Marsden for uterine cancer, and had also undergone major surgery on her back.

The spirited and courageous Dale Tryon was on a heavy dose of painkillers, and the unwise consumption of vodka and champagne led to further tragic events. Last year, while undergoing treatment for addiction at the Farm Place Clinic, she fell from a first-floor window, broke her back and became paralysed.

Confined to a wheelchair, she then had to cope with more misery when her husband of nearly 25 years wanted a divorce. She flew to Australia to be with her mother, Jean Harper, and from there to Delhi for homeopathic treatment by Dr Mosarif Ali, who was introduced to her by the Prince of Wales. The decree nisi was pronounced on 1 September and she was still waiting for the decree absolute when she entered the London Clinic a week ago. Lord Tryon, their four children, and her brother Derek Harper, were with her when she died .