Princess Diana had no shortage of memorable fashion moments throughout her life – though one, in particular, shines through more than most.
It was the 29th June 1994, almost two years after Diana and her former husband Prince Charles had publicly separated. Diana was to be a guest at Vanity Fair’s annual fundraising evening – an event that would surely see heavy paparazzi presence, as every event that Diana attended did. Famously well-dressed, this was an occasion that called for Diana to pull out all the stops and put together an outfit that would make a statement – and it wasn’t simply due to the nature of the event itself.
This was because, elsewhere, Prince Charles would be making his own public appearance, though not in person. That night would see UK network ITV broadcast a two-and-a-half hour long film on Charles, initially designed to improve the public perception of the future king. Unfortunately for the royal family, the tell-all documentary didn’t have quite the desired effect.
During an interview for the film, Prince Charles made an admission that would shock the world – he had, indeed, been unfaithful to Diana throughout their relationship. Given just how much the public had loved and continued to love his former wife – known to many as ‘the people’s princess’ – it was a confession that did not go down well.
Knowing that the documentary would be airing that evening and, perhaps, having had word of its content, Diana knew that her appearance at the event would be front-page news the following day. The press were famously unforgiving when it came to Diana, so it would have been easy to cancel her engagement, to stay at home and watch the ITV film for herself – instead, she kept her appointment and did so in spectacular fashion.
However, the outfit wasn’t quite as carefully planned as you may have imagined.
Initially intending to wear a gown designed by Valentino, her plans had changed after the fashion house prematurely leaked her ensemble to the media. With this in mind, along with the fact that all eyes would be on her before and after the world found out about Charles’ infidelity, she returned to her wardrobe in search of a fresh idea.
Hanging within her famous dress collection was a black Christina Stambolian dress, complete with a deep sweetheart neckline and short bardot sleeves, a sheer chiffon scarf hanging from its waist and below the asymmetric hemline. Diana had purchased the dress three years earlier, custom made for Diana by Christina Stambolian herself. Unfortunately, she had left it neglected within her wardrobe after deciding that it was ‘too daring’ – if there was ever a time to be daring, however, it was that evening. It was almost as if the dress had been designed for this very occasion.
Teaming the dress with sheer tights and black court heels, Diana knew it needed a little something extra to really bring the look together. Looking within her jewellery collection, she chose a famous favourite of hers – a sapphire and diamond brooch given to her as a wedding present by the Queen Mother, which Diana had mounted onto seven strings of pearls to create a stunning choker necklace. With this perfect finishing touch to the sophisticated ensemble, the look was complete.
As millions sat in front of their televisions and witnessed Prince Charles publicly admit to adultery for the first time, Diana was making quite the impact at London’s Serpentine Gallery, stepping out of her car to the sound of hundreds of cameras and the whispers of attendees who had already heard the news. As she always did, she went about the evening with characteristic class and grace, seemingly unbothered by the furore surrounding her former husband.
The next day, the press had given her look its now-infamous title – The Revenge Dress.
Whether or not Diana had revenge in mind whilst putting her outfit together is, and likely always will be, unknown. However, if a comment by her stylist Anna Harvey is anything to go by, she at the very least wanted to make a statement.
“She wanted to look like a million dollars,” Anna recalls. In the eyes of many, she certainly did.
The dress had amassed such a reputation that, when placed up for auction by Diana to raise money for cancer and AIDS charities just two months before her death, it sold for $65,000. It has since been on display a handful of times, including at an exhibition in Kildare, Ireland, which paid tribute to the late princess’ unmistakable sense of style – almost ironically displayed alongside her wedding dress.
Diana left behind a legacy as more than just a princess, remembered as an attentive mother, tireless activist, social butterfly and, of course, a style icon. When it comes to the latter title, the image of the infamous ‘revenge dress’ is, to many, the first thing that comes to mind.