Though it has been 25 years since her untimely demise, Diana, Princess of Wales, remains a venerated figure within the contemporary British monarchy. Among her many iconic attributes, Princess Diana was known for her bold fashion choices during her time in the public eye, both before and after her divorce from then-Prince Charles of Wales (currently King Charles III) in 1996 — as well as for her dedication to using her platform for philanthropic aims. These two passions combined in 1997, during a Christie’s charity auction that included 80 of the former princess’s frocks including a stunning silk velvet ball gown designed by British couturier Victor Edelstein in 1989.
What goes around, comes around, and this intricate aubergine number is returning to the auction block, this time at Sotheby’s as part of an eclectic upcoming sale titled “The One” that grandly boasts “the finest products of human achievement in history.” A total of 20 eclectic lots spanning thousands of years include Qing Dynasty goose tureens, an engraved and inlaid Italian Rococo table, and a pair of Nike x Louis Vuitton “Air Force 1s” in an orange pilot case. Princess Diana’s velvet dress is one of several items in the auction that borrow their luster from celebrity affiliation, alongside the game-worn uniforms of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and an official ticket to President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 birthday party.
This gown, which carries an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000, was an obvious favorite of the princess during her time representing the crown. Princess Diana wore the dress for the royal portrait shot by Lord Snowdon (then-husband of her aunt-in-law Princess Margaret) in 1991, and is also featured in Douglas Hardinge Anderson’s painted portrait of that same year. It was later worn by Diana in a photograph taken by fashion photographer Mario Testino for her iconic 1997 Vanity Fair spread, just months before her death.
That photo shoot has been credited with helping to immortalize the princess’s place in fashion and culture. The dress was auctioned later that year and sold for around $25,000 to benefit AIDS and cancer organizations. In 1998, the Franklin Mint produced a series of porcelain Princess Diana dolls in some of her most memorable looks, including Victor Edelstein’s 1989 design.
Edelstein, who made dresses for Princess Diana from 1982 to 1993, remembered that time as a pivotal phase in her style transformation. “When I started designing for her she was just starting to move away from the first period of clothes — what I think were rather like little girl’s clothes made bigger,” the designer said, quoted in Sotheby’s catalogue essay. “Her style became more sleek and sophisticated, and more grown up.”
The velvet gown will be offered in a live auction in New York on January 27.
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