03 May 2017

Royal Flashback of the Day: Diana in Paris

The Duchess of Cambridge's Paris trip earlier this year created a lot of discussion on what a royal wardrobe for a Paris visit ought to be: more French designers (or not), better couture (or not), amped up to an entirely different level of chic (or not). Nearly thirty years ago, the same question of how to royally dress for the fashion capitol resulted in the creation of an ensemble that would become a personal favorite for Diana, Princess of Wales.

In France, 1988
President Mitterrand hosted a banquet at the Élysée Palace for the Prince and Princess of Wales during their November 1988 trip to France, and the Princess picked a Victor Edelstein design for the occasion. The embroidery on the bodice and long-sleeved bolero jacket was both the star of the show and its specific connection to France: the floral design of simulated pearls and white bugle beads outlined in silver and gold was hand embroidered by Hurel, the famed French couture embroidery house. The oyster duchesse satin dress also featured a skirt with a tucked bustle effect at the back.

Detail: The embroidery on the back of the bolero jacket
The dress was said to have been one of Diana's favorites. It was also one of the most expensive pieces in her formal wardrobe, reportedly costing around £55,000 at the time (at today's prices, somewhere around £135,000, or $175,000). She wore it again for an event in 1989. Originally paired with diamond and pearl earrings she received as a wedding gift from Collingwood jewelers, she added the Cambridge Lover's Knot Tiara for a later portrait sitting.

The auction book
Though Diana found it difficult to part with a favorite, the dress was auctioned for charity with others from her collection at Christie's in 1997. It sold for $90,500 to Kate McEnroe, then the head of the AMC television channel. Another portrait in the dress graced the cover of the auction book in a final mark of affection for the frock.

The dress also made its way onto book and magazine covers
This was high end couture, and couture for Paris is a natural match. Though I can't say this dress numbers among my favorite Diana outfits -  I don't love the short bolero combined with the fullness of the skirt - I can see the strategy behind it. There's no doubt that this is a grand dress for a grand occasion. Did it live up to its original trip task? You be the judge.