Heritage

The Story Behind Princess Diana's Iconic 'Revenge Dress'

People talked about it more than her ex-husband’s publicly declared affair.
IMAGE ROBERTO ARIAS/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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The public admission of her then-husband’s infidelity in their 15-year marriage was an event Princess Diana handled with flair.

She did so very elegantly, appearing in public in what would be one of the most iconic dresses in the history of royal fashion, on the very same evening Prince Charles’ confession was to air on television.

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Diana graced the annual summer soiree of Vanity Fair, held at the Serpentine Gallery in London that night, wearing a ruched, skin-tight, off-the-shoulder, black mini dress, styled with her famous seven-strand pearl and sapphire choker, scarlet nails, and pointy black heels.

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Cameras flashed everywhere and the crowd was agog, as Diana entered the gallery in all smiles, looking as confident as ever. Meredith Etherington-Smith, who worked with the princess on the auction of her dresses, believed Diana’s choice was “quite deliberate,” was well-received by her people, and that the princess was “very good at obliterating the press.”

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True enough, the famed look made it to every front page the next morning, trumping her husband’s televised confession. According to former stylist Anna Harvey, the princess intended to “look a million dollars” that evening. Being far from demure in that sultry ensemble, Diana most certainly did.

The unusual LBD, created by Greek fashion designer Christina Stambolian, was soon referred to as "The Revenge Dress" by Kerry Tailor, who was in charge of auctioning 10 of Diana’s top looks in 2013. On her bold appearance that evening, Tailor thought Diana looked “drop-dead gorgeous” and definitely “made a big statement.”

But the iconic fashion moment almost didn’t happen. For her appearance at the Serpentine Gallery benefit, Diana had already bought a dress from another designer, Valentino. But then the fashion house issued an unauthorized release about how Diana would look that evening. Diana, who was not at all pleased with their move, decided on another dress immediately.

Stambolian would later on reveal that Diana’s substitute dress that evening had  been designed for her three years ago, but was never worn as the princess thought it was “too daring.” Yet at the last minute, Diana made one of her best sartorial decisions ever. Since then, she would often be lauded for many of her post-princess outfits.

Diana’s Little Black Dress was later auctioned off for $74,000. It was bought by Scottish collector Greame Mackenzie, and used to benefit causes such as Children First, a royal Scottish society for the prevention of cruelty to children.

Today, the symbolic Stambolian dress remains one of the most popular LBD renditions in fashion history (alongside Audrey Hepburn’s Hubert de Givenchy and Kate Moss’ numerous LBD looks) and has started a trend of revenge dressing.

From Reese Witherspoon’s Olivier Theyskens for Nina Ricci’s dress, after her divorce with Ryan Phillippe, to Bella Hadid’s Alexander Wang catsuit at this year’s Met Gala, Hollywood’s A-List have been taking cues from Diana’s stylish comeback.

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Pop singer Rihanna has been quoted referencing the princess, revealing how she was “touched by the idea that even Princess Diana could suffer like any ordinary woman” and that Diana’s shocking revenge dress moment blew her away.

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Patti Sunio
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