Anyone who’s ever wanted to look, or dress like a princess will have the opportunity on Tuesday, when one of Princess Diana’s most “fairytale” frocks goes under the hammer at Kerry Taylor Auction House in London.
The princess was photographed many times while wearing the ball gown, which was the creation of David and Elizabeth Emanuel, Diana’s favorite designers, and was inspired by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The dress — a shimmering white organza number with gold sequins, crystals and pearl beads embedded throughout — first caught her eye at a Red Cross benefit fashion show in 1986. The entire ensemble includes a petticoat, removable sleeve panels and a matching head band.
“This dress has a real 1980s, New Romantic style,” says Kerry Taylor, the auction house owner. The Emanuels, she points out, were of particular significance to Diana, who used them to design both the black taffeta gown she wore for her first public appearance after the announcement of her engagement to Prince Charles, as well as the royal bridal gown for her marriage to the Prince in 1981.
Diana also seemed very smitten with the “Diaghilev” dress, as she wore it to a number of public events, including during a state visit of Richard von Weizsaker, the then-President of the Federal Republic of Germany; to a performance at the Royal Opera House and for the premiere of the James Bond film “The Living Daylights”.
“This dress was a real favorite of hers,” says Taylor. “It’s the kind of dress that a little girl sitting down at school will draw when she’s asked to draw a princess.”
Diana would often forgo the headband, and instead pair the dress with a tiara, and she would wear the petticoat and sleeve panels interchangeably.
“She gave it lots of different looks and wore it with lots of different accessories,” says Taylor.
The dress is expected to sell for $130,000 when it goes to auction. Taylor, who has sold other famous Diana garments, including the couture velvet gown she wore on her first official visit to the White House (where she famously two-stepped with John Travolta), says that the Princess’ wardrobe tends to auction for anywhere between $50,000 and $500,000.
“The value depends on how beautiful they are, how historically important, if there’s a story behind the dress, how often the Princess wore the dress, and if she was photographed in the dress. All these things add to its value,” she says.
Previously, the “Diaghilev” dress was owned by an American collector who used it as a means to raise funds for charity. Until recently, it had been on loan at Kensington Palace. Now, says Taylor, the collector wants to “pass on the responsibility”.
As for who is likely to bid on the piece on Tuesday, or why, Taylor says she has no idea.
“It’s always a surprise. Most people only want one, so you rely on people to come out of the woodwork,” she says. The reasons for buying a Diana dress are equally unexpected, she notes.
“The man who bought the John Travolta dress wanted to cheer up his wife. She had a nasty fall and hurt her leg, and he saw the dress and thought, ‘this is just the thing.'”