How Diana's Cannes Film Festival Dress Honored Silver Screen Princess

When Princess Diana was invited to attend the Cannes Film Festival in 1987 alongside her husband Prince Charles, she decided to pay homage to one of the area's best-loved figures, both a dynastic and silver screen royal, Grace Kelly.

Marking the 35th anniversary of Diana's show-stopping appearance at the Cannes Film Festival, Newsweek looks at the dress which paid tribute to Grace Kelly's movie star glamour, and which was included among the gowns auctioned by the princess for charity in 1997.

Grace Kelly Princess Diana Catherine Walker Dress
Thirty-five years ago Princess Diana paid a fashion tribute to Grace Kelly at the 40th Cannes Film Festival. Kelly (L) photographed in 1955. Diana (R) photographed May 15, 1989. Anwar Hussein/Getty Images/Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Diana and Princess Grace

Princess Diana formed a connection with Grace Kelly in her early days in the royal spotlight. The Oscar-winning Hollywood actress was present at Charles and Diana's first public engagement following the announcement of their engagement in 1981.

Diana later remembered the event, a musical recital at London's Goldsmiths Hall, in tapes she recorded for biographer Andrew Morton who published the landmark book Diana: Her True Story in 1992.

"I remember meeting Princess Grace," she said, "and how wonderful and serene she was - but there was troubled water under her, I saw that."

"It was a horrendous occasion... I didn't know whether to go out of the door first. I didn't know whether your handbag should be in your left or right hand. I was terrified, really, at the time everything was all over the place. I remember that evening so well. I was terrified—nearly sick," she continued.

Princess Diana Grace Kelly 1981
Princess Diana first met Grace Kelly at a musical recital after the announcement of her engagement to Prince Charles on March 9, 1981. Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

If the soon-to-be princess was looking for comforting advice from Kelly, it wasn't forthcoming. As Diana later remembered, the princess simply said to her: "Don't worry, it'll only get worse."

The pair would meet again at Wimbledon in 1981 and Kelly as well as her son Prince Albert of Monaco were guests at Charles and Diana's wedding.

Kelly died tragically the following year in a car crash while driving with her daughter through the hills above Monaco. Diana asked Queen Elizabeth II if she could travel to the principality to represent the British monarch at Kelly's funeral, a request that was granted.

Diana's death in a car crash in 1997 brought the two royal women's lives into even greater alignment.

The Festival

Diana and Charles were invited to attend the 40th Cannes Film Festival in May 1987 which saw the couple meet and greet a host of Hollywood's finest actors.

The royals attended a screening of the Bette Davis movie The Whales of August and also attended a gala dinner where actor Sir Alec Guinness was the guest of honor.

Prince Charles Princess Diana Cannes 1987
Prince Charles and Princess Diana attended the 40th Cannes Film Festival on May 15, 1987. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

The dress

For the occasion, Diana worked with her most trusted designer, Catherine Walker, to create a dress that would be a tribute to film and the south of France, two elements which were perfectly embodied by the late Kelly.

The resulting dress was made as an homage to the costumes worn by Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 heist movie To Catch A Thief, which was set on the French Riviera.

Grace Kelly Princess Diana Blue Dress
Princess Diana's blue silk chiffon dress (R) was inspired by Kelly's costumes in To Catch A Thief (L). Kelly photographed, 1955. Diana photographed May 15, 1987. Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

The princess took delivery of a gown of pale blue layered silk chiffon, pleated and tucked with a crossover yolk. A matching scarf of silk chiffon accompanied the look which Diana wore flowing down the back of the outfit, catching the breeze that was high on the evening of the film screening.

The dress was widely praised in the fashion press and the tribute to Kelly did not go unnoticed.

Diana was clearly fond of the creation as she wore it subsequently, most notably to the premiere of the 1989 musical Miss Saigon.

Under the hammer

In the year following her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996, Diana went through a transitional period that saw her change her working habits, her family relationships and her wardrobe.

No longer an HRH (Her Royal Highness) but simply Diana, Princess of Wales, she decided that she wanted to let go of many of the formal evening dresses she had accumulated since her marriage in 1981.

Prince William suggested that his mother auction the dresses for charity rather than destroy them, as they were too recognizable to donate to local charity shops as she did other unwanted clothes.

The princess selected 79 of her most iconic dresses and consigned them to Christie's auction house in 1997. The blue Kelly-inspired gown was lot 6 and sold for $70,700 (over $100,000 today.)

The buyers of the dress were the U.S cable TV station Romance Classics.

Princess Diana Catherine Walker Christies Auction 1997
Princess Diana posed with the designer of her Grace Kelly-inspired dress at the preview of her Christies auction in London, June 2, 1997. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Where is it now?

Diana died just weeks after the auction of her dresses was completed, raising $3,258,750.

After the announcement of her death, Romance Classics displayed the Kelly dress to raise funds for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.

The dress was offered for auction again in 2011 where it was purchased for $132,000 and now forms part of the collection belonging to the Chilean fashion museum, the Museo de la Moda.

In 2017, the dress was displayed at the princess' former home, Kensington Palace in a special exhibition marking the 20th anniversary of her death.

Princess Diana Cannes Dress Museums
The Grace Kelly-inspired Catherine Walker own was sold at auction in 2011 (L) and put on display at Kensington Palace in 2017 (R). GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images/Jack Taylor/Getty Images
For more royal news and commentary check out Newsweek's The Royal Report podcast: