Princess Diana's Pricy Gown Just Blew Other Royal Auctions Out of the Water

A royal purple velvet evening gown formerly belonging to Princess Diana has been sold in New York for the hammer price of $604,800, the highest price ever publicly paid for a dress belonging to the princess.

The gown was created in 1989 by Victor Edelstein, a British designer who made several pieces for Diana in the 1980s and early 1990s. Forming part of his autumn/winter collection, the dress featured a sweetheart neckline with graduating pleats constructed to form a knot motif on the bodice. The skirt was designed in the tulip silhouette, with three diamante buttons on the reverse of the gown as the only form of embellishment.

Princess Diana Dress Auction
Princess Diana (left) photographed at Christie's auction house in London, June 2, 1997, and the purple velvet dress owned by the late royal (right). The garment sold at auction on January 27 for $604,800. Antony Jones/UK Press via Getty Images/Sotheby's

The dress, offered by Sotheby's on January 27 with an estimate of between $80,000 and $120,000, was worn by Diana for a number of high-profile photographs but not for any public event. The royal included the gown in her 1997 auction of the most-famous looks she wore during her marriage to Prince Charles, now King Charles III.

Prompted by Prince William, Diana wrote of the decision to hold an auction: "The inspiration for this wonderful sale comes from just one person... Our son William."

Promoting the sale, Diana posed in the dresses for a photoshoot by the fashion photographer Mario Testino. The shots from this sitting have been displayed at the princess' former home of Kensington Palace, London, in recent years.

In the 1997 auction, held by Christie's in New York, the purple velvet gown was included as lot 61, along with nine other Edelstein designs. At the June 25 sale, the dress reached a hammer price of $24,150.

Just weeks later, Diana would die from injuries sustained in a high-speed Paris car crash while traveling with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed. Many of the dresses sold in the Christie's auction would be displayed for charity or acquired by museum collections.

Mario Testino Princess Diana Dress Portrait
Photographer Mario Testino posing in front of a portrait of Princess Diana wearing the Victor Edelstein purple velvet evening gown at Kensington Palace, London, November 22, 2005. The garment has just been sold at auction. MJ Kim/Getty Images

The $604,800 price tag for the purple velvet gown makes it the highest price paid for a Diana dress on the open market. The second-highest price was paid for another Edelstein dress, more widely known as the "Travolta Dress."

Worn in 1985 to dinner at the White House with Prince Charles and the Reagans, the midnight-blue velvet evening dress with slip shoulders and pin tucked pleats captivated onlookers as the princess danced with the movie star John Travolta.

In the 1997 auction, the Travolta Dress was listed as lot 79 and reached the highest sale price of the entire 80-lot sale, with a hammer price of $222,500.

The dress was offered for sale through the London-based Kerry Taylor Auctions in 2019. The garment failed to sell under the hammer, but a private sale was arranged afterwards, with the charity Historic Royal Palaces paying $290,000 to add it to its collection.

Historic Royal Palaces operates Kensington Palace as a tourist attraction and has the largest private collection of Princess Diana's dresses. As her former home, Kensington Palace often stages displays of the royal's dresses for the public.

Princess Diana Auction Lots
Princess Diana (left) photographed dancing at the White House with John Travolta wearing a Victor Edelstein gown, November 9, 1985. And a diamond and amethyst pendant worn by Princess Diana and purchased at auction by Kim Kardashian, 2023. An evening gown worn by the late royal has been sold at auction. Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images/Sotheby's

The sale of the purple Edelstein comes hot on the heels of another Diana artefact to hit the auction block. On January 18, a diamond and amethyst pendant in the form of a cross was auctioned by Sotheby's London. The piece had been worn by Diana in the 1980s on loan from Garrard, the jewelers who made her famous diamond and sapphire engagement ring.

The cross sold for $197,452, and the auction house later said that it was bought by reality TV star Kim Kardashian.

The identity of the Edelstein dress bidder is as yet unknown.

Newsweek approached Sotheby's auction house for comment.

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek's royal reporter based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek's The Royals Facebook page.

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