For our final Diana-themed Sparkling Spotlight of the week, we’re looking at one of my personal favorite gala ensembles, featuring a dress designed to sparkle almost as much as a tiara!
In February 1992, not long before their separation, the Prince and Princess of Wales made an overseas trip to India. For a gala dinner in Delhi hosted by Vice President Shankar Dayal Sharma, Diana wore sparkling diamonds with a special Catherine Walker gown. The dress, a black silk crêpe gown with a diamanté-embroidered bodice, was a commission made specifically for this tour.
Walker decided to pay tribute to traditional Indian embroidery with her gowns for this visit. But for this gown, the inspiration for the specific embroidered design came from much closer to home. You’ll note that the busy diamanté pattern features scrolls and floral elements.
The inspiration for those scroll and floral designs was, of course, the Spencer Tiara (displayed here in 2022). The tiara belonged to Diana’s father, Earl Spencer, but he allowed her to use it regularly throughout her royal marriage. (Aristocrats don’t have nearly as many tiara occasions to attend as Princesses of Wales, after all.) Walker’s interpretation brought the dazzling elements of the tiara to life as a fabric embellishment.
Of course, Diana paired the Walker dress with the Spencer Tiara for the dinner in Delhi. Her curly hairstyle for the evening even seemed to coordinate with the curling scrolls of the tiara and the gown’s embroidery.
Diana also wore diamond floral and pearl drop earrings with the ensemble. The earrings were a wedding gift in 1981 from the Emir of Qatar.
Diana wore the dress again, sans tiara, in March 1992 for a film premiere in London. Five years later, she decided to include the gown in a charity auction of her dresses at Christie’s in New York. You’ll spot the gown in the foreground of this photograph, taken during an auction preview in February 1997. The dress was Lot #39 in the auction, which was held on June 25, 1997. The dress was purchased by Kate McEnroe, president of the cable channels AMC and Romance Classics (WeTV), for $42,550. After the hammer fell, McEnroe told the Associated Press, “We’re overwhelmed, I’m nauseous actually. Of course we’ll try it on.”
In May 2011, as the world was buzzing about the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the dress was put up for sale once more at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills. It was purchased for $144,000 by Jorge Yarur, founder of the Fundación Museo de la Moda, a Chilean museum dedicated to fashion. Yarur and the museum own a number of Diana’s dresses, and he has stated that he has an agreement with Historic Royal Palaces to return them one day to the Kensington Palace collection.