What could be a more perfect combination than the glamorous Diana, Princess of Wales and a gown inspired by a classic Hitchcock film? Add in the backdrop of the Cannes Film Festival and sprinkle on some diamonds and aquamarines, and you’ve got royal jewelry magic.
In May 1987, the French Riviera was buzzing with the news that the Prince and Princess of Wales, Britain’s most sought-after royal couple, would be walking the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. They were there to promote and support the British film industry in a whirlwind ten-hour visit.
Charles and Diana were able to pack quite a bit in to their brief time in Cannes. After landing in Nice, they headed to town hall in Cannes and then toured the British film pavilion before spending some time relaxing on a private yacht. They emerged that evening in movie-star mode, with Charles in a tuxedo and Diana wearing a gown and jewels, to attend a screening of The Whales of August (no pun surely intended with that title). Before the movie began, they met with some of the film’s stars, including Hollywood icons Bette Davis and Lillian Gish.
After the film had ended, the royal couple headed to a gala dinner honoring an icon of the British film industry: the actor Sir Alec Guinness. They were joined by an impressive list of British actors and actresses, including Peter Ustinov, Roger Moore, Jean Simmons, and Charles Dance. And then they hopped on a plane to head directly back to London.
The visit may have been brief, but Diana’s evening ensemble was very memorable. She wore a silk chiffon gown in a shade of ice blue, made by one of her favorite designers, Catherine Walker. Above, the dress is displayed at Kensington Palace in 2017. Diana wore it once more—to see a performance of Miss Saigon in London in 1989—and later it was included in the famous 1997 charity sale of her dresses at Christie’s.
The dress was lot #6 in the sale, and it was purchased by Kate McEnroe, president of the cable channels AMC and Romance Classics (WeTV). It was subsequently sold again in 2011 and now belongs to Jorge Yarur, founder of the Fundación Museo de la Moda, a Chilean museum dedicated to fashion. (Another Catherine Walker gown, designed for a 1992 visit to India, has taken the same ownership path.)
The blue chiffon gown that Walker made for Diana to wear in Cannes had a very specific connection to the French Riviera—and another beautiful princess. For inspiration, Walker turned to the 1955 film To Catch a Thief, which featured Grace Kelly wearing a gorgeous blue chiffon dress. Diana’s chiffon gown featured similar design aspects, including the matching scarf. Kelly filmed the movie on the French Riviera, and while attending the Cannes Film Festival a few months before the film was released, she met Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The rest, of course, is history.
Diamonds and aquamarines were natural accessories to pair with the blue chiffon gown. Diana wore a pair of earrings with diamond floral studs and pear-shaped aquamarine drops set in a slender diamond frame.
She also wore an aquamarine and diamond bracelet on her right wrist, plus her iconic sapphire and diamond engagement ring and her Welsh gold wedding band on her left hand.