In 1997—a tragic several months before her death—Princess Diana sat for Mario Testino as he took several portraits for Vanity Fair. Among her outfits? A tulip-shaped dress by Victor Edelstein in a deep aubergine silk velvet, with three gold buttons on the back.
It was one of the Princess’s most recognizable looks: she wore it during an official 1991 portrait with Prince Charles, taken by Lord Snowdon. Later that year, artist Douglas Hardinge Anderson painted her in the gown for a work hung at the Royal Marsden Hospital, one of Diana’s patronages. Finally, in 1998, Franklin Mint recreated the dress for their limited edition doll of the princess.
Now, Sotheby’s has announced the Edelstein dress sold for an astounding $604,800 after a bidding war broke out between four potential buyers. It went for more than five times its pre-auction estimate—and over $580,000 more than the last time it went up for sale in 1997, when Princess Diana offered 80 dresses from her personal collection to benefit the AIDS Crisis Trust and the Royal Marsden Hospital Cancer Fund.
“Among her many lasting influences, Princess Diana was revered for her effortless sense of style, which is perhaps best captured by this sleek and sophisticated ball gown designed by world-renowned Victor Edelstein,” Christina Prescott-Walker, Sotheby’s global director of art and objects says of the dress.
Diana’s relationship with Edelstein began in the early 1980s. Anna Harvey—deputy editor of British Vogue at the time, and a fashion adviser to the princess—suggested she work with the couturier, who had recently left Christian Dior, to develop her style. The British designer eventually became one of the key shapers of her wardrobe: he designed the famous midnight blue dress she wore to waltz across the White House floor with John Travolta, as well as a strapless black evening gown worn to the premiere of Dangerous Liaisons.
Today, he’s credited with helping Diana transition from girly 1980s looks to a more mature, sleek aesthetic. “Few names as resonant as Princess Diana’s, and even fewer biographies are revisited with the same frequency,” says Walker. “While each account of her life has a unique focus and tone, one element is constant: Princess Diana was, and remains, a fashion icon. Even decades after her tragic passing, her style and attire inspire.”
In fact, this particular infanta-style dress was likely made for the princess in mind. Part of the British dressmaker’s Autumn 1989 collection, original sketches of the look include an outline of a tiara, suggesting Edelstein had a royal muse in mind.
According to Sotheby’s, the outfit has only been worn a handful of times. Following the auction, perhaps the public will see the dress once more—either donned by a new individual, or on a mannequin behind museum plexiglass.
Originally published in Vogue.com