Princess Diana’s ‘revenge dress’ made fashion history when she wore it in July 1994 on the evening that Prince Charles confessed his infidelity to the world.
The LBD, by little-known Greek designer Christina Stambolian, was a devastating display of ‘look what you’re missing’ chic and a statement of freedom and independence. Black and revealing, the dress defied all the codes of royal dressing which dictated that black should only be worn when in mourning and that outfits should be demure above all else.
This moment will likely appear in season five of The Crown, in which Elizabeth Debicki will take over the role of Diana from Emma Corrin whose performance in season four has won her plaudits for her ‘Bambi meets Machiavelli’ depiction.
But anyone who has reached the end of the current run of episodes might have noticed a wink to the fact that Diana was on the cusp of morphing from Dynasty Di into Revenge Diana in 1990, when the season ends.
After a heart-to-heart with Prince Philip, Diana changes from a simple white jumper and jeans into a fabulously sleek blazer dress for the family Christmas photo. Descending the stairs at Sandringham, she looks bold, empowered and completely different from the Queen, Anne, Margaret et al in their flouncy, possibly even frumpy, festive outfits.
‘I loved that they dressed Emma Corrin in the halter-neck tuxedo dress for the last episode,’ says Eloise Moran, who has introduced the Instagram generation to Diana’s revenge dressing ways via her account @ladydirevengelooks, which has nearly 75K followers.
‘Not only was it the sexiest dress we'd seen her in through the whole season, but it reminded me of the green velvet Catherine Walker dress Diana wore in her '90s Vanity Fair shoot, shot by Mario Testino. In the editorial, accompanied with the photo of Diana wearing the dress is a quote "There is a kind of serenity. She's found herself--the way she wants to live."’
The Walker design which Moran refers to has never been seen on Diana in public. It was sold as part of the Christie’s auction of her royal wardrobe in 1997, at which 79 gowns were sold for an average of $41,000 each. The was reportedly worn by the Princess for private dinners - one of those could easily have been Christmas Eve, the original was, after all, a festive shade of christmas tree green.
‘I think the fact they used this dress to wrap up the season, and the end of the '80s decade, was very poignant,’ adds Moran. ‘It got me excited for the next season - the revenge season, the only season that matters in my book! It was the "jeez, FINALLY!" moment-I just wish we'd seen them build to that with a little more sartorial nuance.’
Diana fans who had hoped for a deep dive into every twist and turn of the Princess’s style evolution have been left disappointed by The Crown’s depiction which left out many highlights, including the forays she made into menswear-inspired tailoring when she grew tired of ballgowns and the offbeat polo looks she tried later in the ‘80s, like jeans tucked into cowboy boots worn with blazers and sweatshirts or novelty knitwear with pleated skirts.
‘One of my biggest issues of this season was that they failed to show some of Diana's most interesting '80s looks,’ Moran confirms. ‘I felt the show portrayed her as overly fragile; I didn't get a sense that her character developed so much until the very last episode, and by that point it felt as though lots of bits of the plot were missing.
'This wasn't helped by the clothes they dressed Emma Corrin in; some of my favorite looks were earlier on in the season, like the yellow dungarees, pink sweater inspired by the wool knit that Diana bought at a shop called Inca in Belgravia and the white dress she wore in Australia, because it totally resembled her innocence. In the latter part of the '80s, I think she started to come into her own - especially after she became a mother. As she began to rebel against Charles and the royal family, I wish they would have selected edgier, more powerful looks to represent this shift in her. I would have loved to have seen some androgynous looks, for example.’
If Diana’s most famous revenge dress was all about reclaiming the narrative and stealing front pages from the husband who had been unfaithful to her, then the one seen in The Crown carries a subtler, foreshadowing message.
It shows Diana using fashion as armour - those big, sharp lapels are like a shield, the silhouette is cinched and sleek - and finally setting herself apart. For most of the season, she has tried - at least nominally - to fit in with the family via floral dresses and appropriate skirt suits. Now she couldn’t look more different to them. She’s emboldened and ready for all that the early ‘90s have to throw at her - bring on season five.