The statement that almost wasn’t! Princess Diana’s little black “Revenge Dress” has been hailed as one of the most iconic fashion moments of all time — but it turns out the late royal never intended on wearing the dramatic design.
Claudia Joseph — author of Diana: A Life in Dresses, which explores the late princess’ fashion evolution and published by ACC Art Books — opened up to Us Weekly exclusively about Diana’s unforgettable Christina Stambolian number, which she wore to the Serpentine Gallery on June 29, 1994. The event took place on the same night King Charles III admitted to cheating on his then-wife with Queen Consort Camilla. (Diana and Charles, now 74, formally divorced in August 1996 after 15 years of marriage. The princess died at age 36 in August 1997. Thing King and Camilla, now 75, wed in April 2005.)
“The story behind her wearing the ‘Revenge Dress’ is quite interesting,” Joseph told Us earlier this week. “She’d gone into Christina Stambolian dress shop with her brother Charlie Spencer, and he sat there while she tried on clothes.”
The writer explained that Diana had ordered the memorable off-the-shoulder dress but originally “wanted it in white.” Joseph continued: “But Christina said, ‘No, no I think it would look better in black.’”
Diana, however, wasn’t convinced. “She was [groaning] about it, but Christina insisted, ‘This looks fabulous on you,’” Joseph told Us. Diana ended up obliging and ordered the piece in black. On the day of the Serpentine Gallery event, the British press leaked that Diana would be wearing Valentino, which didn’t sit well with her. “She got quite angry about that, so she went into her closet and her butler suggested she wear the [Stambolian], and it of course got dubbed the ‘Revenge Dress,” Joseph claimed.
While Diana has continued to inspire style in the years after her death, the U.K. native’s wardrobe wasn’t always so expansive.
“When she married [Charles], she was 20 years old. She said she only had one long dress, one silk skirt and a pair of shoes,” Joseph told Us. “She obviously went shopping for her wedding, but she gradually needed more and more. At that age, you haven’t really discovered your style.”
Joseph explained that Diana was “very much influenced by the 1980s and the Romantics” in her early days as a royal. “It was the era of frills and puffball skirts and turned up collars and then gradually, I think she got more sleek … She began wearing very sleek designer creations.”
Naturally, when Diana and Charles split, she needed “a very different wardrobe again,” Joseph explained.
“That’s why we’d see her in working suits from Chanel. She took risks and wore slightly shorter skirts,” the writer told Us. “When she was with Charles, she didn’t wear heels because she didn’t want to stand towering above him. But once they divorced, she could wear what she wanted.”