Princess Diana was an undeniable fashion icon, and over 25 years after her tragic death, her impact on style looms larger than ever. The past few years have seen an uptick in Diana-related movies (like Spencer, a moody biopic starring Kristen Stewart, and The Princess, an intimate HBO documentary), TV shows (like the wildly popular Netflix show The Crown) and even social media accounts dedicated to documenting her couture extravagance and casual yet chic street style looks with equal fervor.
Diana's legacy of grace and charity remains inspiring, and her gorgeous clothes helped cement her status as a modern and culturally relevant royal. Given the huge impression her clothes made on people worldwide, it's no surprise that items from her wardrobe are prized by collectors, and have occasionally been the subjects of high-profile, big-money auctions.
Three of her famous dresses just sold at an auction put on by Julien's in Beverly Hills — read on to see how much they went for, and learn the sweet story behind the sale of these near-mythic gowns.
What's the story behind the Princess Diana dress auction?
In June 1997, an auction that included some of Princess Diana's dresses took place at Christie's in New York. One of the bidders was Ellen Petho, a grandmother who shared her passion for the royal family and royal memorabilia with her daughters and was determined to own something from the royal closet. As Ellen's husband recalled to the Daily Mail, "Somebody in the entertainment industry was also interested in the dress and Ellen was determined not to be outbid."
Ellen herself was not a celebrity or power player — rather, she was a self-made businesswoman who sought out discounts in her day-to-day life and had been saving up money to buy a property. Ultimately, she used these savings — $150,000, to be exact — to buy five Princess Diana dresses.
The auction changed Ellen's life, and shortly after it took place, the dresses took on a new resonance, as Diana shockingly died in a car accident just weeks later, in August. Ellen was inspired by Princess Diana's devotion to charity, and traveled the US to showcase the gowns and raise money for causes Diana supported. Ellen's husband recalled that people would often be moved to tears upon seeing the dresses, and said that she never tried them on, instead reverently treating them as prized, museum-quality pieces.
Earlier this year, Ellen died at 82. Now, three of the dresses she bought many years ago have once again gone up for auction — and their final selling prices have risen dramatically.
The Princess Diana dresses that sold
Here's a look at the three Princess Diana dresses that just sold.
Red Bruce Oldfield gown
Princess Diana wore this sparkly red gown at the London premiere of Hot Shots!, a parody of Top Gun starring Charlie Sheen, on November 18, 1991. While she had unlimited access to all the latest fashions, she wore this dress by Bruce Oldfield, one of her favorite British designers, on multiple occasions.
Black and green Catherine Walker gown
Diana donned this elegant gown for a gala dinner at Toronto's Royal York Hotel on October 26, 1991. This dress, with its alluring off-the-shoulder V-neck and richly colored skirt, was designed by Catherine Walker, another one of the Princess' favorite designers. Walker worked with Diana for 16 years, and died in 2010.
Black and white Catherine Walker gown
Princess Diana may have been one of the world's most photographed women, but some of her dresses weren't captured at public events. This sleek, strapless black and white dress was designed by Catherine Walker for a private function, so there are no photographs of Diana wearing it — but that doesn't make it any less exciting!
Altogether, the three Princess Diana dresses sold for $1,651,000. That's quite an impressive amount, especially when you consider that Ellen Petho originally spent $150,000 in 1997 and she got five dresses — two of which were not included in this sale! Clearly, Diana remains one of the most enduring (and stylish) public figures of our time.
10 more of the most iconic Princess Diana dresses
Diana wore so many stunning dresses that it's hard to play favorites, but these 10 couture creations are particularly special.
1. David and Elizabeth Emanuel wedding gown
Who could forget Princess Diana's wedding dress? This fairytale creation, featuring ultra-'80s puff sleeves and a dreamy long veil and train, was made by British husband-and-wife designer duo David and Elizabeth Emanuel.
2. Bellville Sassoon chiffon dress
Diana even looked fabulous en repose. At a 1981 gala, she wore an off-the-shoulder lavender chiffon confection from Bellville Sassoon. The day after this event, the Palace officially announced her pregnancy. No wonder she was tired!
3. Donald Campbell polka dot dress
Diana wore a lot of polka dots in the '80s, and chose a charmingly prim polka dot dress by designer Donald Campbell to show off her new baby (or as you might know him, Prince William!) in 1983.
4. Catherine Walker one-shoulder dress
In 1988, Diana wore this red and black one-shoulder floral gown from Catherine Walker to the British Embassy in Paris. The combination of the dramatic silhouette and eye-catching print embodied the more-is-more style of the decade.
5. Victor Edelstein white dress
Diana made a strong case for winter whites when she wore a white gown, complete with a charming bolero, to attend an opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in February of 1989. The dress was created by another one of her favorite British designers, Victor Edelstein.
6. Catherine Walker sequin dress
What's more glam than a gown covered in sequins? In 1990, Diana wore this bedazzled Catherine Walker dress to attend The Diamond Ball At The Royal Lancaster Hotel.
7. Christina Stambolian 'revenge' dress
Shortly after Prince Charles admitted to adultery in 1994, Diana stepped out in this surprisingly sexy little black dress from designer Christina Stambolian. The dress was widely seen as a powerful sartorial act of revenge that showed the Princess' confidence in the face of crisis.
8. Versace blue dress
Talk about royal blue! Diana was known for her captivating blue eyes, and this satin Versace gown, which she wore to an event in Australia in 1996, complemented them beautifully.
9. Versace white dress
Diana wore this sleek white Versace dress to a charity concert in Italy in 1995. With a scoop neckline and simple silhouette, it's worlds away from the frilly dresses she favored in the '80s.
10. Jacques Azagury red dress
Shortly before her passing in 1997, Diana wore this long red dress from Moroccan designer Jacques Azagury. He said, "The princess always looked amazing in red," and we have to agree.
Want to learn more about Princess Diana's iconic looks? Read on!