Princess Diana's iconic aubergine silk and velvet gown up for auction this month

Princess Diana
Princess Diana. Photo credit: Getty Images

It might not be as famous as her head-turning "revenge dress," but an aubergine-coloured silk velvet piece is still one of Princess Diana's most iconic gowns. The late royal wore it for both an official royal portrait in 1991 and an intimate Vanity Fair spread in 1997, just before her death.

For the first time in over 25 years, the dress will be auctioned, and is expected to fetch up to US$120,000 (NZ$189,400) at a Sotheby's sale in New York later this month.

Designed by couturier Victor Edelstein, the strapless number features a sculptural sweetheart neckline and a tulip-shaped skirt. It last sold for $24,150 in 1997, during a Christie's charity auction featuring 79 dresses donated by Diana. The sales collectively reached $3.25 million, benefiting AIDS and cancer organisations including the Royal Marsden Hospital, where she served as president for eight years.

In the Vanity Fair story, photographed by Mario Testino, the magazine focused on the auction, calling her decision to sell the dresses "a powerful symbol of her changing life" in the wake of her high-profile divorce from Prince Charles, as she was "jettisoning a life that never was."

But the Princess of Wales was more reserved in discussing her decision to sell the garments, only saying it was "a wrench to let go of these beautiful dresses." She told the magazine: "However, I am extremely happy that others can now share the joy that I had wearing them."

Princess Diana velvet ballgown
Princess Diana's aubergine velvet ballgown is going up for sale for the first time in 25 years. Photo credit: Sotheby's

The deep purple gown was part of Edelstein's Autumn 1989 collection, though he designed custom looks for the Princess for over a decade, according to Sotheby's. It was featured in a painting by Douglas Hardinge Anderson in 1991, as well as a Franklin Mint doll in 1998. Edelstein was also behind Diana's midnight blue "Travolta Dress" - the long velvet gown she famously danced in with the actor while at the White House - which sold for £264,000 in 2019 to a charity after failing to sell at auction.

This Edelstein gown will be part of Sotheby's auction "The One" on January 27, featuring other notable items from fashion and entertainment, including a ticket to former President John F Kennedy's 1962 birthday - where Marilyn Monroe serenaded him - and LeBron James's Miami Heat jersey from the 2013 NBA Finals.