Historic Royal Palaces acquires iconic ‘Travolta dress’ worn by Diana, Princess of Wales

11 December 2019

11 December 2019

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The gown will now join the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, an internationally significant collection of royal and court dress

From her first public appearances in 1981, Diana, Princess of Wales captivated the world’s attention as a Princess, as a trendsetter and as a patron and advocate of charities.  Now, over twenty years since her death, one of the most famous outfits ever worn will return to Kensington Palace, her home for over 15 years, as Historic Royal Palaces – the independent charity which cares for the State Apartments at Kensington Palace - announces that it has acquired the iconic ‘Travolta dress’ worn by Diana, Princess of Wales.

The gown, designed by Victor Edelstein and selected by the Princess for dinner at the White House, went down in fashion history when Diana took to the dancefloor with John Travolta as the band played tunes from his hit films including Grease and Saturday Night Fever. The resulting images of the Princess and the actor dancing together caused a global sensation, earning the gown its enduring nickname; the ‘Travolta dress’.

Worn by the Princess on a number of occasions between 1985 and 1997 – when it was auctioned alongside 78 other items from her wardrobe to raise money for AIDS and cancer charities – the dress is said to have been among Diana’s favourites. In addition to the White House dinner, it was chosen by the Princess for an official visit to Austria in 1986, Germany in 1987, to attend the London premiere of the film ‘Wall Street’ in 1988, and to sit for an official portrait by the artist Israel Zohar, in her capacity as Colonel in Chief of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars. The Princess wore the gown for the last time in 1997, when she was photographed by Lord Snowdon in advance of the dress going up for sale.

Unusually for the Princess’s eveningwear, it was not a bespoke design, but rather selected by her from one of Edelstein’s seasonal collections and remade in midnight blue rather than the original burgundy.  In addition to its connection to Diana, Princess of Wales, the dress is itself is an important work of fashion design. It takes inspiration from Edwardian evening dresses, with the velvet ruched and cut with incredible skill to create a sleek silhouette while retaining movement in the fabric.

The perfect fusing of form and function, the gown marks a point in Diana’s style evolution, when she moved away from seasonal fashions to a more classic, timeless look that was to define her fashion choices until her death in 1997. Edelstein, one of the most important British couturiers of the 1980s and 1990s, is credited with helping the Princess move away from the frills and ruffles of her earlier image to the new, sleek style he himself championed.

Eleri Lynn, curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said:

 “We’re delighted to have acquired this iconic evening gown for the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection - a designated collection of national and international importance - over twenty years since it first left Kensington Palace. Not only is the ‘Travolta’ dress a fantastic example of couture tailoring designed to dazzle on a state occasion, it represents a key moment in the story of twentieth century royal fashion. The photographs of Diana, Princess of Wales dancing with John Travolta at the White House wearing this midnight blue Victor Edelstein gown are known the world over, with the dress’s twirling velvet skirt playing no small part in making this such a memorable image.”

 

The dress will now join the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, a treasure trove of over 10,000 items of historic dress from the 16th century to the present day. The collection, cared for by Historic Royal Palaces, shines a light on the rich history of fashion, British ceremonial traditions, life at court, and the lives of some of our most famous monarchs and members of their families. It is part of the Arts Council England Designation Scheme as a designated collection of national and international importance.

Notes to Editors

For further information and images please contact Adam Budhram in the Historic Royal Palaces Press Office: adam.budhram@hrp.org.uk or telephone: 0203 166 6307.

Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle and Gardens.  We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built. We raise all our own funds and depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, sponsors and volunteers. With the exception of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, these palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and we manage them for the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Historic Royal Palaces cares for Hillsborough Castle and Gardens under a separate contract with the Northern Ireland Office. Registered charity number 1068852. For more information visit www.hrp.org.uk