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Man buys $362,000 Princess Diana dress to surprise wife

A British man who wanted “a surprise to cheer up his wife” walked away Tuesday with the top-selling item from a London auction of Princess Diana’s gowns: a dark navy velvet dress that the princess wore when she danced with John Travolta at the White House in 1985.The iconic Victor Edelstein gown sold for 240,000 British pounds, or about $362,000 — nearly double what it went for when it was
This Victor Edelstein midnight-blue velvet evening gown was worn to a State Dinner at the White House, where Princess Diana famously danced with John Travolta.
This Victor Edelstein midnight-blue velvet evening gown was worn to a State Dinner at the White House, where Princess Diana famously danced with John Travolta.Kerry Taylor Auctions / Today

A British man who wanted “a surprise to cheer up his wife” walked away Tuesday with the top-selling item from a London auction of Princess Diana’s gowns: a dark navy velvet dress that the princess wore when she danced with John Travolta at the White House in 1985.

The iconic Victor Edelstein gown sold for 240,000 British pounds, or about $362,000 — nearly double what it went for when it was last auctioned in 1997.

“She really liked dark velvet for showing off jewels, and it had that wonderful skirt that twirled, so great for dancing,” said Los Angeles-based fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, who specializes in European fashion. “And it had that sexy low neckline, which she wore more of as she got older.”

Princess Diana wore this Catherine Walker burgundy crushed velvet evening gown during a state visit to Australia and to the film premiere of "Back to the Future" in 1985. It sold at auction for $163,000.Kerry Taylor Auctions / Today

Diana first auctioned off some of her dresses for charity at the suggestion of her son Prince William back in 1997, three months before she died. The gowns’ values have skyrocketed since her death, Chrisman-Campbell said, and museums are snatching up more of her garments, leaving fewer available for private collections.

“The combo of Diana plus Travolta plus White House makes this a star piece,” Chrisman-Campbell said. “I’m not surprised it was the top seller again.”

Two dresses from Catherine Walker, one of Diana’s favorite designers, also sold for 108,000 pounds, or $163,000 each. Diana and Walker were close friends, and the princess was buried in one of the designer’s dresses. Walker herself passed away from cancer in 2010, adding to the value of her gowns.

Diana wore this Catherine Walker black velvet and beaded evening gown for the Vanity Fair photo-shoot at Kensington Palace in 1997. It sold Tuesday for $163,000.Kerry Taylor Auctions / Today

Altogether, the entire collection of Diana’s dresses fetched about $1.2 million at Tuesday’s auction.

Those not lucky enough to buy one of the gowns can check out a collection of Diana’s dresses on display at the Queen Mary Hotel in Long Beach, Calif., for the rest of the year. Exhibits like this one, “Diana: Legacy of a Princess,” are infrequent because the gowns are so fragile and they can only be displayed for short periods, Chrisman-Campbell added.

“It’s a rare opportunity,” she said.

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