Before the Met Gala 2022, Newsweek examines the night Princess Diana wowed New York’s great and good in an appearance that marked a bold new step in her life.
DIANE IN 1996
Princess Diana’s appearance at the 1996 Met Gala, the annual fundraising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, came during a time of extreme change in her personal life. For the occasion, Diana debuted a bold and bold new look.
It had been a year of change for Diana who, since her BBC broadcast in 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir had aired, was in talks with Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II about getting a divorce.
Charles and Diana had been officially separated since 1992 and since then the princess had begun to use her star power to pursue her humanitarian goals and ambitions.
Although the decision was not made easily, Diana released a statement in February 1996 announcing that she had agreed to a divorce.
The Welsh’s divorce was finalized on August 28, 1996, with the Princess losing her HRH (Her Royal Highness) title, keeping her apartments at Kensington Palace and receiving a lump sum settlement of £17million.
Newly single, public attention on Diana intensified as she began charting a new course for her life, and in the process adopted a simpler, more modern way of dressing.
Amid the chaos of the divorce, the princess received an invitation through her longtime friend and fashion adviser Liz Tilberis, then editor of Harper’s Bazaar in New York, at the Met Gala in December.
The 1996 Met Gala celebrated the opening of the Costume Institute’s exhibition devoted to the life and career of Christian Dior.
British-born designer John Galliano – who would be unceremoniously fired from Dior following anti-Semitic comments made in 2011 – had recently taken creative control of the fashion house and launched his first collection earlier in the year.
Unbeknownst to the fashion press, the princess had arranged to have one of Galliano’s first Dior looks made to wear for the gala.
Galliano was known as fashion’s bad boy in the 1990s, making him an even bolder choice for Diana. Fittingly, another collection at the head of Galliano in the same year was inspired by the naughty Incredibles and Wonderful—French aristocrats who subverted their nobility status by dressing cheekily and transparently.
When she arrived at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on December 9, 1996, alongside Tilberis, Diana made fashion history with what is now considered one of the most influential looks of all time.
The dress itself was close to scandal for a princess, taking inspiration from lingerie in the form of a midnight blue silk dress, cut on the bias with delicate black lace embellishments and straps.
The princess, according to reports from the Daily mailhardly wore the design lest its revealing nature upset the sensitive teenage Prince William.
Still followed for her fashion, the decision to go ahead and wear the design was demonstrative of the new post-divorce Diana who was free from the constraints and immediate expectations placed on the wife of a future king and member. elder of the royal family.
In her choice of accessories, Diana affirmed her royal status as the mother of the future king and, although divorced, still Diana, Princess of Wales.
Where this was most evident was through her choice of jewelry. After her divorce was finalized, Diana continued to wear her diamond and sapphire engagement ring, now an integral part of her public image. With that, on gala night, she wore an equally regal piece of jewelry in the form of her large sapphire, diamond and pearl choker necklace.
The central element of the necklace had been given to the princess as a wedding gift by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Diana also wore sapphire and diamond earrings and a pair of matching bracelets.
THE ICONIC HANDBAG OF THE NAME
As a handbag, the princess chose one of her favorite models which formed a strong bond between her and the house of Christian Dior.
During a visit to Paris in 1995, the then First Lady, Madame Bernadette Chirac, presented Diana with a gift in the form of a small but elegant Christian Dior handbag named the “Chouchou”.
The bag quickly became one of the princess’s favorite accessories and she ordered a version made in blue the following year to, according to Dior, match her eyes, “because it suited [her] Good.”
Following her love of the bag, the house of Dior renamed the style in honor of Diana to “Lady Dior”. It was a nod to the princess’s maiden name, Lady Diana Spencer.
On Dior Met Gala night in 1996, Diana wore her blue variant of the handbag and was guided through the exhibit with event co-chairs Tilberis and Galliano.
It was to be the only Met Gala Diana would attend, as the event took place just months before her tragic death in a car crash in Paris aged 36 in August 1997.
The only other member of the British royal family to attend the gala is Queen Elizabeth II’s granddaughter, Princess Beatrice, who attended the event in 2018.