The dress is black and slinky, not particularly notable, until you hear the juicy story behind it.
Rubenstein dubs it the “Revenge Dress.” British designer Christina Stambolian made it in 1991 for Princess Diana. The silk jacquard frock, with its plunging neckline and ruched skirt, was shorter and sexier than the princess’ usual fare, so it stayed out of public view for a few years.
Then, on the night when Prince Charles was to appear on television, finally mea culpa-ing to his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles, Diana pulled the dress out of the closet.
“That dress on somebody else, big deal,” Rubenstein said when I caught up with him by phone this week. “But for a princess to go walking out with her shoulders bare, a short skirt and black stockings, it was something else.”
Appearing at a gallery opening, Diana wrenched the spotlight away from her confessing spouse. It would be the second most photographed dress she ever wore. (See a photo of Diana in the dress in the picture gallery above.)
“It was her way of saying, ‘I will not be a victim, and I will not be a joke,’” Rubenstein said. “It’s a turning point in how we perceive Diana.”
The dress fit a fashion formula Rubenstein had for the book. “Unforgettable,” he said, is “the right woman in the right dress at the right moment.”
“100 Unforgettable Dresses” (Harper Collins, 2011) is a rich read, a coffee-table page-turner filled with beautiful gowns, fun stories and an intelligent illustration of fashion’s influence on our culture and our closets.
Rubenstein has been observing that influence for decades. He’s the former men’s style editor for the New York Times and the longtime fashion director of InStyle, the magazine that blends trendy clothes with smiling celebrities into a glossy, pop-culture smoothie.
With a career’s worth of famous frocks in his head, Rubenstein said the initial outline for the book came easy. “Once we had the concept, I probably came up with three-quarters of the (dresses) within about 25 minutes. Frankly they were so stuck in the front of my brain, it wasn’t hard.
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