Many icons rise to fame or infamy well after their death—but that wasn't the case for Princess Diana. She was the UK's beloved it-girl during her reign as Princess of Wales and made fashion choices that separated her from the classic style of the royal family, including her Dior mini bag and signature biker shorts. However, if there's one look that became synonymous with Princess Diana, it was her iconic "Revenge dress," a black body-con dress with draped, off-the-shoulder sleeves. Diana wore the bombshell dress to an event in 1994, shortly after her husband Charles, Prince of Wales, publicly admitted to having an affair—hence, the revenge.
The dress went down in fashion history as a tool that Princess Diana used to reclaim her independence after a brutal and life-altering moment. And so, the pressure was on for Netflix's The Crown to get the moment exactly right when Elizabeth Debicki portrays it in season five, out November 9. Ahead, The Crown's costume designer, Amy Roberts; associate costume designer & head buyer, Sidonie Roberts; and hair & makeup designer, Cate Hall, explain how they nailed the look.
The Crown follows the British monarchy through history, and obviously that becomes more of a challenge as the series gets closer to the current day, and viewers have a stronger vision of what these people actually looked like. It's a pressure that the costume and beauty team don't take lightly—and instead try to create a version of the characters, instead of exact replicas. "Elizabeth Debicki is not Princess Diana, and we are trying to include enough of the actor so that what we're not doing is parody," says Hall in a press roundtable. "In some moments, you do have this heart-stopping moment where you see this glimpse, where I don't think you'd be able to tell the difference between the two. But for the most part, they look like very different women. We try to create a framework within which drama can happen."
Although it seems like a simplistic design, Diana's revenge dress was extremely challenging to replicate because it had to work on Debicki's body in the same way it worked on Princess Diana's. "A big part of [replicating the dress] is working and sculpting it to Elizabeth's body, not Diana's, because obviously, physically, they're different," says Amy. "When we go into that, we're also aware of [the] criticism that can cause—because you're making a direct comparison, you're suddenly going [into] this is 'who wore it better.' That's not what we want to do at all. It's how you shape [the silhouette]."
Of course, hair and makeup were also vital components in creating Princess Diana's revenge look, and according to the team, there were trials and tribulations when re-creating Princess Diana's look. "For us, it's the same kind of pressure that [the costume team] feels, which is that you know you're under the microscope for that moment," says Hall. "The weight of that actually is not carried by me. In this case, it's on [makeup artist] Debbie Ormrod, who looks after Elizabeth as Diana. When you look after someone one to one on set as a hair and makeup artist, it's like Stockholm Syndrome—you become completely entranced by realizing that character for the length of the job. And I think those moments were always massively highlighted in Debbie's schedule. I always took it for granted that she would nail that moment as much as you can with a different human being."
The dress Princess Diana wore after the scandal, designed by Christina Stambolian, was so iconic that it's been etched into the collective memory of Diana fans around the world. The costume team notes that in this case, they forfeited creativity to get the right look. "[The original revenge dress that Princess Diana wore was] groundbreaking for those people making those dresses and making those decisions," says Amy. “[What we are doing is] honoring that. Interestingly, for us, these kinds of moments are—I always feel bad about saying [this]—where we have the least creative license. We're honoring this because it was iconic for a reason—because it's magnificent and amazing. And then we'll fall down to that historical moment."
"It was important to remember to be very respectful of the original designer," Sidonie mentions. "The revenge dress is such a tricky thing to make—to work out how you even have the opening on a dress like that, how she's going to get into it, you've got a crusted body just draped by delicate chiffon."
The revenge dress represented both death and rebirth in the series as well as real life. "The revenge dress is the ultimate little black dress of the season," Sidonie reveals. "Amy and I, up until that point, only ever used black on the Royals, whether it was going to a funeral or whether it was in mourning. And so that [color] becomes quite symbolic for the moment where [Princess Diana] chooses to wear it. It's representing the death of a marriage and a move away from the palace. And then the rebirth of this kind of independent woman, finding her own voice and becoming even more of that legendary fashion icon in her own way."
Hall reveals that Princess Diana stepping into independence after the scandal was also a significant inspiration in hair and makeup. "That phase of Diana's life is the same thing [the costume team] was talking about. This is not a kind of fragile, young debutante who is thrust into the limelight—this is a woman who is reclaiming that space and saying, 'Hold on a second, I have a voice, I can do this, I can carve my own niche, I'm valuable, and I have something to offer.'"
While Diana's Revenge Dress is infamous, her hair was really the defining feature of her look. "That haircut is pretty difficult to pull off in a wig," explains Hall. "I think about the shape and the silhouette, and the outline. I always think if someone looks like the person from behind, then we're kind of winning. The haircuts are technically very similar [to Princess Diana's]. We're trying to find this believable moment, so we're working all the time to conceal the artifice by putting bald caps under wigs and doing everything we can not to draw attention to the fact that they are wigs."
As for the rest of Princess Diana's beauty routine, the products she used were actually very well documented. One would think that using the same cosmetics would help replicate a look, but Hall notes that wasn't the case with Debicki's glam routine. "Everything has moved on a lot since [the products that Princess Diana used]. What we're seeing is an interpretation of something for screen—for us, we're trying to create a living, breathing character that feels believable.
Hall continues, "We need something to feel really believable. Using dated products wouldn't necessarily achieve the same thing on screen, particularly when you shoot an ultra-high definition. And what we wanted to capture was the beauty, but you wouldn't necessarily do that in the same way."
Another challenge was nailing Diana's skin tone—she was an avid tanner to avoid being called "exhausted" or "wan" by the press. "Elizabeth is much paler than Diana was with constant tanning," Hall continues. "[With] makeup, [we] to try and push her towards the kind of Diana that we remember. I have this trust in once we've created the fundamentals of the character, then across the season, then those moments are these kinds of just nuanced high pressure moments. But they're not really that different to anything else we shoot."
Finally, the most significant component to recreating Princess Diana's look is, well, the audience. "I rely on the intellect and the maturity of the audience, that they will fill in the gaps in the middle and that they are committed to the drama [enough that] they don't need [an actor] to have a prosthetic nose in order to inhabit the [character]," explains Hall. "I don't know if I have an exact moment where we might have discarded one thing versus choosing something else, but I think we always start with that very iconic outline. Most of the royal family and most people of every period have a [look] that's not very conscious, but there was a shape to their hair, and there is a tone and a texture to their makeup that routes them in that period and to that person—that's our map."