Why Are We Still So Fascinated by Princess Diana’s Swimsuits?

In The Crown season six, episode one, Princess Diana stands in a tender while on vacation in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, striking a deal with the paparazzi. She’ll give them a front page-worthy photograph, she promises—but only if they leave her young family alone afterwards.

A handshake agreement is made, although Diana surely knows it will soon be broken. Still, she stands up, throws her arms back, and pouts, showing off her figure in an animal print one-piece bathing suit as the photographers begin snapping away in a frenzy.

Princess Diana wears her famous animal print swimsuit in St. Tropez, 1997.Photo: Getty Images

It’s a scene that closely mirrors reality. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that picture of Diana was worth all that and far, far more: tabloids offered £500,000 ($635,000) for unsuspecting shots of the princess, earning her the nickname of “The Princess of Sales.” After a photograph of her kissing Dodi Fayed went for £1.7 million ($2.15 million), it’s reported that over 2,000 paparazzi headed to the Mediterranean—a gossip rag gold rush.

The Crown costume designer Sidonie Roberts studied these archival photos when creating Elizabeth Debicki’s vacation outfits for the show. “Our inspiration boards were made up of all the holiday photos we could get our hands on,” she tells Vogue, noting that many of those featured a distinctive animal-print swimsuit, originally designed specifically for Diana by Leah Gottlieb of Gottex.

Since then, the Israeli swim brand has made a similar suit for sale, called the “Diana.” It’s this very one that Debicki wears on The Crown in that pivotal (and prescient) scene. Roberts explains the costume choice went beyond a desire for historical accuracy. “Here, in animal print—like on safari—Diana is literally hunted by the press,” she says. “She orchestrates this moment as a bargaining tool: If she gives them this headline moment, would they give her and her boys peace? So the outfit and glasses had to be front page worthy.”

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