Princess Diana's everlasting style: The Maureen Rorech Dunkel collection

In the spring and summer of 2011, fascination with British royalty had surged due to the wedding of the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton.

But for one collector, her association with royalty was about to come to an end. Maureen Rorech Dunkel was being pressed into selling a collection she'd had for a decade.

In 1997, Princess Diana had auctioned off 79 of her dresses at Christie's. This was to signal the end of one period of her life - she was no longer to be Queen alongside Princes Charles after all - and the start of another.

Catherine Walker dress in wild pink silk for Princess Diana's Indian trip
Catherine Walker dress in wild pink silk,
carefully styled for Diana's Indian trip

Dunkel was enthusiastic about gaining some of Diana's famous gowns, and has explained that she did so straightforwardly as an investment.

"The strategy I determined would be most valuable was to collect an array of important dresses, which visually depicted the style transformation of the Princess who was claimed to be the most notable style icon of the century."

She selected 12 dresses with an eye to marking the development of Diana's style, paying around $870,000 in the auction, which raised $3.25m for charity. These included Victor Edelstein, Zandra Rhodes and the Princess' favourite, Catherine Walker.

"Her look had developed substantially evolving from frilly, almost fantasy looking pieces to sexy, streamlined creations which clearly provided evidence of both her personal and style maturation."

Catherine Walker dress of blue silk crepe Princess Diana
Catherine Walker dress of blue silk crepe
worn by Princess Diana on the Royal Yacht Britannia

Sadly, the intended next phase of Diana's life barely started. She died in the tragic Paris car crash on August 1 - just eight weeks after the auction.

The shocked Dunkel decided that more should be done with the dresses. She set up The People's Princess Charitable Foundation Inc in Tampa with the stated aim of preserving the dresses and using them to support charities close to the Princess' heart.

Dunkel embarked on a tour exhibiting the dresses in three continents before the collection settled for a decade in Kensington Palace. She told NBC's Today Show in 2001 that the dresses had allowed her to raise millions for charity.

In 2007 she co-wrote My Decade with Diana: The Perpetual Power of the People's Princess telling the story.

Sadly, in 2011, she was faced with a choice between financial ruin and selling the dresses following a failed housing project. The 14 dresses (including two acquired separately from the 1997 auction) were sold at Waddingtons in Canada in June.

The dress Princess Diana wore to dance with John Travolta
The mesmerising evening gown which
Princess Diana wore to dance with John Travolta

The top lot, as expected, was a dark blue velvet gown Diana wore to a 1985 White House dinner where she danced with John Travolta, (whose movies include dance-fests Saturday Night Fever and Grease).

The gown sold for an $800,000 hammer price (without buyer's premium), almost as much as 12 dresses cost Dunkel in 1997.

Dunkel described the sale as a "poignant and personal event", and expressed the hope that: "…the new owners of the dresses, whoever they may be, enjoy them as I have and in some way use them to assist those in need.

"After all, that is the reason Princess Diana put them up for sale to begin with."


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