As the final episodes of “The Crown” open, Diana, Princess of Wales (Elizabeth Debicki) has already undergone a major transformation. At the end of Season 5, the character broke out of her stifling marriage to Prince Charles (Dominic West) and began to seek freedom.
Throughout her tragedy-tinged storyline, costumes have been essential in conveying Diana’s state of mind. In the first two episodes of Season 6, Diana goes on vacation to the south of France, where she finally casts everything off.
“The only thing that’s changed is her silhouette: her ballgowns of this season are swimsuits,” says Sidonie Roberts, a costume designer for the series. “First you had the wedding dress, which is a meringue of a dress and so layered and huge and had puffy sleeves and a massive skirt. And then you come to the revenge dress and there’s this peeling away that unveils her body but also [shows] a vulnerability. And you end with a swimsuit, which is the bare minimum.”
Costume designer Amy Roberts, who worked alongside Sidonie Roberts, no relation, says that the scenes of Diana on a yacht in France are purposefully juxtaposed with scenes of Charles and Queen Elizabeth II (Imelda Staunton) in Balmoral.
“You’ve got that good, classic English warm clothing and then you’ve got Diana, stripped back and looking sexy, gorgeous, free and tanned,” she says. “It was a lovely difference for us to have visually.”
To create Diana’s holiday looks, the costume designers took inspiration both from the real-life outfits the princess wore and their imaginations. It’s all in service of portraying changes the character experiences as she begins a fateful relationship with Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla).
“When she first goes to see Mohamed Al-Fayed, we decided on that red dress, which is based on something she wore, and it’s almost the last moment before she gets down and dirty on the holiday,” Sidonie says. “There’s a structure to it that feels like a Brit abroad. And then they get on holiday and it’s more ostentatious. There’s patterns and leopard print. It’s Diana entering that [world] and leaving behind something else.”
Here the designers break down four of Diana’s memorable swimwear looks from Season 6.
‘Playful, bold, bright’
In the first episode, Diana enjoys herself on the yacht with her sons, William and Harry, and Mohamed Fayed’s (Salim Daw) family. She wears a neon green-and-purple swimsuit with a matching sarong, which is based on a real ensemble Diana wore. The team enlisted swimwear brand Gottex — an Israeli label that the princess often wore — to make the swimsuit.
“They actually just entirely replicated what she wore and what they made for her back then,” Sidonie says. “Where we placed that [look] was important because that’s the first swimwear we see her in. The setting was play with her family, so it needed to illustrate that. It was the playful one and the bold one and the bright one. It said, ‘I’m on holiday’ and it was child friendly.”
The swimsuit, along with the other swimwear, was made less tight than a typical swimsuit.
“Swimwear is designed to be tight because as soon as you go in the water it loosens,” Sidonie says. “And because we knew she wasn’t actually going in the water in any of these swimsuits there was a balance that we had to make. It needed to fit, but it also needed to feel not constricting for Elizabeth.”
Posing in leopard print
Later in the first episode, Diana approaches a group of paparazzi who have gathered around the yacht. She drives up on a speedboat and offers to pose in her leopard print swimsuit if they’ll leave her family alone afterward. Gottex also replicated the original suit, which Diana really did model for the photographers. (You can even buy a version of it online.)
“What was brilliant about that is when you get anybody that’s so generous enough to say, ‘We’ll make it for you,’ is you don’t have to worry about legal issues,” Sidonie says. “The same thing happened with the Harvard jumper, the Virgin Atlantic jumper and the Lung Association jumper.”
“It does show you the affection those companies have for Diana,” Amy says. “It’s of course good publicity, but it came from a really good place because it was her.”
Pretty in pink
Not all of the swimsuits could be exact replicas of Diana’s actual wardrobe. In Episode 2, Diana and Dodi are caught kissing on a boat by one of the paparazzi, who has been hired by Mohamed Fayed. In the actual photos, Diana can be seen wearing a pink-patterned swimsuit.
“There was something [legal] that meant we couldn’t copy that,” Sidonie says. “But the director wanted everything to look kind of like the pap photos. So we had the dilemma where we couldn’t copy the pap photo, but the director is saying he wants it to be the pap photo. So we did our own variation on it.”
The costume designers’ version evokes what we remember rather than what existed, which is something the team has always done on “The Crown.”
“We did that with Diana’s wedding dress,” Amy says. “It’s not the same, but it was the thought of what people had of that dress. You remember color, silhouette.”
“My favorite thing that Amy says is, ‘When you close your eyes, what do you think of?’” Sidonie says. “When you close your eyes, what do you remember of that wedding dress? When you close your eyes, what do you remember of that paparazzi photograph?”
The iconic suit
Diana’s pale blue one-piece swimsuit was one of her most iconic. Many recall the photograph of her wearing it on a diving board, which was re-created at the end of Episode 2. In the series, the swimsuit is based on the original, but it is far enough away to avoid copyright issues.
“It was so iconic at the time and it needed to be iconic for this as well,” Sidonie says. “It needed to have the exact same purpose.”
The image is so evocative that Netflix has used it in the marketing for the final season. Amy says that’s because of how much symbolism is embedded in it.
“If she was sitting on a boat in a bright pink dress and you know that very, very soon she’s going to die, that would be the iconic image,” she says. “It just happens to be an amazing, blue, fresh, gorgeous swimsuit on a gorgeous woman.
“Because we’re looking back at history, we know it’s all going to end very badly. This beauty and freshness and gorgeousness is all going to be taken away from her. Yes, it’s a swimsuit, but it’s saying so much more.”
“We can imbue so much meaning because we know what happens after,” Sidonie says. “So a lone woman in a bathing suit on a [diving board] that feels like she’s walking the plank is incredibly symbolic.”