The announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement was the moment Kate’s every fashion move became an event in itself. Within hours the £385 Issa London sapphire dress had sold out and within days cheaper replicas were on sale, including a budget priced £25 version at supermarket chain Telco. The announcement had moved Kate from royal girlfriend to future queen and in fashion terms her appeal rocketed – from haute-couture to high street in a matter of days, her very own ‘international label’ had been created by sheer interest. Kate has become Britain’s leading fashion ambassador in the twinkling of an eye, a position that has not really been filled since the heyday of Diana, Princess of Wales, in the 1980s. No matter how glamourous they are, actresses, models and pop stars can never match the cachet of a future queen. The trade off for Kate is that she can hardly capitalise on her new status via her own designer labels, perfume ranges and the like. What she can do is indulge her love of fashion, with the proviso that every choice she makes will be analysed, scrutinised and criticised. Actress Joanna Lumley, something of a national treasure herself, has suggested that Kate should arm herself with a “fleet of stylists”, which may sound a bit over the top but the unhappy experiences of the vivacious but naive Duchess of York in the 1980s are worth recalling. Sarah’s sometimes awkward fashion choices were mercilessly mocked. By way of contrast, although Kate is entering uncharted territory she is far from naive and has had a good few years of experience of being in the public eye as William’s girlfriend. And she is certainly not lacking in confidence as her revealing catwalk appearance at St. Andrews University eight years ago demonstrated. The black see-through dress not only caught the eye of Prince William but also of the press. And, as with everything to do with Kate’s formative years, the dress now has a history of its own to tell – and to sell. Designer Charlotte Todd, who made the dress for just £30, had intended it to be used as a skirt and describes Kate’s decision to use it as a dress as “very brave!”, has decided to send her creation to auction, and it is expected to fetch as much as £10,000.
Kate’s personal confidence and at times daring are not in doubt and she has been praised for her general fashion choices. ‘Appropriate’ with an occasional ‘touch of panache’ is the sort of comment she has garnered; a more critical opinion saw her “dressing like a forty-five year-old.” As a royal fashion ambassador Kate will have to learn to take the rough with the smooth and, unlike Princess Grace of Monaco who brought her Hollywood perfected elegance and poise to her royal role, Kate has not been trained for life in the public eye, which is a performance art all of its own. She is of course receiving all the support that The Palace and Prince William can provide and has demonstrated she has the poise and the chutzpah needed to take the role on. We can be sure that Kate’s future fashion choices will strive to be contemporary but always in good taste, modern without being excessively avant-garde, alluring without being overly sexy. The public and the fashion industry will demand to have their cake and eat it! Kate is in an excellent position to traverse the choppy waters of opinion and her choices to date show she has a good eye. Her wardrobe has seen its share of mid-priced brands such as Jigsaw, Topshop, Whistles, Reiss and LK Bennett as well as good few designer labels, including Issa, Katherine Hooker, Temperley, and Libélula. The high-street brands have served Kate well but in the future she will rely on the haute-couture specialists, certainly for her public appearances.
Through her association with Kate, Daniela Issa Helayel has become a household name. The Brazilian born designer began as a university student studying law but decided to follow her muse and switched to study fashion in New York. Ten years as a fashion consultant prepared her for a move to London where she set up the Issa label with her first catwalk show in 2003. The Issa label has gone on to attract a slew of famous faces including Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and celebrities such as Naomi Campbell. For Helayel fashion is also about usefulness: “It’s all about versatility. An Issa dress can be worn from the beach to the office and then onto the red carpet.” Her style, she says, is “British-Brazilian”. With regard to her association with Kate, Helayel says, “She is a lovely girl and she knows what suits her. I design for myself but she looks better than me!” Having gained a number of royal customers she would like the opportunity to design for Queen Elizabeth: “She is not just a style icon, but an icon in every sense of the word.” The royal connection has turned Helayel into a celebrity herself and her collection for London Fashion Week was eagerly awaited, amidst reports that the label’s sales had risen by forty-five percent in recent months. Katherine Hooker also seems certain to continue to be among Kate’s ongoing designers. If Daniella Issa Helayel brings a vibrant Brazilian aesthetic to her designs, Katherine Hooker brings her cosmopolitan experience to her creations. Born to an American family living in Cyprus, she grew up in French speaking Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. She has since lived and worked in Paris, New York and now London. She brings these varied influences together in her designs for tailored coats and jackets and Kate seems certain to continue her association with Hooker’s elegant, eclectic creations. Kate’s choices will also bring up and coming designers to wider attention.
For the wedding of close friends Harry Aubrey-Fletcher and Louise Stourton, Kate chose a black velvet coat by another London design house Libélula. The label was founded in 2002 by English designer Sarah Cranston who had previously worked at Alexander McQueen and Alice Temperley. In keeping with its Iberian inspired moniker (Cranston’s inspiration to start her own label came when she lived in Andalucia), Libélula dress designs use silks and chiffons matched with a bold use of colour. In Kate’s fashion future Sarah Cranston’s former boss, Alice Temperley, also looks certain to play a role. A firm favourite with the Hollywood A-list Temperley’s hand finished designs are known for their beautiful fabrics and have been the choice of Halle Berry, Kate Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker and many others. Undoubtedly a touch of Parisian chic or Hollywood glamour will on occasion be the way to go but a degree of sobriety and responsibility will also be called for. Kate’s role models as she develops in her new role will undoubtedly be other women in public life who have successfully combined their official post with the unofficial one of fashion ambassadors. First Lady Michelle Obama has made her mark by supporting young design talent in the USA. Michelle’s favoured designers include Isabel Toledo, Jason Wu, Narciso Rodriguez, Thakoon Panichgul, Maria Pinto, Tracy Feith. The First Lady may lack a ‘fleet’ of stylists but she does have a fashion ‘guru’ – Chicago based Ikram Goldman. Whilst emphasising elegance and a degree of formality in her designs Ikram takes a direct approach to fashion: “Fashion should be eye candy, right down to a simple T-shirt and sweater. Even these things can have the most beautiful cut and be luxurious.” Michelle Obama’s well received fashion choices are the result of teamwork with her friend from the ‘Windy City’.
Kate also has several European princesses to look to for inspiration. Of all recent additions to the royal scene, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark has had the biggest impact on the popular imagination. Mary has developed her own look over the years – accessible, elegant and always fresh. But the art of making it look easy is all about preparation and Mary has her own close knit group of friends who have helped her develop her distinctive style. Mary’s stylist is the jeweller Anja Camilla Alajdi who advises on clothes and accessories. Since 1997 Anja Camilla Alajdi and her business partner, Marianne Dulong, have worked to create the exclusive brand ‘Marianne Dulong’ based in Copenhagen. For hair styles and make-up Mary relies on Soren Hedegaard. His advice has contributed greatly to Mary’s fresh look; as has facialist Ole Henriksen who advises her on skin care. The Los Angeles based Henriksen has a highly sought after spa and skin care line. His clients include Hollywood stars Charlize Theron, Renee Zelwegger and singer Kylie Minogue. Mary has the opportunity of selecting from the many designer creations she is offered but as Denmark’s fashion ambassador she turns to homegrown designers as often as is possible. These include Malene Birger whose success story began in 1997 when she left her position as Head Designer of women’s wear at Marc O’Polo of Stockholm to set up her own fashion house. In the ensuing years she has won international design awards and become a UNICEF Ambassador. In 2009 Crown Princess Mary presented her with the ‘Best Danish Designer’ award at the Danish Fashion Awards Event. The synergy between the Princess and the designer is an excellent example of how contemporary fashion and royalty make a great combination. Haute-couture with a Danish-Tasmanian touch and a designer whose guiding principles are ‘Obsession – Creativity – Responsibility – Efficiency’. Will Kate perhaps strike up a similar rapport with a young British designer? As Kate builds her team of stylists she seems to have already chosen her hair-stylist: the award winning Richard Ward, already a celebrity in his own right. It had been an open secret for some time that Kate and family were customers of the Sloane Square based salon. Following the engagement announcement they put out an official statement: “Richard, Helen and the Richard Ward team would like to send their sincere congratulations to Prince William & Kate Middleton on the announcement of their engagement. It has been widely speculated in the press that Kate and the Middleton family have been loyal salon clients for many years; we would like to confirm this. Our relationship with the Middleton’s has been built on discretion and trust, Richard and his team intend to maintain this relationship whilst respecting Kate’s on-going privacy. We can confirm our stylist, James Pryce, did a fantastic job in enhancing Kate’s look for the engagement press day and we would like to extend our best wishes to the happy couple for the future.” The iconic pre-wedding image for Kate was the engagement announcement, just as the engagement pictures taken by Tim Graham were for Lady Diana Spencer. Kate looked as good as any young woman could wish to as she made what was her first official appearance by Prince William’s side. The combined look – dress by Issa, hair by Richard Ward and a radiant, smiling Kate instantly won over public opinion. Kate’s impact on the British fashion industry and on young women all over the world is just beginning. There is a serious side to royal fashion, and some pitfalls too; but the phrase Prince William used to describe the wedding should be the focus – “the fun and excitement of it all.” Above all the public will enjoy seeing and many will seek to emulate Kate as she develops her own style as a young royal bride and future queen. (Royalty Magazine Vol. 22/01)