Being a royal isn’t easy, particularly when it comes to matters sartorial. Just ask Kate Middleton.
Since her 2008 status upgrade from commoner to HRH Duchess of Cambridge, Mrs Mountbatten’s wardrobe choices have been subject to the demands of her public persona: approachable but aspirational; populist but not too common; conservative but fashion-forward. In short, royally notions-free. Until now.
If the official christening photo of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor is any indication, Kate’s publicly noted image overhaul is hitting peak stride.
Wearing a bubble-gum pink above-the-knee Stella McCartney frock accessorised with a trend-worthy Juliette Botterill headband and red Emmy London high heels, this is a look that says ‘look at me’ for all the right reasons. Here’s why.
Previously flouted by pundits for being risk-averse, the former accessories buyer’s sensible nude heels, wrap midi dresses and demure pleated skirts didn’t win her high fashion praise but it did scoop her the all-important people’s vote.
Forbidden by royal etiquette to accept freebies (no #gift here), Kate’s clothing choices have been a stellar exercise in brand-building.
Favouring British labels from designers Burberry and Amanda Wakeley to high street chains Topshop and L.K. Bennett; not to mention her penchant for wearing the same garment more than once alludes to a skillful visual powerplay that supports but never outshines her starring role.
Let’s look at the data, shall we? Since her engagement to Prince William, the British retailer Reiss reissued its ‘Nanette’ (€195) shift dress, an unassuming style worn by Kate in the royal couple’s first official photo which at one point was selling one dress per minute online.
Her 2008 Whistles blouse was similarly reissued by popular demand after being showcased in her first official portraits with Prince William.
Remember the Reiss ‘Shola’ dress (€210) which she wore to meet the Obamas at Buckingham Palace? The considered camel number caused a surge in web traffic and subsequent crash of the company’s website.
The Duchess’ post-wedding day outfit – a low-key pleated Zara frock (€69.95); and LK Bennett ‘Maddox’ wedges (€205) - caused similar furore causing the raffia-heeled footwear to be reissued and dubbed ‘The Kate’.
Although rumours did the rounds that Kate did receive some wardrobe advice from Irish-born image consultant Leesa Whisker, the future queen consort was seen, more or less, as a sole style trader. Then something changed.
Three children and a famous sister-in-law later, Kate’s style acquired some subtle yet stately gravitas.
Her P.A. and friend Natasha Archer, who doubled down on stylist duties, parlayed all practicalities - avoiding any faux pas – culturally and down to the practical minutiae of weather, fabric, what photographs well and the dress code; while Virginia Chadwyck-Healey, former Vogue executive retail editor, added a scintilla of star power in introducing international high fashion fodder like Gucci and Oscar de la Renta to her Blighty-based staples.
The reasons are debatable but the message is clear: Her Royal Highness has stepped into her power.
As with any well-considered pivot, the process is one of evolution, not revolution; refined in its execution leaving one to acknowledge the difference without being able to immediately pinpoint what it is.
Maybe that’s the secret sauce? A dash here; a pinch there.
Enough to alter the taste profile without detracting from a well-spun recipe. Whatever it is, it’s working.