The Cambridges’ visit next week is something we can enjoy as much as we please. Even with the news media common toIreland and the UK, the charming couple’s influence on life here is as peripheral as geography and the law dictate. Nobody here paid for their wedding or funds their lifestyle. We don’t much care where the duke’s brother wants to live and their work with mental health, arts and other charities is inspirational rather than prescriptive.
The fashion available in Irish stores, however, remains heavily influenced by (and often created in) the United Kingdom and there is no denying the Duchess of Cambridge’s impact oncontemporary style since she became engaged. Her pretty, unfussy pieces translate to everyday wear without high street brands having to change much to copy them and sometimes come from there directly. In this way she inadvertently touches our lives and will continue to do so long after she becomes Queen Consort.
Fashion Icon for Love
The duchess’s fashion clout is more media andindustry reaction than personal intent. Royalty has inspired fashion for as long as there’s been royalty and anyone who dates a prince is a subject of fascination from head to toe, ready or not.
Criticism of the Duchess of Sussex (as she is still formally known) post “Megxit” has accused her of ignorance of what she was getting into when she got married but I’ve long thought her better prepared than her sister-in-law where image is concerned, at least at the beginning of their royal relationships.
Meghan Markle began her courtship with years of professional styling, hairdressing and makeup experience behind her, as well as a career’s history with television cameras. She even appeared to have modelled ‘Her Royal Girfriend-ness’ on Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, long the closest icon American fashion had to a princess.
Unlike Prince William’s university sweetheart, she has never been photographed with student bedhead, wearing crocs after a breakup (not so much Kate Middleton’s cry for help as a practical choice for rowing but still a major style misstep), or walking to work at her first office job in Chelsea. As a student in London I thought Kate’s choices were curiously boring and mumsy for a young woman surrounded by international fashion. Now I see someone trying her best to get on with life without causing too much fuss across the country.
The Kate Effect
As a result of being a fashion icon but not aconscious fashionista, the duchess has made a number of widely available, practical items chic. You probably own most of them in some make. Basic pieces like the faux wrap-dress (Issa), nude pumps (LK Bennett), slim blue blazer (Smyth) and indigo skinny jeans (J Brand), all got extended high-street homages after she wore them.
Her signature deep rose blush, black mascara and black eyeliner (she did her own wedding makeup) are among the first makeup items girls learn to use and available at every price point. Jo Malone London’s Orange Blossom, her favourite cologne, has been popular since 2003 (when she and William reportedly began dating). Every girl and her mother has the same Breton-striped top and a pair of the flat riding boots or espadrille wedges all three Middleton ladies favour.
Chunky headbands got a moment in the sun after she wore one to Prince Louis’s christening. She even brought nude tights back for another generation (not her most welcome move, male friends tell me). Giving her fashion the same kind of coverage as those of Hollywood A-listers creates a soothing loophole of sorts, should you choose to take it: one can look on-trend, smart and even high-end without showing too much skin or breaking the bank.
She is also known for repeating outfits, a sensible habit that celebrities studiously avoid.
The duchess exhibits great mindfulness — or perhaps just common sense when one needs so many outfits — in mixing designer fashion with more accessibly priced products.
In 2016, British Vogue’s then editor Alexandra Shulman chose her over Kate Moss, Kate Winslet and other cover favourites for the magazine’s commemorative centenary issue.
At that point her photo had been on hundreds of covers but she’d never been officially shot for one and the images captured in the Norfolk countryside by photographer Josh Olins show that Kate still has the same “romantic beauty” that the late Karl Lagerfeld praised after her wedding.
This 10-page shoot — on which the duchess consulted, according to Ms Shulman’s diary of events— included a hat from affordable vintage emporium Beyond Retro and a Petit Bateau top as well as more expensive Burberry ready-to-wear.
The e-commerce site of Brown Thomas brand REISS — a label that peaked in the 80s as a popular spot for men’s shirts and is less celebrated for its women’s wear — crashed after she wore their ‘Shola’ bandage dress to receive the Obamas in 2011, while a red houndstooth Catherine coat she wore on a Swedish tour spawned a pack of copies in 2018.
The real fairytale fashion moments happen when couture houses dress the duchess. Jenny Packham, Gucci, Missoni and Oscar de la Renta have all helped her to create genuine gold.
She is also no stranger to Irish designers, having twice donned earrings by Simone Rocha for personal and state engagements and often giving one of her extensive Philip Treacy hat collection a day out. She and her sister were both fans of dresses from Orla Kiely’s clothing line, now sadly defunct.
Haute fashionistas still question her relevance to the most creative tiers of the industry. I was at lunch with an extremely elegant London fashion PR last spring when the subject of the duchess’ style came up. Did I really rate her clothes, she asks, adjusting her own JW Anderson coat. As I’ve related here, I say that the duchess’ personal style seems difficult to separate from a reaction to the attention foisted upon her but also that her choice of Alexander McQueen’s creative director Sarah Burton to design her wedding gown is reflective of an artistic nature and even a little rebellion.
The ivory silk and satin gazar design was embellished in a manner influenced by Carrickmacross-style lace, according to the Royal College of Needlework.
The late Lee Alexander McQueen’s personal relationship with monarchy and the union between England and Scotland was complex. His story of stitching an expletive inside the lining of an Anderson and Sheppard jacket meant for Prince Charles may well be a tall tale (the Savile Row tailors have always denied it happened), but everyone in fashion knows it. It also chimes with emotions expressed in collections like Highland Rape Autumn Winter 1995/1996 and The Widows of Culloden Autumn/Winter 2006.
Clothing aside, he was also one of the finest artists the country’s ever produced, with shows that made theatre of the catwalk and waves that Damien Hirst can’t match. She continues to wear clothes by the brand regularly. Whether monarchy leaves you charmed or apathetic, there’s sure to be something style watchers love among her choice for this visit.