My warmest, best wishes on your impending nuptials!
I have no time for pundits who simultaneously claim fashion as beneath their interest even as they weigh in on what people are wearing so I’ll cut to the chase: Fashion is serious business and style choices have meaning.
That’s why I’m writing. I’m concerned about what happens to a modern woman’s closet after the royal “oui.” (Just look at poor Kate: After that wedding dress, it has been all downhill: a seemingly endless supply of sensible and often drab coat-dresses and nondescript gowns from Temperley, Catherine Walker and Jenny Packham.) The Windsor wardrobe occupies a special place in the popular imagination, but it needs more of your controversial culottes and offbeat chocolate-brown velvet pumps and fewer forgettable dresses. Young royal dressing is so boring, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
While you don’t wield political power, your economic influence through the halo effect on the brands you wear is already well documented (Canadian companies like Smythe, Line, Greta Constantine, Sentaler, Mackage and Birks can all attest to that). But critical darlings, like the fashion-forward London labels Erdem, Simone Rocha, Roksanda, Christopher Kane and JW Anderson, could now use a boost. Even Her Majesty would lately seem to agree, since she dropped in to newcomer Richard Quinn’s runway presentation at London Fashion Week. When the Queen sits front row at a NewGen show (LFW’s nod to future designers), take it as a VIP endorsement of fashion-forward talent.
Forgive me for taking the liberty as we’ve only met in passing but I feel like I know you, a neighbourhood celebrity here in Canada for several years before your recent international fame. And you’ve been covered before in these pages, including your foray into hands-on fashion design in collaboration with Reitmans, a stalwart Canadian company that many considered staid. As you explained to Jeanne Beker at the time, your outsider perspective was an asset: “As an American, I had none of that attached to it because I didn’t know the brand,” you said of the retailer, “I was able to look at what they had with really fresh eyes.”
May I suggest you do the same with British royal style, and re-energize it the same way? With an aging monarch and a post-Brexit society, it’s a transformative moment for the royal family’s image. It needs a dash of daring.
Fashion critics and blogs need more than a roll call of labels to list and the Daily Mail has scrolls to feed – give them challenging ideas and fresh fashion to debate. Just to be clear, though, I don’t mean those traditionally eccentric British fascinators with squiggly bits – albeit memorable, they’re fundamentally awful (although I find it charming that you all try). Only the late Isabella Blow could really carry those off.
Speaking of the famed British stylist and fashion editor, her insight into the 1990s (the last time the former empire was Cool Britannia) could be helpful: “It was about sabotage and tradition,” Blow said of designer Alexander McQueen’s transgressive, wildly popular era. “Sabotage and tradition” seem like the perfect fashion mantra for an American-born, soon-to-be-English royal.
While you were binge-watching The Crown (because admit it you totally did) did you notice how the stakes were lower for Princess Margaret, and that she had more fun? She became a great patron of Christian Dior and wore his frothier tulle and sequin New Look styles – featuring his famous post-war silhouette, which remains influential today – to differentiate herself from her more prim sister, the Queen. Plus, since you’re marrying William’s impish younger brother, Harry, even within protocol you have more latitude – witty dressing is practically expected. You need to lead the rebellion against boring British propriety from the inside. The Bath Fashion Museum’s Royal Women fashion exhibit (on loan from the Royal Collection) is a great how-to. According to that exhibition, female members of the royal family were once trendsetters.
Take shrewd Alexandra of Denmark, who moved from Copenhagen to London to become Princess of Wales (later, Queen Alexandra), and fashioned her image through vivid red tartan ball gowns (a century before Westwood and McQueen). She was so attuned to the power of royal style that she launched the original craze for collier de chien choker necklaces.
The late Princess Diana famously used dress as non-verbal communication at events. The slinky John Galliano Dior slipdress worn in the wake of her 1996 divorce comes to mind, as does the vivid purple Atelier Versace column now on show in the ongoing Diana, Her Fashion Story exhibition at the Historic Royal Palaces.
Like you, Grace Kelly gave up acting to fulfill her royal duties. Yet after her 1956 wedding, in public and private Princess Grace of Monaco still dared to adopt the latest fashions, from Balenciaga sackdresses to Yves Saint Laurent’s iconic 1965 Mondrian dress to an experimental drape by French designer Madame Grès. Few legacies will rival hers with Hermès – wrap overcoats come and go, but a Kelly bag is forever – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
Before Harry, you were a fashion expert with your own lifestyle blog and regularly hosted style segments on NBC’s Today show. I get that you had to go classic and basic to prove yourself to doubters for a while, but that daring sheer black Ralph & Russo engagement gown was promising; we’re heartened that as the nuptials approach a palpable sense of relaxed fashion fun has crept back into your wardrobe. Please, keep it up.
Sure, you could slip into anodyne anonymity as you go about your duties (like Prince Edward’s wife, Sophie of Wessex) but I hope you don’t. If nothing else, think of your former craft. Spare a thought for fellow actresses and make sure that whoever plays you on The Crown in a few years will get to have a bit of fun in the costume department.
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