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Kate Middleton, cover girl? Not exactly …

It is widely known that Kate Middleton has no intention of posing for magazines. So how did she end up in some garishly printed ensemble, beaming from the cover of, wait for it, Marie Claire South Africa?

Five illustrators digitally attached her head to a model's body and voilà, the Duchess of Cambridge appears to be posing in various dresses by local designers (let's just ignore the fact the styles seem in no way suited to her).

It was a sneaky move, but arguably also strategic and original. Kate is among the most followed women in the world and the equivalent of the Holy Grail for women's magazines.

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While she clearly did not agree to the shoot, Marie Claire South Africa used the bold headline: Fashion's New Royal Icon Wears SA's Best Local Designers … followed by a caveat in small print: "Of course she doesn't. But she should."

So far, reactions have ranged from fashion blog Styleite parsing all the unnatural elements to The Daily Telegraph's Belinda White pointing out that Grazia UK trimmed inches off the Duchess's waist shortly after her wedding.

Yesterday, the magazine's website addressed the fake cover coup in a statement it is calling the Great Kate Debate. (A bit self-aggrandizing, no?) Editor Aspasia Karras defends the photographs as a nod to the "the classic fashion magazine covers of the '40s, '50s and '60s where illustrations were used to pay creative tribute to icons of the day."

Okay, fair enough, but in the age of Photoshop, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish real from manipulated.

There's no doubt that the cover image looks a little off, particularly toward the thick neck – no match for Kate's delicate face.

The bigger issue is how the magazine is capitalizing on the attention, going so far as to encourage a discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #mckate. A quick Twitter search revealed that the majority of the tweets using this hashtag were from Ms. Karras or the magazine.

And the South African designers whose clothes have been featured aren't really benefiting from the chatter the same way they would when the real Duchess wears a designer (just ask the Canadian duo behind the label Smythe or British-based Canadian Erdem Moralioglu). Clive Rundle, whose dress was selected for the cover shot, is unlikely to experience an uptick in orders.

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Marie Claire South Africa, meanwhile, seems overjoyed by the stunt, ahem, "tribute."

Do you think the magazine crossed the line with the fake Kate cover?

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