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The Kate Effect: her fashion choices boost Canadian retailers

The locales may change, but a familiar constant throughout Kate's Canadian tour was established well before it began: keen-eyed style watchers anticipating which looks she'd wear next, with retailers bracing for the inevitable spike in demand.

Kate set off a flurry of buzz before even leaving British soil by adding a touch of Canadian style to her wardrobe. The Duchess of Cambridge was seen wearing a navy One-Button blazer from Toronto-based label Smythe, which she donned again for a visit to the fire-ravaged northern Alberta town of Slave Lake.

The phones immediately began ringing off the hook at luxury retailer Holt Renfrew, which carries the $550 blazer exclusively in Canada. The label's website crashed, said Smythe publicist Deb McCain.

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The two other Canadian creations worn by Kate — lace dresses created by Montreal-born designer Erdem Moralioglu — have also generated interest. The dresses are both available for special order through the Bay's luxury retail space The Room.

A representative for the retailer said a number of associates have been asked about the dresses and whether the Bay will be carrying them.

But it's not just Kate's Canadian fashions that are making waves: a sleeveless crepe dress from U.K. company Joseph, which she wore in Levis, Que. and Charlottetown, was another quick sellout.

James Fallon, editor of Women's Wear Daily, said it was common for other public figures, including her late mother-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales, to be the subject of such scrutiny.

"Certainly, if you look in the early days of the attention — at least in the United States —paid to what Michelle Obama was wearing, it was literally every time she stepped out the door people would write about it. And, certainly, if you then look equally at the attention that was paid to the Princess of Wales, that was an equal frenzy," he said.

"She's new, she's beautiful, going to be Queen of England one day... so all of that, I think, is feeding into the attention."

If anything, Mr. Fallon said, the level of attention and focus on Kate is probably amplified by social media and the Internet. But in Diana's day, publications like HELLO! in the U.K. would dedicate page after page to documenting her outfits and style.

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Diane J. Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, said celebrities usually will influence what people buy. But she believes both Kate and Michelle Obama fall into a distinctive category.

"Both those women attract the attention of a broader community of women that do not, at times, connect with a young celebrity or a young singer, but will connect with someone like Kate or Michelle Obama," said Ms. Brisebois.

The duchess and the wife of U.S. President Barack Obama share a similar style DNA, mostly gravitating towards classic, conservative fashions from more affordable mass chains and high-end designer labels alike.

A $245 blush-coloured Reiss dress Kate wore when she and William met the Obamas touched off a fashion frenzy, crashing the U.K. label's website and prompting the company to reissue the design.

"The fashion they've chosen to wear is accessible," said Ms.Brisebois. "It is something that the average woman can relate to and can purchase, so they're usually in a price range that is affordable; they're usually accessible because they're carried in several stores.

"Women are saying, 'I can relate to that and I like that, I can wear that. I won't look strange. I'm going to look, in fact, classy. I'm going to look like Kate.' And that has a huge appeal."

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While Kate may be making a definitive style statement, she has yet to make a public address in her new royal role.

Mr. Fallon said it's not unusual that Kate has not given a speech, something Diana herself didn't do for some time. If anything, the absence of an official address or public words thus far can help to further fuel the mystery around her.

"She's very beautiful, she's young, they're clearly in love, so the fact that (Kate and William are) not really saying that much, and she's not saying anything, again, feeds that whole royal romance mystique."

Mr. Fallon said while Kate hasn't really broken the mould with her fashion choices, she seems at ease with her style.

"She clearly seems to know what she likes, what she looks good in, the designers she likes, and there's no kind of sense of, 'Oh, I'm letting others take me now and mould me into what they think I should look like,"' he said.

"You can just tell. It just comes out of her expression, and there's no sense of, 'Why am I wearing this outfit? I feel a little bit uncomfortable or silly in it.' Even in the hats she chooses and things like that, she just seems comfortable in her own skin."

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