This Will Mark Kate Middleton’s 10th Year of Being a Duchess. Here’s How She’s Changed Royal Fashion Forever.
According to Bethan Holt, fashion news and features director at The Telegraph, the Duchess of
According to Bethan Holt, fashion news and features director at The Telegraph, the Duchess of Cambridge has two priorities when it comes to her wardrobe: to look great and to fly the flag for British fashion. And she does both, says Holt, whose first book, The Duchess of Cambridge: A Decade of Modern Royal Style, hit shelves this month. Now a decade into her reign as a style icon, Kate has boosted the British fashion industry by up to £1 billion (over $1.4 billion) in a single year and knows the power in fashion. “It’s a great tool that women have in their arsenal,” Holt says, “and they should use it.”
By doing just that, the duchess’s fashion has “really enhanced the image of the royal family,” Holt says. “She’s this glamorous figure people want to know about and has helped secure the next generation of the British royal family.”
Ahead, the author speaks exclusively to BAZAAR.com about Kate’s sartorial impact and more.
Why do you think Kate’s impact on fashion is so substantial?
There are so many reasons. She really understood very early on the power clothes could carry, and that understanding was almost thrust upon her even before they announced their engagement. Anytime she left her flat to go to work, everyone would find the dress she was wearing. When she was spotted shopping, everyone wanted to know what she wore. It was really interesting how quickly she understood this was a really interesting part of her job.
Lots will say fashion is frivolous and people looking at her dresses are a bit silly, but that can’t be further from the truth. She understands if she wears something, it will make an impact and have meaning. Not only does it enhance the message of what she’s doing that day, but also, she knows it attracts more people to what she’s doing. The sad truth of the world is, if she’s visiting a charity and she’s wearing a brand-new dress that’s really pretty, that picture will fly around the world, and lots more people will know about the charity. That’s just how the world works. She understands that and has grasped onto it.
Which of Kate’s looks do you feel is the most memorable?
Her wedding dress, that Alexander McQueen dress, was really brilliantly thought out. It was a fairy-tale royal wedding dress and is timeless, one so many have on their wedding mood boards. It has everything. Also, Kate in skinny jeans, a striped top, and sneakers—that is revolutionary in royal terms. It’s what we all wear on the weekends, but seeing somebody who will one day be queen wearing that is a really interesting way for her to be able to relate to the world, and creates a really interesting point of contrast: One minute she’s in skinny jeans, and the next in an incredible gown at a gala dinner. I think that’s what differentiates her from the British royals that have come before her.
Did the “Kate Middleton effect” begin with the blue Issa engagement dress?
That was when it was crystallized, when the world realized just what a huge impact this woman was going to have. Obviously, there was a precedent before; we all have read about Princess Diana as a style icon and even women before that in the royal family. But, yes, I think you have that historical precedent, because when she wore that Issa dress, you have the Internet and 24/7 rolling news, and that was a completely new thing.
There has been no royal style icon thrust into the limelight at a point like that, where it’s not just about waiting for the next day’s newspapers and magazines to come out, it’s literally appearing on people’s news feed. That effect mushroomed over the last 10 years, the immediate ability to know where the dress is from so you, too, could buy it. It’s really powerful. For some people who were not following [Kate prior to the engagement], that was the day they realized, “Wow, there’s a really glamorous new princess, and I want to look like she does. I’m going to buy that dress.” That was the moment it really took off beyond the niche demographic.
At what moment do you feel like Kate’s style really hit its stride and came into its own?
In the early years of her royal life, dating William, we saw who she was—a very middle-class girl from the British home counties with a mother who was very polished and elegant. It’s not like she was ever pretending to be something she wasn’t. She was dressing in a very respectable, classic way. You see that influence early in her royal life. It must have been such a crazy time for her, so daunting, stepping onto the global stage. She was still wearing the brands she wore when she was a girl working at Jigsaw; she still wore Reiss and Whistles, bought when she was on a shopping trip with her mom. It was almost like a safety net. You could say she was creating her brand, but we weren’t quite sure where she was going.
I think you really saw a blossoming of confidence and a realization that she was a future queen—that she could inhabit this more modern, regal way of dressing—in 2018, around when Prince Louis was born. She had the summer off, and suddenly, we start seeing her in these looks that—I’d never say shocking, because she was so clever about it. It wasn’t a huge departure, but there were clever tweaks that showed she had a bit more confidence.
Erdem—before she’d wear polite florals—but this time, she was in a quite daringly cut tweed dress that showed off her figure and had a fashion edge to it. A few months later, she went on a charity visit wearing a Gucci blouse with a pussy bow and high-waisted trousers. We hardly ever saw her wearing trousers unless they were skinny jeans; she never did. Isn’t it crazy that, at the end of the 21st century, it’s revolutionary that a woman is wearing trousers? It showed that she was finding a look that was all her own, and she was a bit braver, a middle-class girl in a royal fairy tale, poised and ready to go. For me, that’s when she hit her stride, and it got exciting. She showed what she might become, and she was feeling her way with the possibility of fashion.
How would you describe Kate’s style in one word?
Appropriate. That’s kind of a boring word, and her fashion is anything but boring, but I don’t think there’s ever been a time when anyone accused her of getting it wrong. Whether you like what she’s wearing or you don’t, you can’t say she’s inappropriate. You can never say she wore a dress much too short or the wrong color or something disrespectful. There have been tiny bumps in the road, which I do address in the book, but most of the time, you don’t think anything else but “Doesn’t she look lovely?” when she goes out.
If Kate had it her way, how would she dress day to day?
The way we see her in Christmas cards—a wool jumper, skinny jeans, walking boots. She generally loves being outdoors and being active, and lives in Barbour jackets, Lululemon leggings, and skinny jeans. If she’s dressing up, she’d stick much more to those classic things, like the Erdem tweed dress. I’m not sure what she personally chose off the hanger, but she loves a really nice dress, a cocktail dress like Alice Temperley, Erdem, or Emilia Wickstead. If she weren’t in the spotlight, she’d be wearing those [designers], but in a slightly different way. What’s really clever about her style is she’s not pretending to be something she’s not; she’s just enhancing who she is.
What is the most interesting tidbit you learned from writing this book?
I had a chat with her hairdresser, Richard Ward. … Now she’s, at the moment, really good at doing her own hair. After all this time and people working on her hair and having it done for her, I actually now think she is really killing it.
Where will Kate’s fashion go from here?
Next year, she’ll be 40, and, like it or not, in fashion and beauty, there’s generally a lot of discussion about what being over 40 means. Look at her mother, [Carole Middleton—she’s always chicly dressed. As Kate gets a tiny bit older, she’ll really help redefine what [royal style] can and can’t do. I hope she keeps up her bravery as well, though obviously into the future she has to dress more and more for state occasions and very official things. So it’s certainly possible we’ll see her take more of the queen’s route and find a really established uniform, and stick with it. I hope she will allow herself to have a little more fun, like the power of what’s been going on the last few years, and build on that.
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