It’s impossible to know precisely what the woman we continue to call “Kate” feels about her journey (like most members of the royal family, she is not in the habit of granting interviews), but one thing is certain: While growing up the eldest daughter of a former flight attendant and a flight dispatcher, in the tiny village of Chapel Row in Bucklebury, Berkshire, England, she could never have suspected the astonishing fate that lay before her.
This year, the Duchess of Cambridge has established herself as both a fundraising powerhouse and one of the world’s leading fashion icons. Thanks to Kate’s sartorial influence, London is overtaking New York as the world’s fashion capital and bringing serious money into the U.K.’s fashion business. On top of that, the couple’s Royal Wedding Charitable Gift Fund has raised over £1 million, most of it for a long and impressive list of charities, with an emphasis on education, youth and environment-focused causes, such as Ocean Youth Trust, Beatbullying, Association for Children’s Palliative Care and our very own Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Style and substance
While Kate’s style might seem effortless, one of the U.K.’s leading society and fashion journalists, Canadian Bronwyn Cosgrave, says it’s carefully calculated for maximum effect. “In my opinion, the Duchess is extremely aware of her impact,” says Bronwyn. “She is now one of the world’s most photographed women and she cares deeply about who she represents — her family, the royal family and the British public.”
In Bronwyn’s estimation, the key to the Duchess’ success is her authenticity. “She is such a smart dresser because she has managed to elevate her own personal style — the style she adhered to when she was Kate Middleton — to her new position. So she still shops at the mid-priced King’s Road boutiques, which she frequented when she was an accessories buyer, but she might team up a Reiss dress with a pair of Manolos or a made-to-measure hat,” continues Brownyn. “She owns her clothes — she doesn’t borrow them like the majority of people with whom she increasingly rubs shoulders at red-carpet events. That’s why she looks so good. Everything fits.”
Becoming an icon
When Kate boarded the Canadian Forces fighter jet that delivered her, along with William, to Canada this year, not only was she about to become a member of the Canadian royal family (a Commonwealth honour extended to royals when they’re on our soil), but she was dressed like one. Her debut outfit? A slim Roland Mouret navy pencil dress and a nipped-in blazer by the highly coveted Canadian label Smythe. According to designers Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe, the jacket sold out and had to be reordered, “but the far more lasting effect has been the brand awareness that Kate generated for Smythe,” says Christie.
Now that she is a bona-fide fashion icon, the only question is how Kate’s image will evolve. In Bronwyn’s view, there is nowhere to go but up. “I think she will gradually develop her look so it is as opulent as the legends’, like Princess Grace of Monaco or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Kate has a huge impact on fashion. Designers in the U.K., the U.S. and Paris are very inspired by her.”
The next couple of years will be crucial for the Duchess. She will be expected to use her visibility and influence to benefit a high-profile cause — probably, if her past interests are any indication, in the realm of youth and education. And then there will be the pressure to start a family, intense for any young newlywed, but in Kate’s case a matter of sustaining a royal bloodline. In its July issue, Vanity Fair stirred speculation that the couple were trying to get pregnant right away, based on the fact that Kate put in a special order for Brussels sprouts, a vegetable rich in pregnancy-friendly folic acid, on her honeymoon. Then again, it’s entirely possible she’s just partial to Brussels sprouts.
But it’s her more serious side that Kate really needs to sell to the British tabloids. As gossip columnist and royal commentator Kiki King explains, “It’s crucial that Kate chooses an important, specific cause and establishes herself quickly in a high-profile way, the equivalent of Diana hugging the AIDS patient, or she risks becoming a baby-making machine in a series of pretty dresses.” For a woman who technically doesn’t have a job, Kate’s got her work cut out for her. The Duchess, who this summer visited victims of the riots in Birmingham, will need to keep up — and get serious about — her charitable endeavours if she hopes to rise above the other inevitable title she’s been granted: fashion goddess.
Our future queen
When the Palace’s press arm at Clarence House formally announced the engagement of William and Kate to the world on November 16 of last year, the couple had already been secretly promised to each other for a month. The real engagement — the one the world didn’t see — occurred on holiday in Kenya, while the couple were vacationing with friends not long after William was accepted into the RAF as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot (can there be a more dashing profession for a prince or, for that matter, any fiancé?). The private joy of that moment must have been especially poignant for Kate, for the instant William slipped Diana’s engagement ring on her finger, her life as a commoner was effectively over. A new existence had begun, one that would see her become the most famous bride in the world and, eventually, barring catastrophe, queen of England and the Commonwealth.
The reaction to the engagement was startling, even by contemporary standards. Kate was instantly the world’s most sought-after cover girl, her sparkling smile emblazoned not just on British society publications but on the front covers of newspapers and magazines the world over. While Clarence House guarded any details about the highly-anticipated dress with military secrecy, Kate’s status as a fashion plate was already decided, in this case by a slavishly adoring public. Retailers began instantly knocking off everything she appeared in, from the royal-blue Issa wrap dress she wore to the official press announcement of the engagement (within days, a similar design was available at the discount shop Peacocks for £14) to the estimated £250,000 sapphire engagement ring, which was replicated countless times in plastic and became a huge seller. A diaphanous knit dress she’d once worn on the catwalk of a university fashion show (and which was credited as the outfit that attracted William’s attention)
was auctioned off by the designer for a staggering £78,000. The designer used the money to put a down payment on a new house. Kate was transforming lives without lifting a finger, no one’s more rapidly than her own.
By the time she made her first official appearance in public life in February — at a decidedly low-key lifeboat-naming ceremony, not far from the couple’s home in North Wales — public anticipation had reached a fever pitch. Earlier that month, Clarence House had announced William and Kate would embark on their first royal tour. Their chosen destination: Canada. In a way, the decision was not surprising. Kate’s grandmother-in-law (the Queen), who had visited less than a year earlier, has described the feeling of arriving in Canada as akin to one of coming home. Monarchist sentiment has been rising steadily here ever since. Besides, in terms of character, what better choice of host could there be? Like Kate herself, Canada is young, clean-cut, uncontroversial, solvent and staunchly middle-class. A bit of a goody two-shoes, perhaps, but we make up for it with upbeat small talk and unfailing good manners. It’s an approach to life the Duchess instinctively understands.
Which brings us to the wedding. If there is one thing the royal family is good at, it’s marking the transitions of life with public pomp and circumstance. And one suspects that even if all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men had scoured the globe for a bride as splendid as Kate Middleton, they would have come up short. She was, quite simply, perfect.
The princess bride
From her choice of dress — an exquisite hand-embroidered and appliquéd concoction of French Chantilly lace and English Cluny lace featuring a narrow Victorian waist spreading to a dramatic box-pleated skirt — to her girlish delight when her new husband kissed her on the balcony for the second time, Kate’s poise, radiance and unfettered joy were instantly transmitted to billions of riveted viewers around the globe.
Much was also made of her sister Pippa’s sly, alluring smile, chemistry with Prince Harry and show-stealing derrière, as evidenced by the instantly popular Pippa Middleton Arse Appreciation Society Facebook group, not to mention countless magazine covers since. But ultimately it was Kate’s grace that will go down in history as the defining impression of her wedding day.
Less than a week later, the world was equally charmed to see her pushing a shopping cart through the parking lot of a grocery store in Anglesey, North Wales (albeit with a protection officer in tow). That Kate can move between these two cultural extremes — world-famous princess bride and small-town homemaker — is a testimony to both her social elasticity and her effortless charisma. According to historian Andrew Roberts, whose book The Royal House of Windsor is the definitive tome on the Windsors, she represents exactly what they so desperately need. While William’s mother, Diana, was a born aristocrat whose modern sensibility chafed against royal traditions, Kate is a breath of fresh air for entirely different reasons. “She’s grounded, she’s from the British middle class, she’s not trying to blaze a new path because she represents something entirely new just in and of herself,” he says. “The royal family has not married into the middle class for 350 years, since James II. It’s an amazing and revolutionary step. And so she doesn’t actually need to do anything new, she just is. And that is enough.”
Canada falls in love
It’s no wonder, then, that Kate captured the hearts and minds of Canadians from coast to coast. Whether it was graciously honouring war veterans, taking part in a dragon-boat race on the East Coast or attending the Calgary Stampede, Kate was all smiles and laughter — a natural beside her charming, though rather more awkward, husband. Her wardrobe, always a major point of discussion, was even punctuated with bits of Canadiana. She wore that unforgettable red hat in honour of Canada Day and, more subtly, a maple-leaf-shaped diamond brooch, on loan from the Queen herself. As the writer and expert on the monarchy John Fraser observed of the visit in Maclean’s, they “didn’t just come and see and conquer: They vamped us. They did it with warmth and charm and youthful sexiness, then topped it all with a reminder, unambiguous and impossible to ignore, that the ties that bound us ‘from days of yore’ still have the power to renew something very important in our history.” High praise for the little girl from Bucklebury. But in a year like this one, I think we can all agree: She’s earned it.
The numbers on Kate
66: The number of $550 Smythe blazers Holt Renfrew had in stock when Kate was photographed wearing one. The retailer’s phone reportedly rang off the hook, and the blazers sold out the same day.
29: Kate’s age. She’s one of the oldest royal brides and the only one to hold a degree.
30: The average number of minutes it takes for one of her outfits to sell out online
7: The number of repeat wears of HRH’s nude pumps while in Canada
15: Outfit changes for official appearances on Canadian soil (16 if you include the chef uniform she wore in cooking class
3,826: Tweets an hour about Kate on Canada Day afternoon
300,000: The number of people that turned out to catch a glimpse of her in Ottawa on Canada Day