We want what Kate's wearing! The sellout effect of the high-street Duchess
By MIMI SPENCER
Last updated at 9:37 PM on 11th June 2011
Not only is she the world’s favourite style icon, the new Duchess of Cambridge is the queen of the high street – which is great news for all those copy-Kates out there, and a dream come true for British fashion retailers, says Mimi Spencer
From left: The Reiss Shola dress, £175, wowed the Obamas and caused the company's website to crash; The Temperley Titan dress, £895 — an instant sellout after a charity outing
You are a British fashion retailer right now, perhaps a high-street brand that has struggled in the downturn, you’ll have just one concerted wish: that you’ll open up the papers and discover that, today, the Duchess of Cambridge is wearing your blouse, your bag, or perhaps your blazer.
One outing with Kate, you see, and the world wakes up. The internet hits overdrive, the chatrooms go nuts, and the money rolls in. The effect is phenomenal. And instantaneous. When Kate wore a £310 black velvet coat by Libélula to the wedding of her and William’s friends Sarah Stourton and Harry Aubrey-Fletcher in January, it sold out in hours. The company’s website went mad and the coat had a waiting list of 300 before you could say ker-ching. The famous blue Issa engagement dress is more impressive still. As you might expect, the real thing flew out of Harvey Nichols on the day Kate wore it; but then the knock-off at Tesco (a snip at £16) sold out within an hour of going online.
Once you start counting, the Kate Effect looks unparalleled in fashion history. The Temperley Titan dress worn to a charity bash? Sold out in two hours. The Luisa Spagnoli suit worn on a visit to her old university, St Andrews? This modest rigout incited a stampede at Hollie de Keyser, the London boutique that stocks the label. ‘We re-ordered 100 suits,’ said a breathless Hollie. ‘That’s £50,000-worth of stock. Since Kate wore the suit, we’ve been inundated.’
Inundated is a word used widely to describe the impact Kate has. ‘We have been inundated with press coverage,’ reports David Reiss, describing the astonishing effect of her choosing to wear the Reiss ‘Nannette’ dress for the Mario Testino engagement portrait. ‘At one stage, online was selling one per minute.’ The Duchess also chose Reiss to meet the Obamas at Buckingham Palace during last month’s state visit, this time the £175 ‘Shola’, a bandage dress in pale camel; needless to say, it too has sold out. ‘We’re really proud that Kate is a Reiss customer,’ says David. ‘She has the eyes of the world on her and is an incredible ambassador.’
From left: The Issa Sapphire dress, worn for Kate’s engagement, £385. Even the Tesco knock-off sold out in an hour; The Luisa Spagnoli suit, £495, caused a storm after an airing at St Andrews
From left: The Reiss Nannette, £159 — after the official engagement photograph, sales went through the roof; The Libélula coat, £310, crowned Kate the best-dressed wedding guest, and a lengthy queue formed…
Other Kate faves dancing off the shelves are Penelope Chilvers tassel boots, Ronhar jeans from Diesel, Hudson jeans from Trilogy…the public’s desire to emulate Kate seems insatiable – hysterical, even – worldwide. In one New York Links of London store, a fight broke out over the last pair of Kate’s white topaz ‘Hope Egg’ earrings. There’s even a waiting list for her wedding fragrance, White Gardenia Petals by Illuminum (Google it if you want to smell like a duchess).
Pundits believe that Kate is all set to become the saviour of British fashion. Certainly, her brand is already thought to be worth millions; one newspaper calculates that she will fuel a £2 billion bonanza for Britain’s economy: ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if Kate Middleton’s legacy is bigger than that of the Olympics, domestically and internationally,’ Dr Harold Goodwin, a professor of tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University, was quoted as saying.
Kate’s seal of approval is suddenly critical to the success of a label
While it’s hard to quantify Kate’s value, a parallel can be drawn with Michelle Obama’s impact on the US fashion industry. Analysis by Professor David Yermack of the Stern School of Business in New York shows that the combined share-value boost for the 29 companies that the First Lady regularly patronised over 13 months was $2.7 billion.
The fascinating part in all this is the speed with which Kate has found herself transformed into a global fashion phenomenon. It took Diana years to finesse her look and fashion reach, in pre-internet days, and only then with the assistance of discreet London designers. Because, of course, Diana
didn’t shop on the high street, so her style was less attainable. For Kate, the process has been blink-fast. We know what she’s wearing as soon as she puts a foot out of the door, the fever fuelled by constant Twitter updates and forensic online analysis. The effect is startling. With one click, you can namecheck Kate’s outfit; with the next, you can have it delivered to your door (if you’re quick).
JEANS, £170, Hudson, from Trilogy, tel: 020 7730 6515
FRAGRANCE, Illuminum White Gardenia Petals, £70, tel: 020 8693 5150
EARRINGS, £275, Links of London, tel: 0845 120 2922
One wonders what Kate must make of all this fuss; how it affects her as she rolls out of bed and debates what to wear. Her seal of approval is suddenly critical to the success of a label, and those daily choices of hers are freighted with importance. Forbidden by royal etiquette to accept freebies, Kate is not in thrall to the big houses; as yet, there are no advisers wielding designer
look-books. In press terms, this makes her – intriguingly – immune to control; she simply wears clothes she likes. The result is a look that is refreshing, with none of the calculating product placement we’re accustomed to seeing among celebrities. But it also means that what we get is Kate’s take – something meek, modest and slightly parochial, the hem within kissing distance of the knee, the décolletage ever underexposed. While this guarantees no bold bangers – no strumpet shoes, no bizarre Philip Treacy hats like Beatrice’s at the Royal Wedding – it also puts her at a disadvantage on the world stage: we may not want bangers, but we do want bang.
Kate’s trademark conservatism has, however, settled as the key look of summer, partly, one suspects, in an attempt by high-street retailers to garner her patronage. Kate – who once worked as an accessories buyer at Jigsaw – gravitates towards Whistles, Warehouse, Hobbs, LK Bennett, Reiss and the rest. Unlike Diana, she’s just not a Harvey Nicks girl, which is a boon to our hard-pressed
high-street retailers. And they’ve been quick to act. You can’t shop these days without encountering the ‘Kate’ blouse (from Whistles), or the ‘Kate’ shoe – those wedges from LK Bennett. And it’s not just Kate. Her mother Carole too has become a flag-bearer for chic, age-appropriate dressing (her Catherine Walker outfit for the wedding and her Gérard Darel suit for the following day were internet sensations), and we’re also witnessing a wildfire Pippa Effect. Her Modalu ‘Bristol’ bag has been renamed the ‘Pippa’, while a giddy John Lewis is toasting Kate’s sister for helping it ‘ride out the
high-street doldrums’ by inspiring a trend for long, flowing dresses. Debenhams even attributes a
200 per cent rise in fake-tan sales to the Middleton sisters and their glorious, glowing complexions.
What a frenzy for a girl from the shires, in her sensible shoes and ladder-less tights. On anyone else, her sober style might seem inconsequential – certainly to those in the creative, crazy world of high fashion. But on Kate, because she is the saviour perhaps of our monarchy as well as our style industry, even so-so clothes can seem delectable. Such is the power of fame. And these are early days. Soon the calendar of official engagements will begin for Prince William and his bride, and Kate’s clothes will only gather more scrutiny, more Tweets, more fans, more profit for anyone who can get her attention. When the Duchess of Cambridge touches down in Canada and then California later this month, the fun will really start.
THE MIDDLETON EFFECT
Like mother, like daughters: Carole’s Catherine Walker wedding outfit (above right) was an internet sensation, while Pippa’s post-wedding Zara jacket, Modalu bag and Tory Burch shoes became instant classics.
The Reiss Peacock dress that Kate wore to the Epsom Derby was another instant sell-out, left. The dress may have been designer, but Kate accessorised with pieces from the high street.