She had North America smitten.
The unanimous opinion was that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, was impeccable in her 11-day jaunt to Canada and California, her first official trip with husband Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.
The newlywed duchess chose a wardrobe that’s tried and tested, the same silhouettes that royal watchers have seen her in since her engagement. Even the belted lilac dress she wore to the black-tie gala in Los Angeles called to mind the white frock she wore to her wedding reception in April. Of course, it also came from the same house: Alexander McQueen.
“It’s sedate and feminine and it suits her,” says designer Auggie Cordero of the young royal’s style. “You have to consider that she has to abide by the dictates of the royal household. She can’t be too fashion-forward. She looks proper, and that must be why it’s said that the Queen is fond of her.”
However, Cordero adds, “Her choices are nothing to rave about, but she’s not badly dressed.” A sentiment that mirrors that of some fashion watchers. Huffington Post described the royal’s sartorial choices as “perfectly lovely yet predictable.”
“I think she’s still feeling her way and has to abide by royal rules that’s why she’s careful with her choices,” says fashion designer Joey Samson, who praised the duchess’ choice of the McQueen dress for the LA gala.
“What I’m really pleased about is her choice of designers, like Roland Mouret and Roksanda Ilincic,” Samson adds. “They’re unusual choices and it’s good for lesser-known labels.” Ilincic is from Serbia while Mouret is French-born, but both designers are London-based.
Designer Ivarluski Aseron also liked the Ilincic dress, a pale blue-gray shift with soft pleating detail across the bodice. “It was elegant and contemporary, befitting a modern-day princess,” Aseron says. The McQueen gown, he adds, gave her shape.
On this trip, the duchess indeed championed the British designers, wearing her favorite labels Reiss, Issa, Jenny Packham, Anya Hindmarch and, of course, McQueen. Perhaps a nod to Canada, she also wore—twice—Erdem, who’s based in London but was born in Montreal. She wore one American label in LA: Diane Von Furstenberg.
James Reyes, a contemporary of Aseron and Samson, says he finds the duchess’ sartorial choices “appropriate for her position.”
“I also like that she prefers dresses that are cut a little above the knee, and with sleeves. Also, the proper proportioning of cinching at her natural waist is an elegant touch. She epitomizes the laging mabango look,” says Reyes.
“I think what Filipinas could learn from her is being lady-like always. Standing straight isn’t difficult to do. Sitting properly also. In fact, anyone can look like a princess if you behave like one,” Reyes adds.
It hasn’t been three months since Catherine Middleton, a commoner, married into the British royal family. And Cordero believes it’s too soon to expect the young woman to stir things up, even fashion-wise.
“Transformation takes time,” Cordero notes. “Diana was so Laura Ashley when she just got married. After two years, she changed. She started wearing Versace and all these cool designers.”
Cordero acknowledges, however, that while Catherine’s late mother-in-law was much younger and hadn’t found her look when she married, the duchess, who’s 29, is presumed to already know what works on her.
“These royals, they listen to feedback,” Cordero says. “Everyone’s in love with Catherine now. But when the press gets tired, they’re bound to find fault. That’s when you’ll see real change. How that will pan out will depend on how she manages her relationship with the royal household. She’s luckier than Diana; whatever she ends up doing, it looks like she will be protected by her husband.”
This early, one British journalist already called for the duchess to ditch “old school” names like Catherine Walker and instead support the younger breed of British designers.
Liz Jones of the Daily Mail also criticized the duchess’ footwear choice, referring to a pair of rather dull and matronly slingback wedges by LK Bennett, a shoe label that seems to be a favorite of the royals.
Samson echoes the sentiment. “The shoe choices are dull. They’re pointy, very ’90s. Nothing wrong with the dresses. But imagine if she wore interesting Balenciaga or Dries Van Noten heels with them.”
Samson also points out what he thinks are the duchess’ missteps. “A Roland Mouret dress is so distinct on someone like Victoria Beckham. Of course, that’s Victoria Beckham. But on Kate, it was hardly recognizable. She wore a blue blazer on top of it, then went to town with the tone-on-tone theme.”
The duchess was shod in blue Manolo Blahniks and carried a blue Mulberry bag. “I think she needs to work on how she accessorizes.”
Aseron agrees. Some of Catherine’s choices are “too old-fashioned” and “too mature.” “They’re lacking now-ness.”
“I think she needs to add color to her wardrobe,” Aseron adds. “She did that on her North America trip, and it was nice. But I noticed that she’s into tone-on-tone accessorizing. She matches the color of her shoes with her purses. I just feel that’s old-fashioned.” But he adds, “I don’t think she’s too thin. She looks fine.”
While Catherine is undoubtedly beautiful, Samson thinks a more contemporary ’do will work in her favor. She’s a classic beauty with a lovely smile, he points out, “and she has nice hair, but the overall look is just old-fashioned.”
In one event, in Canada, the duchess wore her hair up. She was in a purple jersey dress by Issa with a bit of decollétàge. It was perhaps the first time since her wedding that she was photographed with that look and Aseron says it was “refreshing.”
The designers all praise the duchess for recycling her wardrobe. In Canada, she picked the same white Reiss dress she wore to her engagement photos, topping it this time with bright-red maple-leaf fascinator. Huffington Post also wrote that she wore the same J Brand jeans three times, a couple of LK Bennett shoes more than once.
“She’s practical for reusing her clothes,” Cordero says. “You know, they have to please the Commonwealth.”
Adds Reyes, “It’s okay to reuse a dress. Just make sure, like Catherine, that you really look smashing in it that people do want to see you wearing the same dress again!”
The young duchess is now a style icon, no one can argue that. But as New York Magazine points out, “the best thing about watching Kate on this trip was not her clothes, but her. So, no, she’s not the most fashionable woman on the planet, but if she tried to be, she probably wouldn’t have beamed the way she did on that trip. In looking through all the photos of her from those eleven days, it’s hard to find one where she’s not smiling like the happiest woman in the world.”