From the very first, slightly blurred sight through the window of the Phantom Rolls-Royce driving her and her mother to Windsor, it was clear that Meghan Markle had played a blinder.
The dazzling white bateau neckline of her dress signalled that it hadn’t been designed by of any of the bookies’ or the fashion commentariats’ favourites.
Not Ralph & Russo, the much-touted British couturier couple; not Erdem Moralioglu, the maestro of lacy Edwardian styles; not Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen — the new-generation royals’ label of choice for formal wear. None of them would have produced something as exquisitely plain as that neckline.
Meghan’s wedding dress was designed by the acclaimed British designer, Clare Keller (pictured centre), the first female Artistic Director at the French fashion house Givenchy
What was not unexpected, however, was that every detail of the dress demonstrated Meghan’s genius in the art of using herself as a powerful, beautiful and captivating billboard
It was only when the car pulled up outside St George’s Chapel and the petite figure of Meghan stepped out that we learned the much-anticipated dress was the work of Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy Haute Couture.
‘Who?’ must have been the immediate response of the 1.9 billion television viewers. Givenchy? Isn’t that a French fashion house? So unexpected was the choice, there weren’t even any odds on it at the bookies.
What was not unexpected, however, was that every detail of the dress demonstrated Meghan’s genius in the art of using herself as a powerful, beautiful and captivating billboard to get across the ideas she wants to convey.
And that is what royal wedding dresses have always had to achieve. They are not only the dress for the bride’s most special day, but they also need to say something about the time and the nation of which they are a part.
Meghan’s veil is five meters long and made from silk tulle with a trim of hand-embroidered flowers in silk threads and organza
Meghan Markle was a 36-year-old second-time bride. A bi-racial, American actress marrying into the British Royal Family. Her groom was the much-loved second son of the late Princess of Wales, a man whom the nation clasped to its heart from the moment he took the long walk behind his mother’s coffin at her funeral.
His bride was going to have a tough job living up to our expectations of the woman he should marry.
Where the dress was such a master stroke was that it not only demonstrated Meghan’s taste and style, but it wove an assured path through many potential pitfalls.
For a start, she didn’t stumble at the bling hurdle.
There were many who’d assumed that, as an actress used to the paparazzi flashbulbs, Meghan would opt for something more Hollywood princess, a confection that would sparkle like a thousand stars in the May sunshine.
Meghan wore a £200K creation by Givenchy to marry Prince Harry. The bride-to-be reportedly commissioned Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller after viewing sketches with her best friend Jessica Mulroney
How wrong that would have been. For she is not a twentysomething Barbie doll, but a woman who wishes to be taken seriously in her desires to make the world a fairer, more inclusive place.
In today’s world of trial by social media, anything seen as too ostentatious would have been pilloried within seconds.
With her minimalist gown of pure white matte silk cady — three-quarter-length sleeves showing off a classically elegant Cartier bracelet, the companion to her small diamond Cartier earrings — she also navigated a wise distance from the wedding dress of her new sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Sketches of the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding dress, designed by Clare Waight Keller
In today’s world of trial by social media, anything seen as too ostentatious would have been pilloried within seconds
That exquisite dress was laden with heritage and symbolism, every centimetre a demonstration of the brilliance of British craftsmanship and design. A dress that transformed Kate Middleton into Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Meghan’s dress achieved something entirely different.
The beautifully sculpted neckline exposed just the right amount of bare, freckled collarbone, letting nothing distract from Queen Mary’s incredible diamond bandeau tiara pinned into the bride’s chignon.
The seamless bodice decorously encasing her slim torso and the unadorned full skirt were ideal foils for the veil, where embroidery depicting flowers of the 53 Commonwealth countries, as well as the Californian poppy and wintersweet from the Kensington Palace garden, announced Meghan’s intentions to be a globally aware royal.
This dress enhanced the Meghan-ness of the new Duchess, rather than transforming her into someone else. And rightly so.
Brand Meghan has been finely honed in a contemporary world where such things matter. She has spent many years building up a career and a profile that embrace inclusivity and equality, becoming a charismatic speaker and an ambassador for her causes.
Her beauty, natural sexiness and ease of communication have all been harnessed to that end, and her long hair, big smile and seeming confidence are as much part of her brand as her work.
Add to that the glamour and experience in the public eye associated with being a TV actress and you have star power. And that was before she became a royal.
Clare Waight Keller, designer at Givenchy, gives an interview the day after Meghan Markle walked down the aisle
The relationship between designer and bride needs to be one of trust and support
The dress, like every detail of the ceremony and every word spoken, would have been conceived with the desire to demonstrate the personal values of a highly successful modern woman intent on being judged on her own terms.
So perhaps her choice of designer should have been less of a surprise. Clare Waight Keller, the first female artistic director of Givenchy, is also a determined, high-achieving woman. During my tenure as editor-in-chief of British Vogue, I saw her rise through the fashion hierarchy to head up one of Paris fashion’s most famous houses.
This British graduate of the prestigious Royal College of Art worked her way up through many of fashion’s largest brands, including Calvin Klein and Gucci, getting her first lead role in the knitwear company Pringle of Scotland.
With her loose, tawny hair and fresh, natural style, Clare has a low-key manner that belies her strength and steel.
A married mother-of-three, she and her husband decided to move their family to Paris when she was hired to head up luxury label Chloe in 2011 and she has triumphed in a city whose fashion community is notoriously judgmental and not always welcoming to foreigners.
The relationship between designer and bride needs to be one of trust and support. During the process of fitting the dress, the designer sees you at your most exposed, pinning the toile while you stand there in just your underwear.
It is probably no accident that, like the Duchess of Cambridge before her, Meghan chose a label where a woman had recently taken over the helm, who might naturally be more empathetic to the emotions any bride experiences.
The beaming bride opted for classic simplicity for her dress design, which has been widely praised by other bridal designers and fashion experts
Should one be looking for connections between Givenchy and this particular bride, the house’s most famous client, Audrey Hepburn, was an actress
Givenchy is one of the most prestigious fashion labels in the world. Unlike Chloe, which is based on the notion of a female free spirit, at Givenchy the original tenets of founder Hubert de Givenchy, who died earlier this year, are more formal and include Haute Couture, the pinnacle of fashion creativity.
It is this couture arm that would have allowed Clare and Meghan to create the dress of the bride’s dreams: couture enables the ultimate fit and detail.
Simplicity is difficult. A dress as pure in line as this cannot hide behind lavish embroidery, frills and flounces. The hands of the white-coated seamstresses would have been on every minuscule stitch. Every centimetre of the measurements of the neckline, the waist and the hem would have been adjusted to perfection over recent weeks.
And, should one be looking for connections between Givenchy and this particular bride, the house’s most famous client, Audrey Hepburn, was, of course, an actress and one whose style, like Meghan’s, was of era-defining, sophisticated informality. Equally crucially, the Givenchy headquarters on Avenue George V would have been able to maintain the extraordinary security necessary to keep the dress secret.
In the wake of the terrible terrorist attacks in the French capital in recent years, Givenchy has incredible safeguarding in place, day and night.
The combination of a talented British woman designer with the lustre of Parisian couture — what better way to epitomise our new Duchess: female power and star quality.
How much did Meghan’s wedding dress cost?
Celebrity stylist Lucas Armitage told Femail that a dress like Meghan’s is likely to cost in the region of £200,000.
‘A whole team would be dedicated to every detail of the dress, the fabric, the pattern, the toiles all working in tandem to create the effortlessly chic piece,’ he xplained.
‘Don’t underestimate its understated veneer, every stitch and every seam will have been meticulously planned to perfection to give it the perfect regal aesthetic.
‘I predict it will have cost around the £200K mark for such a couture approach to bridal.’
Bespoke fabric from a Parisian mill: £60,000
Multiple fittings: £35,000
Seamstress and toile making: £74,000
Designing and pattern cutting: £25,000
Additional alterations pre-wedding day: £4000
Celebrity stylist Lucas Armitage told Femail that a dress like Meghan’s is likely to cost in the region of £200,000