‘The Duchess of Cambridge’s dresses are adapted from the catwalk to make them suitable for a future queen
For Duchesses with royal budgets at their disposal, the fashion world is your dressing-up box.
So when the Duchess of Cambridge graced an awards ceremony earlier this month, she inevitably looked stunning in a flowing Jenny Packham gown.
Yet eagle-eyed fashion insiders spotted something striking about her look. No, not the fact that she had worn the same teal chiffon six years ago to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
Rather, it was yet another example of the clever way that Kate’s dresses are adapted from the catwalk to make them suitable for a future queen.
The original Jenny Packham, for example, features chiffon panels that plunge from the shoulders to join at the waist, with a sexy lace bodice on show.
In Kate’s version, the chiffon panels meet much higher up for a primmer neckline, with only a hint of lace at the bust.
While Kate patronises some of Britain’s leading designers, edgy clothes that catch the eye on the catwalk rarely meet the exacting standards of the royal dress code.
The British Royal Family is said to abide by a very specific style guide which rules out inappropriately short skirts, day dresses that are too long, anything too flashy or flamboyant, slits that gape if you bend or sit down, and fabrics that crease.
Clothes also need to stand up to scrutiny from every angle, so they need to look appropriate from the back and sides, as well as the front.
And adapting dresses is something the Duchess of Cambridge has done since soon after her marriage to Prince William in 2011.
Since 2014, her personal assistant/stylist Natasha Archer has made the sartorial decisions about Kate’s wardrobe. She has worked with the Royal Family for years, first as a personal assistant, before she became style adviser to Kate. She knows the rules and what is suitable better than anyone.
She is the one who has to reconcile Kate’s position as the wife of the second-in-line to the throne, with her status as a style icon.
Perhaps because of Kate’s position, unlike Meghan’s team she doesn’t push fashion boundaries.
As catwalk shows work almost a year ahead of production, Natasha will look through the season ahead, choosing styles/prints/patterns that are suitable, then discuss with Kate before designers are contacted.
Small changes, such as sewing up a plunging neckline like the adjustment to Kate’s Jenny Packham, are likely to be made by Natasha.
More fundamental changes to a design happen at the design house that made the piece.
It’s a collaborative effort, to ensure the design is preserved but royal modesty met and will cost more than buying ready-to-wear off-the-peg outfits.
Here, we investigate how the frocks have transformed from catwalk to Kate . . .
How to avoid a sheer lip-up?
On a tour of South-East Asia, Kate chooses an oriental-print dress in soft tone colours for an engagement in Singapore. The floaty dress seems to be adapted from the Meryl dress from Erdem’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection. Both have the same pattern, pleating and waist detail, but while the original dress is sleeveless and sheer, Kate’s has a wider neckline, revealing her collarbones, and chiffon sleeves to give a softer look. Kate’s white slip also changes the background colour, making the print stronger and more vibrant. Her version is a winner.
Bring back the belt, Kate
For the Queen’s 90th Birthday Commonwealth service in March 2016, Kate favours a £2,500 grey coat by Erdem, a bespoke version based on one from the London label’s Pre-Fall 2015 collection.
It has a tiny checked background with lace-effect print overlay.
Her design has removed much-needed detailing and, although it’s less fussy, Kate’s stripped-back design ends up looking like a rather boring overcoat.
The grey, with charcoal overlay, just isn’t exciting enough to carry such a basic design.
Bring back the belt and the lapels for a stylish look.
Bye-bye sexy Bodice
On a seven-day tour to India and Bhutan in April 2016, Kate looks stunning in Temperley London’s Desdemona design for a lunch with the Indian prime minister.
The jade dress is 100 per cent cotton, with a high neck, fitted waist, fluted hem and cotton voile pleats.
But the original has a bodice that’s predominantly sheer — far too risque for Kate — so a modesty panel has been added across the bust, and the underskirt lengthened so it’s only sheer from the knee down.
It turns an overtly sexy dress in to something classy and respectable.
Min-dress? Not any more
In September 2016, while on tour in Canada, Kate wears a bespoke Alexander McQueen design adapted from a dress from the Resort 2017 collection.
The original version was a tiered mini-dress with cropped bell sleeves, but Kate’s version, which she wore for a visit to Vancouver with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, features a skirt lengthened by up to 10in, so it stops just above the knee rather than mid-thigh.
Voluminous tiered sleeves are replaced by full-length ones, finished with white cuffs. This safer, more sophisticated choice gives the Duchess a much smarter and more business-like silhouette.
When Lacy is far from racy
For last week’s Tusk Conservation Awards, Kate chooses a Jenny Packham gown she first wore to the Royal Albert Hall in May 2012.
The teal gown features an embellished belt and a plunging neckline, but it’s not as daring as the catwalk version.
Compared to the original, Kate’s is much more conservative — and a much more striking colour. It has been stitched up to give a peek-a-boo of detail rather than a full lace bodice.
No Knees please, I’m royal
Heavily pregnant and hosting the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange Reception at Buckingham Palace in February, Kate’s re-design of Erdem’s Suzi Guipure lace dress is lengthened to mid-calf — the length to be seen in this season. The original is far too short for a future queen!
Daring cut-out vanishes
For her first engagement after her latest maternity leave, Kate chooses grey tweed Erdem for the launch of a photography exhibition at London’s V&A Museum in October. The catwalk version includes a risque cut-away detail in the designer’s spring/summer 18 collection. Kate’s has the keyhole detail removed and a plum belt added, ensuring her midriff is covered up.
Game sit and match
In July 2016, Kate Middleton watched Andy Murray win the men’s final at Wimbledon wearing another Alexander McQueen dress. The original design is far too short for a Royal to sit in. Kate’s version falls to below the knee.