It’s been 53 years since Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III, thereby ascending from Hollywood royalty to the real thing, and 29 years since Diana Spencer walked down the aisle at St. Paul’s Cathedral to wed Prince Charles. So the world seems a bit overdue for a new variation on that classic fairy-tale ending: the commoner who becomes princess. In the coming months, Princess Grace of Monaco and Princess Diana may finally begin to cede their spot in the public imagination to a new generation of royal women (and their would-have-been daughters-in-law). After Kate Middleton and Charlene Wittstock marry their princes — Prince William of Wales and Prince Albert II of Monaco, respectively — fashion folk will wait to see whether they’ll be setting the trends or simply following them.
The jury is still out, and so far designers have been diplomatic in their evaluations of both women’s styles.
This story first appeared in the January 28, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Giorgio Armani has been dressing Wittstock — a onetime Olympic swimmer for her native South Africa with a lean build and toned shoulders — for the past two years. Not surprisingly, Mr. Armani is full of praise for the princess-to-be.
“Tall, sporty and at the same time sophisticated, Charlene knows how to wear even the grandest evening dresses with the nonchalance and freshness of youth,” he told WWD this month.
Karl Lagerfeld, who knows Wittstock well and has photographed her for several magazines, says he’s hopeful the beauty will have a positive impact on her new country.
“I think she wants to give some sparkle to Monaco,” he says. “A place like this needs a beautiful princess, and she’s very handsome and stunning.”
The tall, slim Middleton, meanwhile, has already been forging something of a reputation as a fashion plate: Her blue Issa dress spawned myriad cut-price knockoffs, and versions of the high street designs she wore for her recent engagement photos will be reissued.
Armani calls Middleton “so discreet and straightforward, but highly aware of fashion trends.” He adds: “She will have all the time in the world to become fully integrated into her new role and choose the most sophisticated and precious dresses and outfits for official occasions.”
Lagerfeld says Middleton is “very different from Princess Diana and seems very well balanced and a happy person. She is chic in a way the position needs. Let’s wait and see.”
Below, the tale of the tape for the soon-to-be princesses. Queensberry Rules, of course, apply.
Kate Middleton, age 28
An unapologetically classic dresser, Middleton is a tweed-and-flat-boots or jersey-wrap-dress-and-discreet-jewelry kind of gal. She’s clearly a considered consumer, too: She aggressively shopped her closet for the Mario Testino engagement photos, sending out a “Make-do and Mend” message meant for Britain’s age of austerity. In one photo, she wore a white Reiss dress that cost 159 pounds, or $253. The white winter coat that she frequently wears is also old Reiss. In the other Testino photo, Middleton donned a white silk, vintage-inspired blouse from Whistles’ autumn 2008 season.
Potential Wedding Gown
Although Bruce Oldfield has been widely tipped as the man to create Middleton’s wedding gown, it now appears there is another very serious contender: The London-based bridal designer Phillipa Lepley. Although Lepley, who designed wedding gowns for British celebrities including Ulrika Jonsson and Davina McCall, has always been in the running, the latest buzz in London is that she will design the dress.
Middleton has been snapped in outfits by Issa, Alice Temperley, Collette Dinnigan and Diane von Furstenberg, and the high street’s Reiss, Whistles, Kew, and BCBG Max Azria. She’s also a fan of the tailored jackets from English designer Katherine Hooker.
Not surprisingly, Middleton favors practical carryalls from Longchamp and Bric’s. She has her long, chocolate brown hair and grooming done at Richard Ward in Sloane Square — a favorite of Chelsea socialites and TV presenters — and wears hats by Philip Treacy. She favors small jewelry and, in particular, pieces by Patrick Mavros, whose designs are inspired by the wild animals of Africa.
She will inevitably be compared to Diana, who found her own fashion feet with help from Anna Harvey, a former deputy editor of Vogue who is credited with helping to update her style from Sloaney to sophisticated. Middleton, who hasn’t had a public misstep since she began dating Prince William, risks treading safe fashion ground for the rest of her life, which would result in a collective yawn in Britain and abroad.
Charlene Wittstock, age 32
The statuesque swimming champion has certainly made strides since her first, disastrous appearance at Monaco’s Red Cross Ball in 2006. Wearing a green muslin dress she’d borrowed from a friend and sporting red fingernails that she’d painted herself, Wittstock admitted to Tatler: “I looked like a Christmas tree.” She didn’t do much better the following year, when she wore a long, pink one-shoulder dress and undone hair to a Monaco charity event in May 2007. But then, in 2008, Armani and his team took her under their wing, made her an ambassador and began dressing her for official events. Since then, she’s been working a sober, elegant and sophisticated look, wearing long, strapless dresses with bustiers or draping, and she’s not shy about showing off her muscled shoulders and creamy décolleté. For more relaxed events, the future princess has also worn Ralph Lauren dresses and sporty scarves.
Potential Wedding Gown
Armani let slip during a news conference at Milan Men’s Fashion Week earlier this month that he would be designing Charlene’s dress for the wedding. He didn’t elaborate, and the news was not confirmed by his press office.
Industry sources tell WWD that the folks over at Dior are aggressively courting Wittstock in a bid to fill her closet at her new home in Monaco’s 12th-century palace. So far, she’s swapped her poolside gear for some serious Armani — chiefly Armani Privé — and has hinted that he might be the man to design her wedding gown. She also wears Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, and told Tatler that her fashion icon is fellow South African Charlize Theron.
She doesn’t do much with her hair except pull it into a chignon once in a while. As far as jewelry is concerned, she often wears Repossi earrings. Her engagement ring, a pear-shape diamond, is also from the Italian jeweler.
Monaco is a French-speaking country, and her French needs work. She resembles Princess Grace, but she will be constantly compared to Prince Albert’s mother and that could be deeply annoying. Also, she can tend to look stiff and slightly uncomfortable in designer duds. She needs to relax and smile more. She will be a princess, after all.