The Markle Effect knows no bounds. Ask Elizabeth Holmes.
The reporter, who spent a decade at the Wall Street Journal where she covered the 2008 presidential election and then moved on to style coverage, is as surprised as anyone that her Instagram Stories, titled “So Many Thoughts” and focused on the sartorial choices of Kate Middleton and royal-to-be Meghan Markle, has become such a hit. It started off as nothing more than a way to kill time while breast-feeding her then-infant second child.
“It was never intended to be a series, or anything,” Holmes said.
But a series, and a very popular one at that, it has become. Holmes has about 60,000 followers — and counting — on Instagram and more engagement on the platform than she’s ever seen. She’s gearing up for the May 19 wedding of Markle to Prince Harry almost like its her own big day. Harpersbazaar.com asked to have “So Many Thoughts” exclusively on the wedding day, and there will be post coverage over at Elle.com, and there’s even a tie-up with Town & Country for Lifetime’s sure-to-be-dramatic new movie “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance.”
“[The wedding] is bigger than the Super Bowl,” Holmes said. “That happens every year. This is a one-shot thing.”
Even after the wedding, Holmes is expecting to have plenty of royal fodder to keep the stories coming. Aside from any honeymoon photos that could crop up, a Meghan and Harry baby is almost a certainty. Although Holmes has been approached by a number of brands eager to turn her into an “influencer,” her account is still completely independent, something she chalks up to her now ingrained “journalistic roots.”
WWD caught up with Holmes in her new home of Silicon Valley — she moved from New York last year after her husband was promoted at Google — to talk Markle, the wedding, dress speculation and America’s long fascination with royals.
WWD: So let’s talk about your side hustle. It can be hard to tell with Stories, but it’s really blown up.
Elizabeth Holmes: It sure has. And the origin story is hilarious.
WWD: Let’s hear it.
E.H.: It’s going to be anticlimactic now, I fear. But it was last Christmas at my dad’s house in the suburbs of Chicago, and at that time, my younger son was six months old and when your kid is that little you end up nursing all the time. Probably TMI, but you’re constantly breastfeeding, so you’re constantly staring at your phone because what else are you going to do? So I was nursing and the holiday photo of Will and Kate and George and Charlotte came through on Instagram and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I have so many thoughts on this.”
And that — my older son was two-and-a-half at the time, so he’s learning to count…and would always say “so many.” So our family had been saying “so many” a lot.
It was not strategic or thought through, it was just I have a lot of thought on this and I’ll annotate this image. And it blew up. Suddenly all these people were like, “This is hilarious” and sharing their thoughts with me, and I was like, OK, that was really fun, a nice little moment.
WWD: But it kept going.
E.H.: Not long after that, Meghan and Harry released their official engagement photo and those, I mean, I also had so many thoughts on that. So I did it again and the same thing happened and people just kind of went nuts for it. Really, I think people just want to talk about the royals. It’s a nice break from an intense news cycle that we’re all beleaguered by and it became something that was a fun respite for me to do and for other people. And 2018 is the year of the royal family…people kept saying, “Please keep doing this.” When something pops up, I try and do it and as the royal wedding has gotten closer if I don’t do it in a timely fashion, people are like “Are you gonna comment on this moment?!” It’s kind of taken on a life of its own and no one is more surprised by it than me.
WWD: America has always been interested in royal families, but do you think there’s anything else behind the fervor that is Meghan Markle and Harry and the new baby?
E.H.: With the rise of social media, the chance to participate in a live event from afar, not just to be sitting in your living room watching on TV, talking to your spouse or roommate, but to have a chance to interact with other people who are enthusiastic about it or not — the critics are really funny, too. But I think social media has whipped this up into a frenzy and I don’t remember now, I don’t think Instagram was a thing in 2011 (when Middleton married Prince William). Twitter was, but there’s just so much more opportunity, so many more platforms to participate in all of this, it’s contributed to the excitement. Meghan Markle is just a fairy-tale character, too — a biracial, American, divorcée marrying a British prince.
WWD: It has a ring to it.
E.H.: You couldn’t script it — it’s perfect. And she’s playing this part so beautifuly and it’s fun to follow along. Some people veer into a much more critical tone. In my own thing, I try not to fawn over everything or hate on everything. I think there’s a lot of both put out there. The other part of this, and this is the reporter in me that will be there forever, there’s this business here. There’s people selling clothes, an image being made, a brand being promoted and I am fascinated by that, too.
WWD: And you’re not a critic, per se, but if Meghan’s coat looks terrible, and sometimes they just don’t have great taste…
E.H.: I sort of see myself, instead of a critic, as a commentator. “So Many Thoughts” is just weighing in and having more of an editorial voice than I’ve ever had. At the Journal you’re not supposed to have opinions. And as a journalist you shouldn’t have a whole heck of a lot of opinions. If you look at earlier pics of Kate, before the royal wedding, she was finding her sartorial footing, what works for her and what photographs well. That’s a huge part of it. Sure, there’s people you’re seeing at an event,but it’s mostly about the photos that come out of it that the world sees.
WWD: That live on the Internet forever.
E.H.: Forever. And I think that’s why I was critical of [Markle’s] messy bun. I’m sure it looked gorgeous in person, but it’s a really hard thing to photograph unless you’re doing a studio shoot and those are the kind of things I try to keep in mind.
WWD: Historically, royals weren’t being photographed everyday and how they looked when they went out, it was much more restricted. There seems to be a casualness, a modernity coming through more and more that isn’t quite perfected.
E.H.: Absolutely. Another thing to keep in mind with Harry is he’s really far down the line of succession at this point. I think he’s now sixth in line to the throne…the pressure is so much less. He can sort of just be a famous person promoting the interests of the Royal Family without historians documenting absolutely every outfit [he and Markle] wear. They’re in a different position.
WWD: That engagement photo dress…
E.H.: Oh my gosh…
WWD: It was definitely a signal, like look, these people aren’t going to be King and Queen — the see-through bodice, let’s say it was very baroque.
E.H.: An Ice Capades gown. And it was rumored to cost 50,000 pounds. It was so expensive. But they can kind of lean into all these things and be outwardly flashy in a way that Will and Kate…their kids are wearing hand-me-downs.
WWD: So, the dress. Do you have any expectations for how Meghan is going to look. If it’s going to be like the little more covered up Alexander McQueen like Kate wore or maybe she’ll go her own way with something a little more sleek and modern?
E.H.: She’s trying to be very different than Kate and I don’t blame her. Her vibe is much more fashion-forward but also relaxed. For the wedding itself, that dress has to do a lot, right? It has to please a worldwide audience, it has to be appropriate for a royal wedding and it also has to be her. My prediction is that it’s going to be much more fashion-forward than the classic dress that Kate wore. Kate’s dress will stand the test of time. Meghan’s is going to push the envelope and when you do that, it can be spectacular but the risk is much higher of it being something people criticize. I’m so hesitant to criticize a dress I haven’t seen, but her choices so far would suggest that she’s being much more fashion forward about her public persona.
WWD: I’m wondering if she’ll toe the line a little bit. If you want to please a fashion crowd, you can get away with a lot more, but if you’re trying to please tens of millions of people, there’s only so much fashion they can deal with.
EH: Yes. This wedding is also a different setting. It’s a much smaller wedding. She won’t have all the Heads of State there to please. I think the [viewing] audience will be even bigger than Kate and William’s because more people have more places to watch it, but the event itself is smaller. I think 600 people are going and there were 2,000 at Kate and William’s. With a dress, the circumstances of the wedding dictate a lot of what the dress needs to do. For a smaller wedding, she may not have to do an elaborate gown. She can do something smaller and chicer. I don’t know. I’m really excited.