LONDON — After months of speculation about Meghan Markle’s wedding dress, with names including Ralph & Russo, Erdem and Roland Mouret being tossed around like bridal bouquets, the designer turned out to be Clare Waight Keller, who was never even mentioned. Indeed, the artistic director of Givenchy fulfilled her assignment with such discretion that only she — and Markle — knew who and what the dress being designed was for.
The two worked closely, in particular on the veil, which was embroidered with the flora of the 53 Commonwealth nations, countries that once belonged to the British Empire and which remain close to Queen Elizabeth II’s heart. The Queen recently made Prince Harry youth ambassador to the Commonwealth, with Markle ready to help him in the role as the new Duchess of Sussex.
Waight Keller and Markle talked a lot about what the veil would look like, “and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we took the 53 countries of the Commonwealth and embroidered a flower, and some flora and fauna from each one, and they would go on that journey up the aisle with you?'” said Waight Keller, adding that Markle “immediately loved the idea.”
Here, Waight Keller talks to WWD about the process of making the dress and how she managed not to crack under the pressure.
WWD: What are the inherent challenges of designing a wedding gown, and especially a royal wedding gown? Were there any special considerations, given the dimensions of St. George’s Chapel and royal protocol?
Clare Waight Keller: I aimed for a very modern and fresh design, just like I find Meghan to be, so I really wanted to represent her. I wanted her to feel absolutely incredible in the dress and, also, I wanted her to feel like it was absolutely right for the occasion. Meghan is genuine, warm, radiant and a really strong woman. She knows what she wants and, really, it was an absolute joy working with her. I believe part of the simplicity and modernity of this dress is the fabric, a double silk cady.
WWD: How did you and Meghan meet? Had you dressed her before?
C.W.K.: I hadn’t met her before this process, but I have always admired her and her vision of the world, especially through her work with the U.N. We very strongly connected, and I loved getting to know her on a personal level. I will carry the experience with me forever.
WWD: How did you do the dress at such a busy time when you are working on couture, men’s, and pre-collections at Givenchy?
C.W.K.: Honestly, it was a dream come true, and a great collaborative process, so it just felt natural. I am a working mother, I am used to juggling schedules!
WWD: How much extra help did you need in the atelier in terms of dressmakers, etc.?
C.W.K.: In total, about 50 people worked on the dress, veil, shoes and bridesmaids’ dresses.
WWD: How long did the dress take to make from start to finish?
C.W.K.: Three thousand, nine hundred hours over the course of four months.
WWD: Do you like doing bridal dresses, and do you plan to do more in the future? Will you do them for your upcoming couture show?
C.W.K.: I approach the wedding dress idea with modernity. The Haute Couture business in our brand is about made-to-measure, so even if I don’t put classic wedding dresses on the runway, the whole point still is that any client can create their own dress with me based on the references they have seen in my collection. It is the highest form of service in fashion. I loved that Meghan and I decided to go for something that no one would expect. It was not a classic bridal dress, and I felt that it said something about the kind of woman she is, and intends to be.