Kate's no maverick but plenty more royals dress in high style
Kate Middleton might lack Diana's daring, but her ordinary, girl-next-door style has huge influence, writes Sophie Donaldson
Adele. Angelina. Oprah. Audrey. It's not often somebody reaches that cataclysmic level of fame that dispenses with the need of a surname - or royal prefix - but Diana certainly did.
Last Friday, the much anticipated exhibition Diana: Her Fashion Story opened at her former home of Kensington Palace. From her eye-popping 'revenge dress' to the cheery floral frock she often wore on hospital visits, the clothes on display indicate a woman who was privy to the power of fashion.
As well as that, Diana just looked damned good in a dress. Over time she developed that innate confidence with clothing that has nothing to do with stature or physique but everything to do with utter fearlessness. Admittedly, she was long and lithe but whether it was her outrageous Catherine Walker 'Elvis dress' with the upright beaded collar or the oversized Victor Emmanuel tartan suit, Diana did not do fashion by halves.
The inverse of her mother in law, Kate Middleton does not do daring. Where Diana was pictured on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in a low-cut, embellished Versace gown and mussed-up pixie cut, Kate was the sexless, affable girl next door on the cover of Vogue last June. In a wide-brimmed trilby hat and double-breasted coat, she remained firmly buttoned up.
Preferring high-street dresses from the likes of Coast, or demure designer gowns, it is probably her preference for the ordinary that makes her so appealing to the masses. The 'Kate Effect' has the ability to sell out stock in minutes. In fact, last week the former designer of Issa, the label that designed her navy engagement dress, revealed it was unable to cater to the staggering attention it received and was eventually forced to close. Kate appeals to the ordinary folk, and is even cuttingly referred to as a poster girl for the 'basic bitch'. Ouch.
Fashion maverick she is not, but there are plenty of other royals who do high fashion seriously well. Like the Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Charlene of Monaco has a hard act to follow in her mother in law. Married to Princess Grace's son Albert, Charlene holds her own in the style stakes. Preferring a monochrome colour palette she counters it with bold silhouettes and her svelte figure lends itself to figure-hugging gowns that are more red carpet than royal 'do'. But then, it is Monaco, so her style was always going to be far more fabulous than fusty.
I am slightly biased when it comes to Princess Mary of Denmark. Her maiden name, Mary Donaldson, is the same as my grandmother and like me she is an Aussie. But she has consistently been voted the most stylish royal in the world, topping the poll from Hello! Magazine. She bears something of a resemblance to Kate but where the Duchess opts for nude LK Bennett pumps, Mary goes for Valentino's cult Rockstud stilettos. Mary has mastered the modern princess look with a swathe of floaty chiffon dresses that are saved from being banal with shoulder-baring details, dramatic capes and oversized cascading ruffles.
And rightly so, as hers is the most modern of all princess fairy tales. Shy girl meets cute foreign boy (in a pub) and boosh! She's whisked from Sydney into the world of European royalty, a world she navigates with aplomb.
You may be surprised to hear a Saudi Arabian princess rocks an edgy undercut but Deena Abdulaziz Al-Saud is also an editor of Vogue, quite literally making her fashion royalty. She is at the helm of the title's new Arabian edition and while her magazine must straddle the divide between fashion and modesty, her personal style takes direct influence from the runway. She grew up going to couture shows with her mother and opened the members-only club D'NA in Riyadh, a boutique that introduced brands like Azzedine Alaia and Mary Katrantzou to her Middle Eastern clients.
Thai princess Siriwanwaree Nareerat looks more like a street-style star than monarch. She's got the same swagger as Diana that sees her pull off a figure-hugging black dress with thigh-high split and vampy black lipstick, but also like Di she's had her fair share of dodgy puffed sleeves. But without risk, there is no reward. Safe may never make the worst-dressed list, but it'll never make an exhibition at Kensington Palace either.