Monday 20 August 2018

There's only one thing to talk about: the dress

Meghan's wedding gown was a triumph of simple perfection, and a controversial nod to Wallis Simpson, says Bethan Holt

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle after their wedding in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018. Andrew Matthews/Pool via REUTERS
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle after their wedding in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018. Andrew Matthews/Pool via REUTERS
Meghan Markle glances back towards her mother, Doria Ragland, as she leaves St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle with Prince Harry following their wedding. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday May 19, 2018. See PA story ROYAL Wedding. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Bethan Holt

after all that rumour and conjecture, Meghan Markle and Clare Waight Keller of Givenchy pulled off the fashion coup of the year by keeping their collaboration a complete secret from the world.

Almost every other possible name, from Ralph and Russo to Burberry, had been mooted but in the end Markle chose to work with a British woman heading up one of Paris's storied haute couture fashion houses, bringing a fresh internationalism to the royal wedding repertoire.

Although Waight Keller, like McQueen's Sarah Burton, who designed the Duchess of Cambridge's Alexander McQueen wedding gown, may be one of the most gifted British designers working today - you need only look at the directional, modern looks she's been dressing Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore in on the Cannes red carpet this week for non-wedding gown evidence - her association with Givenchy would, according to all previous royal wedding logic, have discounted her from the running.

There is an expectation that brides marrying into the royal family will support the British fashion industry by choosing a British designer at a British fashion house to create their wedding dress. But Markle, we should have known, was never going to be your average royal bride. She chose Waight Keller, Kensington Palace said, for her "elegant aesthetic, impeccable tailoring and relaxed demeanour" - ultimately she is the cool, knowing woman's choice, the choice for a woman who knows her own mind confidently enough that she is willing to break the rules if it means she'll get the dress of her dreams.

The last time that Givenchy was seen on the back of a major protagonist at a royal event was in 1972, also at St George's Chapel, at the funeral of the Duke of Windsor. His widow, Wallis Simpson, wore a double-breasted black coat and silk veil which Hubert de Givenchy had toiled all night to create for her, one his best clients. After the royal family's frostiness toward the woman - a divorced American fashion plate - who prompted King Edward to abdicate, it seems plucky of Meghan - another American divorcee whose style influence has gone stratospheric since her engagement to Harry - to choose the same design house 46 years later.

Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy and Grace Kelly were among Givenchy's other muses - the creme de la creme of the international best-dressed elite. Meghan is savvy enough to understand that this gown will seal her spot as one their modern equivalents. Diplomatically, choosing a French label as Brexit approaches is a clever and lovely display of soft power.

The dress was perfect in its simplicity and grace, a regal take on the genre of dress designed by Narciso Rodriguez for Carolyn Bessette Kennedy which had become the ultimate inspiration for brides wanting to strip back the lace and glitz. Markle had even referenced her as "ultimate goals" in an interview about bridalwear in 2016.

Any ideas of princessy frothiness were, thankfully, swerved. Instead of throwing beads at the problem, as some of the other contenders may have been wont to do, Waight Keller honed and perfected the simplest structural elements - the material and silhouette - to create a grown-up dress of breathtaking elegance. Not since Princess Margaret married in a Norman Hartnell design in 1960 has a royal wedding dress been so confident in its minimalism - even then, the skirt was crafted in 30 metres of airy silk organza, proving that when detailing is scant, the essential elements must be utterly precise.

Chapel protocol was followed with the dress's bracelet-length sleeves, but the bateau neckline was the chicest way to offer a hint of bare flesh. The cut nods to one of Hubert de Givenchy's signature flourishes, giving the look ballerina-ish poise a la Hepburn. The boat neck looked as sophisticated today as it does in images from the first years of the Givenchy maison in the Fifties and Sixties.

If the dress was a statement of Meghan's intention to rewrite unspoken style rules, then the veil was a beautifully executed nod to the international role she expects to take on in her work with her new husband, but it also gave a gauzy sense of romance as she ascended the steps of the chapel.

The five-metre, silk tulle design is embroidered with 55 flowers; 53 representing each country of the Commonwealth plus wintersweet, which grows in the grounds of Kensington Palace in front of Nottingham Cottage, and the California poppy, a nod to Meghan's US state of birth. This detail echoes those seen in the queen's coronation gown which included botanical references to New Zealand, India, South Africa and Pakistan, among others.

Timeless, confident and cool, Meghan Markle's wedding gown was more of a triumph than we dared imagine. Here's hoping she and Waight Keller will be keeping up their collaboration for years to come.

Sunday Independent

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