Tuesday 18 September 2018

Meet the designer who overcame paralysis to design handbag worn by Meghan Markle in Belfast

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry arrive for a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where they are attending an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry arrive for a visit to the Eikon Exhibition Centre in Lisburn where they are attending an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space

Caroline Leaper

When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry arrived in Belfast on Friday, making their first official visit to Northern Ireland, there were several things to note about the soon-to-be-Duchess’s outfit.

Firstly, the choice of colours; her Greta Constantine skirt was in a patriotic emerald green, and her Mackage coat in a spring-ready pastel pink. Secondly, her Victoria Beckham jumper; Beckham is thought to now be a personal friend of Ms Markle’s and is a name in the running (albeit at the back of the pack of pacemakers) to perhaps design the dress.

Britain's Prince Harry and US actress and fiancee of Britain's Prince Harry Meghan Markle arrive at the Eikon Centre in Lisburn, on March 23, 2018, to attend an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / ARTHUR EDWARDSARTHUR EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Prince Harry and US actress and fiancee of Britain's Prince Harry Meghan Markle arrive at the Eikon Centre in Lisburn, on March 23, 2018, to attend an event to mark the second year of youth-led peace-building initiative Amazing the Space. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / ARTHUR EDWARDSARTHUR EDWARDS/AFP/Getty Images

But the biggest talking point that Markle wanted us to be aware of today was her handbag. She made sure it was unmissable, holding it front and centre in almost every photo as she and Harry arrived in Lisburn, and there is, naturally, a story behind it.

The bag is a brand new, not-yet-available-to-buy Bloomsbury case, from British brand Charlotte Elizabeth. It can be worn as a satchel or carried by the top-handle, Markle-style.

Charlotte Elizabeth Jones, a 23-year-old from Hertfordshire, is the designer of her namesake label (it is by pure coincidence that she shares a name with Princess Charlotte of Cambridge), which she launched in 2016 with support from The Prince’s Trust.

In 2014, when she was 19, Charlotte had attended a four-day course in entrepreneurship run by the organisation (which is headed up by Markle’s father-in-law to-be, Prince Charles) and had learned how to set up a fashion business. She had left school at the age of 16 due to heart complications, and this course gave her the valuable skills she needed to set up shop, however two weeks after the training, she suddenly became paralysed.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are presented with a posey by Lleyton Jackson 6 and Rosie Jackson 4
Photo credit should read: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are presented with a posey by Lleyton Jackson 6 and Rosie Jackson 4 Photo credit should read: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

“I had a heart operation in 2012 and I had to leave school at 16 because of it,” Jones previously told The Telegraph. “I couldn't get A Levels or go to uni, and it was hard to find employment because of my physical health conditions.”

"I suddenly just collapsed," she recalled of the day her situation worsened in June 2014. "I had had flu-like symptoms for nine months before, but had been told everything was fine. I had a heart arrhythmia that was never supposed to come back after my heart operation, so it was a freak episode. I collapsed and basically lost all muscle ability within seconds.”

Charlotte Elizabeth Jones with her new-edition Bloomsbury bag, available to pre-order for £175 from charlottelizabeth.com. PIC: The Telegraph
Charlotte Elizabeth Jones with her new-edition Bloomsbury bag, available to pre-order for £175 from charlottelizabeth.com. PIC: The Telegraph

Jones was paralysed for months before making a recovery and was able to start gradually working on her brand again.

"Because I lost the ability to use my hands and muscles, I couldn't draw, so I was trying but it was very childlike," she said of her initial attempts. "My sister's boyfriend is a designer so he drew more specialised sketches so people would know how to make them."

Jones has done a phenomenal job of starting her label - something that many recovering from such difficulties with their health might not have attempted - and with support from The Prince’s Trust, she has developed her product line, made with leathers sourced at a British tannery, and stitched in Buckinghamshire.

“I had such a clear a vision of what I wanted it to be,” she says of her design ethos. “Very clean cut, minimal and inspired by classic 50s handbags, when it was an experience to have a handbag."

Jones has had a long journey to get to this point and, as Markle’s endorsement today will undoubtedly launch her label into a different league, it feels like a reward that was worth the wait. Her thoughts on it all? Simply, “It is wonderful.”

Read more: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry touch down in Northern Ireland in surprise visit 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle draw huge crowds as they visit Belfast pub while honeymoon speculation mounts  

Telegraph.co.uk

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