Kate and Diana: A tale of two fashion icons
Can bride-to-be Kate Middleton prove a match for Diana in the fashion stakes, asks Hilary Alexander.
Prince William is not the only one in love with Catherine Middleton. Millions appear caught up in a fine romance with the royal bride-to-be and future queen-in-waiting.
Beautiful, charming, natural, poised, great legs, glossy hair, radiant complexion, good teeth, fabulous smile… what's not to like?
When it comes to presentation, there have been a few broadsides. Dame Vivienne Westwood said "Kate" needed to catch up with style, while Jemima Khan tweeted that her hips were a little too narrow to be sufficiently worthy of heir-bearing. And then there were the expected tabloid moans about her fondness for high street fashion.
Why? Such carping genuinely mystifies me. Would we feel any better about Ms Middleton were she to spend £3,000 on Balmain or Balenciaga, rather than £30 in Banana Republic? Or prefer to punish the plastic at Tom Ford rather than at TK Maxx?
When she went shopping at Whistles on the King's Road last week, she had been buying clothes for her "holiday-moon", for heaven's sake - two weeks of off-duty bliss when the couple will be able to frolic and have fun in shorts and T-shirts without the Twitter-world and his wife on "trend alert".
Overall, the girl who will walk into Westminster Abbey a commoner and come out the world's first YouTube princess has hardly put a foot wrong.
How different has been her careful, considered move into royal life next to that of her late mother-in-law. At 29, Catherine is more mature, wordly-wise and less label-coscious than the aristocratic young lady whose diamond and sapphire ring she now wears.
Despite a shaky start, thanks to an engagement suit that, on a 19-year-old, looked like it was designed for her mother, Lady Diana Spencer soon had the redoubtable Anna Harvey and her Vogue team on board. But they were her fashion orchestra; she held the baton.
Every British designer - indeed, every designer label in the world - clamoured to dress her; it was guaranteed front-page news.
She wore Bruce Oldfield, Catherine Walker, Roland Klein, Margaret Howell, Jacques Azagury, Victor Edelstein, Zandra Rhodes, and David & Elizabeth Emanuel, along with Escada, Moschino, John Galliano for Dior, Versace and Valentino - a wardrobe of catwalk kings and queens.
To Diana, Princess of Wales, clothes were both protection and pretence, words and weapons, fashion as medium and message. Remember the Christina Stambolian "vengeance dress" she wore for a gala dinner as Prince Charles gave a television interview to Jonathan Dimbleby?
She loved to shock. She also loved to experiment - hence the dressing-gown "robe" coats, gold-braided mess jackets, an androgynous tuxedo with a black bow-tie.
When she played with accessories - black polka-dot tights; a red and black ballgown by Murray Arbeid with one red and one black glove - the fashion world would go into raptures.
And, favouring everything from a beret to a boater, she single-handedly brought hats back into fashion for a new generation, both of milliners and young women.
By contrast, Catherine Middleton is - up to this point at least - more DIY than dressed to thrill. She has looked as likely to rummage through the rails at Bicester Village for a designer bargain as book a fitting at Christopher Kane or Jonathan Saunders.
As yet, she has no stylist and likes to do her own make-up, although she does concede to outside expertise when it comes to looking after her impressive, glossy mane - namely James Pryce, senior stylist at the Richard Ward Salon in Sloane Square.
Although her wardrobe is a massive vote for Britain - Topshop, Reiss, Whistles, Warehouse and Jigsaw - it is more high street than haute .
And, apart from rare sightings in Burberry, Issa, Diane von Furstenberg and Alice Temperley, the closest the royal bride-to-be appears to have come to major designer labels thus far is by rumour.
So who will design the dress? Sarah Burton, the creative director of Alexander McQueen, has been widely touted, ahead of Philippa Lepley, Sophie Cranston of Libélula, Bruce Oldfield and Jasper Conran.
Ultimately, whoever she has chosen - and a tip-off I received only yesterday claimed it was most definitely an avant garde label by the name of "St-an- Me-isa V-ssa-lo" - we can be sure the dress will be fitting, flattering and fabulous.
It will also most definitely be made of a fabric that does not crease the moment you look at it, let alone after 10 minutes spent sitting in the back of the car. That is one style lesson she has learnt from the past.
Catherine Middleton appears, above all, to be someone with a no-fuss, no-frills approach. She likes her clothes to be a few millimetres shy of being too sexy, and she likes hemlines short enough to display her gorgeous pins.
She looks great in hats - always an advantage for a young princess - and has that easy confidence of someone who is comfortable in both their own skin and the clothes they choose. She wears the clothes rather than the reverse, always the secret ingredient in determining a fashion legend.
She may not want to be one. But there is no turning back. She may not yet have a designer wardrobe to match Diana. But by Friday afternoon, she will have become the most photographed woman on the planet, whatever she wears.
A royal style icon is born.