Kate Middleton: putting the regal into Reiss
Demand for the 'Shola' dress soared after the Duchess wore it to meet the Obamas last week. Genevieve Fox examines the 'Kate effect' on the high-street brand.
Until last week, mention of sholas at dinner parties would prompt sighs of longing and reminiscences about glorious Kerala and its lush tropical forests. Now, those in the know think only of the Duchess of Cambridge in the Reiss Shola dress. After she wore it to meet Barack and Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace last week, the structured shift sold out nationwide within hours.
When I went into Reiss's Candy Brother-designed flagship store behind Selfridges and asked, sotto voce, when the next Shola shipment was coming in, the sales assistant looked at me kindly. "Soon," she said soothingly. "Maybe mid-June. Look, it's best if you join the waiting list. I've lost count of how many requests we've had." Then, in an attempt to take the sting out of my desire, she added: "What about this dress instead? It's very Kate."
But Copycat Kates won't be fobbed off. The Duchess teamed the nude dress, with its curve-loving panelled skirt front, square neckline and fetching empire waistband, with a Seychelles tan, a pair of Bella black stilettos from LK Bennett and a black clutch, the Maud, by Anya Hindmarch Bespoke. She looked sharp, sassy and youthfully elegant. Now it's our turn.
If, like me, you are too low down on the waiting list to stand a chance of bagging a Shola - only a further 300 to 400 are being made - check out eBay: the dress is yours at £495 and counting.
Otherwise, it's the Tesco trolley dash. The store is rushing out a copycat version in their Florence & Fred range for £30, hitting the aisles on June 13. A classier ruse is to hire the real thing from labellease.com, the designer dress hire agency (prices from £69 for three nights; available from 4 June). Think of the joy at being able, hand on heart, to say "Yes" to any suspicious member of the sisterhood who quips: "Is that really a Shola?"
Dear old Kate. You've got to hand it to her for making us yearn for what is actually within our grasp. She first put the regal into Reiss when she stepped out in its Olivia fitted flare coat a few seasons ago. The brand, which started life as a menswear label in 1971 from a shop in the City of London and branched out into womenswear in 2000, combines affordable luxury with the kind of tailoring that is rare on the high street. Its look is a little bit glam, and just the right side of cautious: its pieces have got attitude. David Reiss, owner and founder of the high-street chain, is an admirer of Armani; that influence is evident in the women's evening collection, some of which is positively steamy.
"We're a design-led, iconic, modern, sexy label," says Reiss brand director Andy Burling. "We are about attention to detail. Confidence. We acknowledge trends, but we are not enslaved to them. Our look is very clean, and sharper than any given trend. So, if the trend is colour, ours might not be as 'out there'."
The 20-strong design team scours international markets for inspiration, just as the major fashion houses do. "We act and think as a luxury brand, and design that way, too," says Burling, who worked at Stella McCartney for seven years before joining Reiss. "Our large in-house team travels the world, just like they do at Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney."
By shopping at Reiss, says Burling, the Duchess has reinforced the fact that she is a regular girl. "She doesn't make appointments" and gets "no special treatment", braving the changing rooms just like the rest of us. And brace yourself, girls, because Kate has bought various pieces from Reiss she has yet to be seen in.
For Grazia 's style director Paula Reed, Kate's choice of a constructed shift was "very Victoria Beckham or Roland Mouret" - but Reed hopes that the Duchess will take a leaf out of Michelle O's book and move beyond the high street to some of our homegrown designers when she visits Canada and the US at the end of the month.
"Our British designers are a cottage industry, and they could do with all the help they can get. Kate could be their trade ambassador. Michelle did it when she turned up at the Inaugural Ball in Jason Wu - a designer no one had ever heard of. Ever since, she has worked her way through America's up-and-coming designers. She's got the youth, figure and beauty to carry off something more daring."
Wall Street Journal style columnist Tina Gaudoin warns not to expect the Duchess in full designer kit any time soon. "The Reiss dress was perfectly pitched. Like her mother-in-law before her, she knows that fashion is a metaphor for one's state of mind. Her choice illustrates her adroitness at reading social and politically charged situations.
"Britain has the best high street in the world. No one exemplifies the strength of that better than the Duchess of Cambridge."