Royal Wedding: Kate Middleton’s wedding dress designer…

by Sasha Wilkins on November 25, 2010 · 32 comments

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There’s an enormous amount of debate, especially here in America, about which dress designer will make Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, with some frankly bizarre names being thrown into the ring. That’s partly because of the ludicrous betting lists published by bookmakers Paddy Power and William Hill, which seem to have been composed by throwing a dart at a list of fashion designers.

Whilst I normally avoid celebrity on LLG like the plague, as a fashion editor of course I have an opinion on which designer I think will make her dress. Having read an astonishing amount of drivel on the subject – everyone seems to be considering potential designers in a vacuum, rather than with their ability to design the very specific requirements of the dress, whilst still making it look wonderful, – here’s my exegesis, hopefully drivel-free.

Most of the bookies’ names can be discounted. Obviously the designer will be designing in Great Britain and Northern Ireland for a British label. So no Chanel, Armani or Vera Wang, and no John Galliano for Christian Dior. I wonder too whether an emphasis on British-ness will rule out the designer of her engagement dress, Brazilian Daniela Helayel of Issa, and that’s before we consider that relaxed, sexy Issa is hardly a go to label for formal wedding dresses. (Although Issa do occasionally produce bespoke bridal, it’s still in the flowing mode that is not right for a cathedral wedding.)

I also don’t think there’s much chance of a designer who has personal celebrity being chosen, however brilliant they are, as clearly the designer mustn’t overshadow the dress. That would rule out Victoria Beckham, Stella McCartney or Vivienne Westwood. I think we can discount Anouska Hempel (Lady Weinberg), too in this section (her early ‘acting’ career…) I also would remove any overtly successful or commercial house. So no Christopher Bailey.

We all understand why Elizabeth Emmanuel would be on the bookies’ list – but at 6-1, really? I think the Diana connection rules out the charming Bruce Oldfield too. I don’t see much chance of Kate choosing the Queen’s dressmaker Stewart Parvin either: his designs seem too old, too formal for her. Above all, one hopes Kate will want to forge her own fashion path, & that means not using dressmakers already strongly connected to the royal family, past or present,.

Although some London Fashion Week names have been thrown into the ring, (wouldn’t an Erdem dress be glorious?), over the last twenty years or so, British royal brides have all gone for dresses from either specialist bridal houses or very experienced, safe couture designers, who understand exactly what is required from a formal wedding dress that will be photographed & filmed from every conceivable angle, which must be uncrushable (all that sitting in carriages), demure (no billowing bosoms), and won’t disappear in the echoing spaces of Westminster Abbey.

Catherine Walker: Lady Helen Taylor ( Lady Helen Windsor)
Jasper Conran: Lady Sarah Chatto (Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones)
Lindka Cierach: The Duchess of York (Sarah Ferguson)
Robinson Valentine: The Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla Parker Bowles)
Samantha Shaw: The Countess of Wessex (Sophie Rhys-Jones)
Sassi Holford: Autumn Philips (wife of Mark Philips, the son of Princess Anne)

Of these, the amazing Catherine Walker died earlier this year, Lindka Cierach’s clientele is too old, I doubt any bride would choose her future step-mother-in-law’s designers (Robinson Valentine), and Samantha Shaw and Sassi Holford could be in with a chance, but again I hope that Kate will want to go her own way.

Amongst other names in the press, the design signatures of Amanda Wakeley, Maria Grachvogel and Alice Temperley, like that of Daniela Helayel, seem too unstructured for this particular dress.

It also depends on who Kate Middleton goes to for fashion advice, who will be her Anna Harvey (the Vogue editor who turned around Diana, Princess of Wales’ wardrobe). Insiders are whispering about her future step-sister-in-law, Sara Buys, wife of the Duchess of Cornwall’s son Tom Parker-Bowles, who works for British Harper’s Bazaar, and who was married in a beautiful Alexander McQueen dress. The house’s wedding dresses would be a wonderful choice, suffused as they are with British heritage, but its history may prove be too controversial for the world stage. (RIP Mr. McQueen.)

Names I would throw into the mix are Jenny Packham, Phillipa Lepley, Ritva Westenius, Suzanne Neville and Caroline Castigliano, all of whom have thriving wedding businesses.  (Although maybe Jenny Packham & Suzanne Neville’s celebrity clientele rules them out.) The wedding market is not my area of speciality (for that you need to speak to Deborah Joseph on Conde Nast’s Brides), but it’s clear there are some amazing wedding couture designers out there.

So, my betting money is on a specialist wedding dress designer, who has both the technical skills and an understanding of how to make a dress that can match up to the pomp and ceremony of the occasion, and who has no celebrity connections, newsworthy personal background or household name commercial business to be exploited: Philippa Lepley, the current favourite, maybe, or more likely, a name no one has heard of outside of the bridal industry.

Amongst the household names, I’d love to see what Jasper Conran would do, as he makes glorious, glorious wedding dresses, and although he doesn’t hit all the criteria above, he seems to rise above it all. He is also quintessentially English. He produced this book, after all.

My outsider money is on Alexander McQueen, but I suspect our future queen is, at the moment, too fashion-shy for such a choice. I hope that changes.

Photo: Lady Sarah Chatto (Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones) in Jasper Conran

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