The Duchess’s final flurry of looks as a senior royal were carefully considered and laden with meaning
If anyone still thought that attempting to glean meaning from the fashion choices made by royals was a futile exercise, then may I present exhibit A: the Duchess of Sussex’s Goodbye Royal Life wardrobe, a tour de force display which delivered glorious visual impact with oodles of clever, more subtle messaging across seven high octane looks, stretching from Thursday’s studied exercise in ‘quietly leaving the hotel’ glamour to Monday’s Commonwealth Service show of peacockery. There was to be no going gently into that good Canada life for Meghan. Instead, that Emilia Wickstead cape ensured that she effectively looked like she was actually flying off.
With its frequent flashes of vibrant colour, many long time Meghan watchers were fascinated that the duchess had ‘left it till now’ to fully embrace the Queen’s philosophy that she must be seen to be believed and wear the kind of eye-catching hues which the rest of us may find de trop. The duchess is usually more of a neutrals kind of woman, best known for her love of beige, navy and black – something she reminded us of in the Alex Eagle camel coat which she wore leaving a lunch at the Goring on Thursday afternoon.
Meghan understands plainer colours read as more modern, more Fashion, but in the end she simply couldn’t win against the proof that bright works in pictures destined for front pages and Instagram feeds. In fact, one of the best images ever taken on Harry and Meghan came on Thursday evening when Getty’s Samir Hussein captured the couple in coordinated bright blues, smiling in the rain.
Meghan’s shots of turquoise (Victoria Beckham), optic white (Topshop and Roland Mouret), red (Safiyaa) and green (Emilia Wickstead) made for several of these history-book-worthy photo opportunities, they had a ‘head held high’ kind of pride about them and, if we’re really reading into this (and we are) you might note the particular significance of the colours.
There was blue, white and red, the hues of both the UK’s and the US’s flags, and then green which any amateur colour specialist will tell you denotes new beginnings, hope and nature, so the ideal shade to pick when you’re completing your final engagement as an official senior royal and will soon be tearing off the outfit to change into your flight clothes with a hike in a Canadian forest a not-so-distant prospect. Green for go, was the traffic light analogy made by my colleague Emily Cronin. Harry’s suit had even been lined to match.
Beneath all those optimistic colours, there were hints if not of nostalgia then to high points of Meghan’s brief time as a fully signed-up member of The Firm. She accessorised the green Emilia Wickstead with a Gabriela Hearst ‘Demi’ green satin handbag (£1695) which she first carried for her one and only visit to Sussex, the county of which she is, of course, duchess. If the Sussexes have previously been criticism for giving short shrift to their namesake place, then this was a nice recall.
I wonder if Kate and Meghan had conference-called about their sartorial approach to Monday’s looks? The Duchess of Cambridge did the happier(ish) times trick, too, wearing the red Catherine Walker coat which she was last photographed in on Christmas Day 2018 when she and Meghan put on a good show of laughing and chatting, even if cracks had already emerged behind the scenes.
Even more powerful was the red Safiyaa gown which Meghan wore for the Mountbatten Festival of Music on Saturday evening, the last time we expect to see Prince Harry wearing his officer’s mess dress as Captain General of the Royal Marines. Not only did the duchess’s demi-couture gown coordinate impeccably with her husband’s uniform but it also recalled the ‘Fiji blue’ look by the same brand that she wore for a state dinner on the island during the couple’s tour of the Southern Hemisphere in 2018. Good will was at a high then, with the world eager to catch a glimpse of Meghan’s burgeoning bump in the silhouette-skimming design.
Meghan’s choices of designers were significant, too. Having attracted so much criticism that she was failing to support British brands with her wardrobe in the past, this was a showcase for UK labels of all ilks, from world famous names to small female-founded businesses. Almost all of the pieces she wore were by women – Victoria Beckham, Safiyaa (created by Daniela Karnuts) and Emilia Wickstead catered to the major moments. For a visit to the Southbank Theatre, she went off-piste with a high-low message, opting for a £29 blouse by high street behemoth Topshop and a £595 pencil skirt courtesy of her old friend Roland Mouret.
Visiting Robert Clack Upper School in Essex to mark International Women’s Day, Meghan looked more low key but still imbued her outfit with meaningful touches, wearing items by three labels founded by British women. There was the frayed-edge jacket, an invention of Clare Hornby, founder of Me + Em which seeks to create pieces which work extra hard for women’s lives by being adaptable and multi-functional – she makes trenchcoats which become jackets and long trousers which become cropped ones. Meghan carried a handbag by Rejina Pyo, the Seoul-born designer who shows at London Fashion Week and is loved for her practical yet offbeat-chic designs.
Finally, the duchess eschewed her usual preference for Manolo Blahnik and Aquazurra in favour of striding out in heels by Jennifer Chamandi, a Lebanese-British footwear designer who has patented her signature ‘needlepoint’ stiletto which features a small hole at the top of the heel to pass a strap through. ‘I’m so honoured that the Duchess of Sussex chose to wear my shoes,’ Chamandi says. ‘As an independent brand entering my 4th year in business it’s wonderful to have the support of The Duchess. I’m a busy working mother of young children, so comfort, elegance and simplicity are at the heart of my designs and I strive to create shoes that will make women feel inspired and empowered in all that they do.’ Sentiments which will surely chime with Meghan who told the school’s pupils that ‘you have a voice and you certainly have the right to speak up for what is right.’
Less obvious but nevertheless fascinating were Meghan’s forays in jewellery-signalling. Some of her blingtastic offerings were purely a statement of regal splendour, like a £9,500 diamond bracelet by Jessica McCormack, but others seemed like twinkly little messages; Sophie Lis’s £280 ‘Love’ pendant, worn for the National Theatre visit, uses diamonds, rubies and inscription to spell out the message ‘For, you see, each day I love you more, today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow’ a line from Rosemonde Gerard’s ‘The Eternal Song’. Translation: ‘I’ll love you even more Harry, when we’re finally free’.
Shop Meghan’s Royal Farewell look
Beige heels, £550, Jennifer Chamandi; Gold earrings, £65, Edge of Ember; Charm necklace, £125, Edge of Ember; Ivory bag, £295, Rejina Pyo; Red cape dress, £1, 295, Safiyaa; Wool coat, £180, COS; Tweed jacket, £99, Winser Londo; Organza blouse, £29.99, Zara
For the Dagenham school visit, Meghan accessorised with Edge of Ember’s £125 Kismet Charm necklace which symbolises a ‘double dose’ of good fortune in the form of a four leaf clover and number 7, inspired by vintage Asian coins.
The Sussexes’ flurry of farewell engagements could have been a damp squib, but instead they opted to go out on a high and show us what we’ll be missing while also setting the tone for their next chapter. I, for one, will miss the refreshing modernity Meghan brought to royal dressing and the moments of drama. However, I suspect there’s plenty more where that came from as we look forward to seeing how they navigate post-royal life.
Meghan’s top five royal style moments
- The Givenchy wedding dress, May 2018
- The caped Givenchy shift, worn for her first engagement with the Queen in Cheshire, June 2018
- ‘Fiji Blue’ Safiyaa gown, October 2018
- Oscar de la Renta ‘Birds’ dress at the Australian Geographic SSociety Awards, October 2018
- Black velvet Givenchy at the Fashion Awards, December 2018