Wednesday, April 16, 2014

An Over-simplified Guide to the Commonwealth...and Why it Matters to the Royal Tour

The British Commonwealth has a long and rather complicated history and explanations can get a little convoluted. In an effort to make this as painless as possible, I will try and keep this as general as I can. That being said, the vast inter-web is at your disposal should the spirit move you to more rigorous study on the topic. I present, in entirely untechnical terms, an oversimplified explanation of the Commonwealth. 

The current Commonwealth of Nations is primarily made up of countries that formally constituted the British Empire, which spanned more of the globe than any other empire in history. Yes, they had those Romans beat. The collapse of the Empire, as is often the case in these political situations, was over time and had many contributing factors. For our purposes we will simply say, it fell apart. But, a "Commonwealth of Nations," came out of it. Again, this was complicated and there have been stages and changes since it was originally conceived. What is the situation today?

53 Commonwealth Nations

  • The Head of the Commonwealth is Elizabeth II. "There is no maximum fixed term for the Head of the Commonwealth. The choice of successive Heads will be made collectively by Commonwealth leaders."  Translation: Charles isn't guaranteed this position. He has to be elected! He must be chosen! 
  • 16 of the 53 Commonwealth Nations are colloquially known as Commonwealth Realms, that is they recognize Elizabeth II as their constitutional monarch.  This is a step-up from the last. She is the "Queen" of the country.  Canada, Australia, and New Zealand remain in this category. When in Canada, the royals are the "Canadian Royal Family," they have a royal standard in New Zealand, Elizabeth II can be styled: "Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth."

For our argument, there are two things to keep in mind as separate and important: Head of the Commonwealth and constitutional monarch. Ideally, the British Royal Family would love to stay both. It's a changed world though, and each of these nations is an independent and equal member of the Commonwealth. These countries span the globe, cross cultures and sometimes languages. There are a lot of different people and opinions, so staying Head of the Commonwealth and remaining constitutional monarch is going to be a struggle as time moves forward.

The Queen is greatly respected. She remains the steady rock of a past generation, but the world has changed massively since she ascended to the throne in the 50's. The likelihood that she would be replaced as Head or ousted as monarch is essentially nil. But, when she dies that is when the shake up may come. Attitudes have changed toward all sorts of things and when she dies not everyone is going to want to pass the status quo to Charles--either has Head of the Commonwealth, or an even tougher sell, as constitutional monarch in the 16 countries that still acknowledge the BRF.

So, when I say there are strong republican movements, these are the people who get up and say, why in 2014 are we still acknowledging some person half a world away as our constitutional monarch? Why do we have a royal family at all? This is a relic of the past! Modernization! (You see where the battle cry goes....)

Charles has (essentially) been running for election to Head of the Commonwealth for a while now. He meets with the heads of these governments, attends the Commonwealth meetings, yadayadayada. He has mixed reviews with the public. A lot of people see him as stuffy and a hold-over from another time and mental attitude. And, with some, he also still carries battle scars from his marriage to Diana. Let's just say, he doesn't inspire mass hysteria of excitement. 

But, someone in the royal family does... Hello, William and Kate, you global superstars! Oh yes, and now Mr. Grumpy-pants. They have a job. They have a tasked mission: save the monarchy.

When the entire world was caught up in their fairytale romance and media frenzy was at its zenith over the royal wedding, what did William and Kate do? They departed almost immediately to Canada for a coast-to-coast tour. They took their gorgeous faces, their loved-up, honeymooning-selves, and they charmed their way through Canada. (And then they popped down to LA, because the rebellious colonies needed the crumbs from the table. :))

What did they do after they had their adorable little George? They departed for Australia and New Zealand and they are working their magic again, with the help of their tiny, and primarily unwitting,  accomplice. As Vogue titles him, "George, the republican nemesis in nappies."

Was their a method to their madness? Let me think... yes! Canada, at 3.855 million square miles, is the largest nation in the Commonwealth! Australia--a continent in its own right--trails only slightly at 2.97 million square miles! Canada's economy is the 11th largest in the world by GDP followed immediately by Australia at 12! These are pretty impressive countries. It's a nice little jewel in your crown to have them acknowledging you as constitutional monarch. 

In conclusion, is this political? Absolutely! That isn't to say they are visiting under false pretenses or trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. Nor am I detracting from the historical significance, but this is two-fold. They are visiting their primary countries, the countries most likely to say, "Thanks, your majesty, but we are all grown-up and modern now" and saying, "Hey. We're cool. We're fun. We get you. Stick around and we'll be cool together." 

This could be the monarchy's lifeline. Charles may not be able to cut it in the hip culture of today, but these two have a whole new approach to the monarchy and what it means to be royal. They present to  the critical generation a cogent understanding of the modern monarchy. The Cambridges present the future and it looks bright... 

Down Under Day 10: Sunny Touchdown in Sydney as Kate Dazzles in Roksanda Ilincic

While Wellington's rain was bemoaning the royal departure, Sydney's Mother Nature spread the red carpet with warm sunshine, dancing water, and clear skies.

 The reporters and photographers gathered by the tarmac:

TV cameras prepared near the Sydney Opera House where the royal family was due to go after they touched down.

Enthusiastic crowds lined the streets:

To my delight, Kate carried George off the plane again. He seemed a little taken aback by all the sunshine, and squeezed his eyes closed as he ducked his head down against the glare.

It has been asked why Kate and William hold George face forward the way they do. While I think it is partially due to maximizing visibility to the public, it primarily seems to be his preference. I think the Pilates his mom did while pregnant rubbed off on him. His standard mode of deplaning is to sit on Kate's hip and twist around, right arm thrown across her bodice, and gaze out toward the action. From videos he seems to get quite wriggly and seems very interested to watch all his surroundings. It is the Prince's Pose:

George seemed to disapprove of something, possibly the blinding sun he had just done battle with:

But, a prince must be gracious no matter the difficulties he encounters, and so he undertook his ceremonial duties with equanimity, and greeted his fans:

"But, I still love you the most!"

George took toys from his Plunket playmates and now he wants mummy's flowers. George would have really been promising as an heir to the throne in the middle ages. Around, I don't know, 1421? He would have been the kid for the job.

Kate chose an eye-catching Roksanda Illicic in yellow for her Australian debut. Apparently, the national colors of Australia are green and gold, so this was not just a bold fashion statement, but a nod to her host country. Kate has worn Roksanda Ilincic before. She wore this delicate dress in the palest lavender when deplaning at LAX...

And then recycled with stunning success at a reception at the Royal Academy in 2012:

Interestingly, today's dress was not in that style at all, instead it hearkened strongly back to many of her choices early in the 2011 tour in Canada. The sleeve length, structured sheath, and skirt slit all brought to mind Catherine Walker and several Erdems, notably this dress:

Sydney's Roksanda Ilincic frock had added interest with subtle color blocking along the side of the skirt and on the underside of the sleeves. I can tell you as a bit of a shopper, if you don't already know, that this is a very, very prevalent style. I love it. The dress is classic Kate, simple, simple, with geometric additions that add depth, and in this instance, some fun! It does seem to be bespoke, as IDed by Perth Fashions, and based on this original piece on Matches. If I may say so, Kate has made some significant improvements, not limited to the very full sleeves being taken in:

It was old-home week for the accessories. Kate pulled out her world famous and much-beloved LK Bennett Sledge pumps, LK Bennett's Natalie clutch, the oft-seen Annoushka pearl drop earrings, and the Mappin & Webb necklace she has worn so much during this tour.

Here, a view of the back of the dress and the exposed zipper. I love it!

The couple passed George to Nanny Maria and then headed to Sydney Opera House for a welcome reception. I know it was unreasonable to hope, but I wanted to see more of George! Mr. Grumpy-pants had gone down for a nap, I suspect. Meanwhile, Wills and Kate were greeted a second time by the Governor and her husband before they climbed steps along the side of the Opera House and got a beautiful view of the harbor. This is really Kate's first proper visit, and it seems William is anxious to introduce her to the country!

To the crowds disappointment, they did not undertake an impromptu walkabout, but headed straight in to the scheduled program, where among other things, George was gifted a small cricket bat. I wonder if William is commenting on Kate's cricket skills here...

Standing out in yellow on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, waving to the cheering crowds lining the streets below, they cut pretty regal figures. Some photos will go down in history with a little more prominence than others, but I think these shots will be ones for the history books. 

Mr. Security is still close this guy:

William and Kate took a boat to Admiralty House, the Sydney home of the Governor-General of Australia, where they will be staying.

George perked up pretty well when presented with more gifts. Hey, everyone has a price... This stuffed animal is a wombat, a native animal of Australia. William has said in an interview that when he was small, his mother gave him the nickname "Wombat" after a visit to Australia. Indeed, I only associate the word "Wombat" with William. Clearly wasn't paying attention to "animals around the world" class.

Later today--which is tomorrow in Australia--the royal couple will undertake a full day of engagements. So far, this tour is off to a great start...

Apologies for being tardy. No wrap-up today, since I think we covered most everything. See you in a bit! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Farewell to New Zealand! Kate Pulls a Royal Recycle at Police College

Even nature cried to say goodbye to Kate. It was rainy, rainy today as William and Kate undertook their last few engagements in Wellington, New Zealand before boarding a flight to Australia. In this first glimpse we had on the live feed, blurred by the mist of the rain, it seemed this "sparkly" suit was a more homogeneous fabric, but with a little close-up it was quickly apparent that she was recycling her Rebecca Taylor from event at Goldsmith Hall to commemorate the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race to the South Pole.

The couple were visiting the Royal New Zealand Police College. The choir sang while William and Kate placed a wreath and took a brief moment of silence. 

Kate was wearing her hair in a half-do, very similar to what she wore in Christchurch.

The gifts just keep piling up. 

The two were shown around some of the facilities where demonstrations of various police techniques were underway. 

Then it was back into the rain:

There was a surprise in the truck:


And that little puppy got his fur all over that Rebecca Taylor, but it was a cute photo-op.

Dog-lover that she is, Kate seemed absolutely delighted:

If you are wondering the question I am, put your mind at rest. After they deposited the little darlings back in their box, hand sanitizer and towels had been thoughtfully placed on a nearby table:

It isn't that I don't like animals!

 The two greeted guests as they made their way toward the car:

Gifts for George:

Then it was off to Civic Square for a farewell walk-about...

...where the "self-proclaimed" Duke of Wellington waited, looking might I add, like he had had a bit before toddling over:

Duchess-Spotter, who has been at the airport almost every morning to bring us breaking news on Kate's fashion, was on hand at the square to finally get her just reward. And she collected. She got to shake William's hand and got some lovely shots of the beautiful Kate. I know I speak for all the Kate bloggers and fans when I say how thankful we are that you were faithful to the "job." It gave us all head-starts on the ID work and on the blogging and it made the week so much more fun!

Despite the blurry photo, I was amused by the kid who is almost cracking is back to grab a selfie.

Until, I saw this and realized, if they work out, they can be cool: (Snap from her day in Christchurch...obviously.)

While the couple were finishing their engagements, the plane was loading up:

Kate and William waved to crowds lined along the overpass, before sliding into their car and being whisked away:

William must have heard some of your preferences, because he carried baby George to the plane and up the stairs.

This was the second New Zealand designer that Kate wore, the first being Emilia Wickstead, and just like the first, this was a recycle.  I think there was a sense from some of letdown. I think both these wears were fine and I think there might be a multitude of reasons why Kate chose the pieces she did. 

First, Kate is a member of the British Royal Family and since New Zealand remains part of the commonwealth, for now, she is a New Zealand royal as well. Since she wears both Emilia Wickstead and Rebecca Taylor in the UK, perhaps she was attempting to highlight this continuity. To bridge the gap between these two nations and remind everyone that some staples in her wardrobe are also New Zealand designers. Highlighting, she wears NZ not just for a lark on tour, but often. So, there could be a sense of unity to it.

Kate in Emilia Wickstead in 2013

The second reason could rest in the country itself. Kate has been rather savaged in the media since the birth of Prince George. No sooner had a month passed than people were complaining she wasn't working enough, wondering why she didn't get back to the job--of course now we learn by her own admission that those first five months were quite difficult. Of course, regular royal watchers knew that from watching her at her few engagements. There was a haggard appearance to the princess who is usually so ebullient and chirpy. Then, she was heavily criticized for both her annual vacation to Mustique, as well as the romantic get-away she snuck in with William a few weeks before the tour.

What does this have to do with anything? One of the reasons the Cambridges are Down Under is to shore up support for two countries with very strong republican movements. There is much talk that Australia and New Zealand will not remain in the Commonwealth after the Queen's death. Kate has to be politic in every choice she makes as a royal. She recycled multiple times on this tour; she is obviously trying to economize where she can. The Emilia Wickstead seems to be a genuinely new piece, despite the identical design, and this suit hasn't seen much of the spotlight at all, frankly, and certainly not for a while.  I think she is keenly aware of the tightrope she walks and this was a carefully planned wardrobe on multiple levels.

Of course, there are the other factors such as color and style, which no doubt only sweetened the choice. It was blue and nicely complemented the uniforms at the police academy, and it is a farewell, so it doesn't seem necessary to wear something new and stunning. She will now change to something new and--hopefully--quite arresting for her entrance in Sydney.

Ultimately, I think it was a thoughtful and reasonable recycle and I personally approve this suit very much. I liked it fine when she first wore it, but this wear struck me. She looked slimmer and more beautiful than ever. Most of all, I would like to say that Kate is just shining these past few days. The whole tour, thus far, actually. She is absolutely, luminously beautiful. I am so struck by how stunning she has been! Kate certainly has brought her A-game.

See the video of William, Kate, and George boarding their plane in Wellington for their flight to Sydney here.

That is it for New Zealand!  See you later for their touch down Sydney, Australia.

George, you unimpressed princeling, you are just begging to make the internet rounds as a viral meme with these faces.