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Exclusive 15% Off Catherine Zoraida Earrings for FBTB Readers

Friday, March 27, 2020

Catherine Zoraida's team reached out to me this week and asked if I thought you all would be interested in a little discount on one of Kate's pieces to brighten the weekend after all this coronavirus craziness.  Obviously I said "yes, please!" I was told to pick which piece to feature for the discount code.  All three of Kate's earrings from Catherine Zoraida are beautiful and much loved, and I didn't know which one you all would prefer.  But, I had to make a choice and make a choice I did. You might be able to guess which pair I picked to get the discount, but read to the end to find out and get the code!  Let's refresh our memories really quickly on all three of Kate's Catherine Zoraida earrings.  

Catherine Zoraida has been a steady staple in Kate's closet since almost the very start of her royal life. The Duchess only has four pieces from Zoraida, yet the brand is well-known and loved by royal fashion fans because Kate consistently wears her pieces to events both large and small, and has throughout her years in the spotlight. 

In 2012, Kate debuted Catherine Zoraida's Double-Leaf earrings on the royal visit to South East Asia.  She paired the earrings with the beautiful gold "Spread Your Wings" scale bracelet.  We haven't seen the bracelet since, but Kate continued to wear her Double-Leaf earrings on that trip, again at home in the U.K., and then featured them heavily while on tour Down Under in 2014.

In 2014, William and Kate (and Harry!) attended the Rugby World Cup in London. Eagle-eyed fans spotted that the Duchess was sporting new earrings.  They were quickly ID'd as Catherine Zoraida's Fern Hoop earrings. I fell in love with them, and they have been some of my favorite earrings in her collection since. 

Kate loves them, too, wearing them to a wide variety of events like evening fundraisers, sunny afternoons at sporting events, and private days at the polo field, as well as wearing them often to everyday public engagements. 

Finally, just last month, Kate debuted a new pair of golden leaf earrings while in Ireland to launch her 5 Big Questions survey.  They were Catherine Zoraida's brand new Fern Leaf earrings.  These are part of the same collection as Kate's Fern Hoop earrings.  She loves her leaf-themed jewelry, doesn't she?  I think these became instant fan favorites, too.  They are large and distinctive without being overwhelming and I suspect these will get a lot of wear with Kate. 

So, I love all three of these pairs of earrings, but you probably know that I chose the Fern Hoops to get the discount code. Given how much Kate is loving the fern theme right now, I thought one of those would be better than the Double-Leaf earrings, and between the Fern Hoops and the newly debuted Fern earrings I think the hoops are probably a little more versatile and more broadly appealing. They can be dressed up or down, as Kate has so beautifully demonstrated, and at the end of the day...I love them, so I hoped most of you would, too. 

The 15% off code is: FBTB15 and is valid on the Fern Hoops in gold or silver plate. The code is good through Monday, March 30th. 

This is an ad. I think the product is quite good, and I could spend some time persuading you my opinion is unbiased, but instead I will just point to Kate the Great's obvious endorsement. :) 

Kate & Meghan in Jewel Colors for Commonwealth Service

Monday, March 9, 2020

Today was the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, but I think most royal watchers were simply focused on the fact that, for good or ill, it was Harry and Meghan's final public appearance as royals.  The afternoon event was fraught with awkwardness as the Cambridges, who have been enjoying stratospheric good press of late, barely interacted with the Sussexes, who have been dividing public opinion and garnering mixed reviews. I think a discussion about the Sussexes' final week will have to wait for another time, but let's quickly run through the fashion tonight, at least. 

Kate recycled the Catherine Walker she debuted for the Christmas walk at Sandringham in 2018.  I know a lot of people loved this. I loved it for the Sandringham Christmas walk, but... I just didn't love it today.  The coat is exquisite in motion, and from the back it is particularly beautiful.  I think I don't love the very buttoned up collar, double-breasted closure, and the velvet at the cuffs. It is too heavy for March (it was also 70 degrees where I am today, so it felt especially incongruous), bust mostly I am tired of this style.  Catherine Walker has gotten really stale for me. There are so many designs that Kate could be wearing (or that CW could be designing) and this fit-n-flare, well, it has become cookie-cutter.  Kate needs to give it a rest for at least a year.  She still has a marvelous figure and she should be debuting flashier ensembles. 

I almost never agree with the theory that Kate chooses an ensemble (for any given event, almost) with the intent to downplay or "not outshine" something or someone. That is often floated in royal-watching discussion circles, and you can bet almost without fail that whether I say it or not, I disagree. Today is an exception. I do think that Kate might have decided to play today low-key and quite traditional knowing that Meghan would be pulling out all the stops, and if that was her thought, it was a smart move. 

Kate did a great job switching the look up, which is something I love to see in a recycle.  On the debut, she wore her hair down with a Jane Taylor hatband (which was gorgeous).  Today, she obviously wore her hair up with a new hat by Sally-Ann Provan that was perfectly coordinated to her gloves, Prada clutch, and Gianvito Rossi pumps. So, she gets major props for a fabulous recycle.  Finally, she wore Mouawad earrings, which added real pizazz and excitement, given the provenance of the pieces.  So, all told, Kate switched the look up and pulled the ensemble together like the master she is at this, but I just am not excited about the coat in this context.  

Meghan continued her succession of smash hits with a custom piece by Emilia Wickstead in a striking emerald green.  I know there have been complaints about the fit, but I loved this ensemble.  I think there is a spectrum of "tightness" when it comes to clothes.  I fall on the tighter end of the spectrum--I like tight. That's why I like almost all of Kate's skinnies, etc.  As the French would say, il y a des limites, which I think we did hit with the Victoria Beckham from the other night (much as I loved it in every other respect), but for me, today's dress was not too tight. It was form fitting, but I thought she looked dramatic and striking.  Meghan wore a matching William Chambers hat, carried a Gabriellla Hurst bag, and was sporting a Aquazurra pumps. 

All the Times Kate Middleton Wore the Reiss Olivia Coat

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Day 2 in Ireland dawned with a major surprise for fashion fans.  The Duchess of Cambridge arrived at the National Centre for Youth Mental Health in Dublin wearing the Reiss coat she made famous as Kate Middleton back in the early 2000s. 

I think the earliest sighting of this coat was on November 17, 2007, in London, when Kate was pictured wearing it for a night out clubbing to celebrate Peter Phillips' birthday.

She wore it again a few short months later to celebrate her own birthday (her 26th!) at Kitts nightclub.

Of course, the coat's most famous wear is, without a doubt, when she wore it to William's graduation from flight school at RAF Cranwell on April 11, 2008.  The event was a red letter day with Prince Charles present to pin William's wings, and the media snapping furiously as Kate made a rare appearance at an official/family event.  The royal-girlfriend was glowing as she accompanied her prince on his big day and that picture was used again, and again, and again, over the ensuing years of the couple's courtship. 

Kate wore the coat again to the annual carol concert at St. Luke's in aid of the Henry van Straubenzee Memorial Fund on December 1, 2009. 

The coat made another important appearance on the evening of November 16, 2010, (almost two years exactly to the day of its original debut) when Kate was given a private tour of Westminster Abbey as she began to plan her royal wedding to Prince William. 

We haven't seen the coat since...until today.  I am very surprised to see this coat again, but absolutely delighted.  It has aged really well.  For the past six to nine months, Kate has been recycling a lot of pieces form 2011-2012.  Some pieces still look as stunning as the day she debuted them, but others seem a little out of place almost a decade down the road (the turquoise JP 😞).  This coat remains a massive winner.  I love that she wore it with very slim black skinnies and black booties, which is very reminiscent of the black stockings and knee-high suede boots she was so famous for back in the day.  Talk about a shot of nostalgia to start the morning off?  Also, I feel a little old... 

Under the coat, Kate was wearing a polka dot blouse from Equipment (above video) and she was again nodding to her host country with delicate gold shamrock earrings from Daniella Draper. That theme-dressing. ;)

The couple have changed to country clothes, and I will cover that later after I get some real work done... 

Wills & Kate's Day 1 in Dublin

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Oh Kate. I'll tell ya, you can't keep that theme-dressing girl down.  Kate the Great arrived in the Republic of Ireland today for a three-day tour wearing green (natch), but not just a subtle forest green, but a variety of shamrock shades. I assume her love of theme dressing stems from the same genes that spurred Carole's fabulous party-planning creativity. William had a subtle touch of green in his tie, but Kate was all in.  There is nothing subtle about this ensemble and I am so ready for St. Patrick's Day now. 

The couple are visiting the Republic of Ireland (distinguished from Northern Ireland, of course). It is always quite special for members of the BRF to visit Ireland because of the ugly and still relatively raw and recent history.  In the early days of my interest in the royals my father would often shake his head and wonder why, with all our Irish blood, I was drawn to follow British royals. (I have since converted him, and he is a staunch Cambridge fan) These types of visits are always nice symbols of healing, in addition to strengthening future partnership, particularly post-Brexit.  

To the fashion... there is good news about this ensemble and bad news.  The good news is the Catherine Walker coat, which was exquisite. I am loving these longer coats.  She kicked off the year with that bespoke McQueen in an even longer length, but this shares the same sophistication of that longer hemline and it gives her a beautiful lean silhouette.  I think the coat is drop-dead gorgeous. It fits her like a glove, has stunning lines, and I love the angled pocket flaps. It is stunning.

The bad news is this Alessandra Rich dress. What. is. going. on?  This dress is a miss in my book. Coco Chanel is reported to have advised women to take a final look in the mirror before leaving the house and take one accessory off.  The designer of this dress would have done well to follow analogous advice.  High collar, puff sleeves, buttons up and down, pleats everywhere, and peplum.  It is just a St. Patrick's Day explosion, and even I cannot get on board.   I was a little torn (if you can believe it), because the pattern is almost Van Gogh-ish, and I love Van Gogh, but the structural is just a hot mess. I will say I love just a flavor of it peeking out at her neck under the coat.  The dress under the coat adds a pop of color and interest that was very elegant.  

You all know I love and have loved many the busy ensemble of Kate, so I feel like I gave this dress a fair shake, but it is just too much. Kate paired her coat and dress with the LK Bennett Dora clutch in green and Asprey London Daisy Heritage earrings that cost about £17,000.  It was quite the ensemble, even if every element was not to my taste.

Tonight, the couple attended a reception at Guinness Storehouse's Gravity Bar, hosted by the British Ambassador to Ireland.  Kate wore a sparkling green dress from The Vampire's Wife.  I am trying to remember where this label popped up in royal watching already, and I think it must have been the floral dress Beatrice wore to a Buckingham Palace garden party.  I don't remember why I was thinking/sharing thoughts on that dress, since I don't think it is particularly pretty, but I did.  Beatrice also wore a version of green dress to several events, and other celebs have favored the dress, too, including Elizabeth Moss, Alexa Chung, and others. Natalie Portman has worn it in purple... It is a popular dress.  I think the label name is...weird, but the dress was pretty tonight.  Kate's massive gold earrings were the perfect complement.  I love green and gold together. Killer combo. 

Her shoes are Manolo Blahnik, that's her golden Wilbur & Gussie clutch (debuted in 2011!). Her earrings are pieces she has worn privately (to a Royal Foundation dinner from which a few pictures leaked), but which just got their public debut today. 

Kate definitely given her hair a real trim (😞) and has switched up her make-up a little with a very clean winged-eye recently. Clean as in she doesn't fill in her eye-lid with color, so she has a brighter look that really suits her.  She was glowing today. 

Sussexes' Newest Statement: Dissatisfaction & Focus on Review Period

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Friday morning, before all the news broke, I posted some reflections on the Palace’s conundrum over “royal” in the Sussexes’ brand. My final thought was that the developing news was not so much whether the Sussexes would or would not use 'royal' in their branding (they obviously could not), but the seeming shift in focus to this "12-month review" period. At first the 12-month review sounded like an unlikely escape valve the royals included just to be safe, but my thought Friday was that the 12-month review seems to have grown to be the focus.* To my surprise, later in the day Friday the Sussexes’ released further details about their transition, and a number of their comments really strengthened and even confirmed my hypothesis! 

To back up briefly, Rebecca English published an exclusive this last week in which she claimed the Palace had definitively put the kibosh on the Sussexes using 'royal' in their brand. After her story broke, various outlets started spreading another story—that Meghan had told friends she would defy the Queen and use "royal" anyway, and that there was nothing legally blocking the Sussexes from using royal in their brand. I really urge people to take these types of stories with a grain of salt, because often they are exaggerated or false. This one, though, has interesting origins. 

I think there is a grain of truth to that story for the following reasons. Some months ago one of you messaged me to tell me that a well-known reporter—known to be a huge Sussex fan, so much so that many speculate Meghan (or Meghan's team) gives him under the table tips—was floating the argument that the Sussexes had a right to use royal by virtue of, well, being royal. The idea was that Harry was born royal and so he has his own right to use royal—a right that the Queen cannot deny him. That sounds like an argument that would be made by someone who thinks of royalty the way you think about a last name. You own your last name. You get it at birth, and even though it is your father's name, once bestowed it is yours, too. Your father can’t take it away. Whether you love your father deeply and get along with him, or never speak to him throughout your life, you make of your last name what you will—it is yours. To throw in a legal analogy, you could say you have legal title to your last name. Royalty (or at least the trappings of royalty) is more like a license. A license can be rescinded at the will of the license holder. As a royal, you have the right to use "royal" so long as the license is not revoked. But, the Queen is the license holder. She is the font of royalty, and she decides who gets to be really royal. Where am I going with all this? The idea that "royalty" and the right to use "royal" are separate and distinct from the Palace—that royals own royalty the way you own your last name—feels very American to me. Combine that with the fact that the reporter who was floating this theory is widely believed to be a conduit of information from the Sussexes and I think we can reasonably wonder, and maybe go so far as to assume for the sake of argument, that this was the theory that Meghan was pushing internally: Harry is royal by birth, he has a right to use royal whether the other royals like it or not. Very American and very wrong. 

So, I think that those stories that Meghan was going to defy the Queen are probably based on private chatter and earlier negotiations where Meghan and Harry were floating various theories, and this was probably one of them. 

So, I think the Mirror story was based off of old data. That royal reporter shared his theory (which we are guessing was also Meghan's) some time ago. In the interim, I think that the Sussexes accepted that fighting the Palace was a losing proposition. Once the Mirror started running that story, they had to get out and deny it ASAP, because it was doing more damage to the their public profile. 

This led to another hasty internet posting from Harry and Meghan, which came out Friday afternoon. The couple shared a link on their Instagram to their website, where they had compiled an incredible list of bullet points. I won't go through them line by line, but, I will focus in on general themes. 

Meghan and Harry are doubling down on the narrative they have been abused by the press. They are now shifting the focus from their desire to seek financial autonomy, which was a stated and primary purpose originally, to their desire to escape the "public interest" theory that justified what they considered to be press intrusion. This will always be a tack that appeals to a certain sector, but overall, I don't think it is a sympathetic argument to the general public. Only a small percentage of people think the couple are Diana 2.0. Everyone else thinks they are wealthy people who seem very out of touch with the privilege they actually enjoy. Tough love here, kids. 

The most interesting twist, though, is how strongly they work to argue they are still 100% royal, still HRHs, still in line of successions etc, etc, and, that this is a review period. After the Sandringham Summit, the Palace made it sound like the Sussexes were definitely leaving, and the 12-month review period sounded more like it was a small escape clause left open for the remote possibility that the two changed their minds. As I noted in yesterday’s post, I felt like that had shifted. Then the way the Sussexes framed it Friday evening, I would say we have witnessed a full 180 (at least from what we assumed--perhaps the Sussexes I have been banking on the 12-month review from day 1). Now, it sounds like their departure itself is premised as a trial run and even a period to convince the BRF that they can be HRHs who work for the firm and make money. Even if they can’t convince the BRF their plan can work, it paves the way for them to say, “Well, it didn’t work. We will come back into the fold.” It is a very interesting change in position. 

My theory from the start has been that, without royal-status, the Sussexes might find it harder to hack the outside world than most people suppose. From the beginning, that has been the very scary wild card—will they lose their luster, and how quickly? They’ve been quietly working on their next steps for the past few months—giving a trial run speech for JP Morgan, visiting Stanford, and certainly many other collabs they will reveal when they launch in the next month or so. But all this activity has been helping them test the waters and see how they are received. I think they might be finding it harder than they expected. Does that mean they will fail? No. Does it mean they want to hedge their bets even more? Probably. 

My final thought is to repeat something you all are sick of hearing. Harry and Meghan’s plan was never to lose their royal status, to be effectively stripped of their HRHs (as they have been, despite their strongest protestations). This has been a very rough few months, as their emotionally charged statement Friday made clear. They will have to spend the next year deciding whether the autonomy they crave is worth losing the luster of royalty. So far, it seems like they are trending toward no.

*For those who have asked, this review period was not in the press release after the Sandringham Summit, but was told to reporters.  So, reporters usually get more details from the Palace.  That's pretty standard. So, although you may not have read it at the time if you pulled up the press release, it was a detail that was included by the Palace at that time. 

The Palace's Problem with the Sussexes' Royal Brand

Friday, February 21, 2020

Harry and Meghan at the UK Team Trials for the Invictus Games in Bath, UK, Apr. 6, 2018

This week featured some interesting updates on the Sussexes. Rebecca English published an exclusive in which she claims that the Queen has conclusively determined that the Sussexes cannot use the word “royal” in their branding. This seems like it should be an obvious extension of her decision to squash their hopes of creating a “progressive new role” within the institution, but, at the time that the Palace gave details about the Sandringham Summit, there was no decision or guidance given on the status of the Sussexes’ trademark and branding using “Sussex Royal.” I suspect that Harry and Meghan have been lobbying very hard to keep it, for many obvious reasons, but if Rebecca’s story is true, that effort has ended in defeat. She wrote:
The Mail understands that, amid what has been described as a 'complex' situation, the 'fine detail' is still being thrashed out.
However, it is understood the couple have accepted that, as part of their new working arrangements, they will not be able to use the Sussex Royal name as they had hoped.
Shortly after this story broke, a number of other royal reporters were able to share from Palace sources more details about the couple’s upcoming exit. Remember that the Palace made clear at the time of the Summit that Harry and Meghan would slowly transition out, with their complete departure not happening until the spring. So, although some fans were confused that the Sussexes still have engagements on the calendar, this was always the plan. Royal reporters are now telling us that the Palace has told them that March 31st is the final day, and the couple’s Buckingham Palace office will no longer be functioning on the 1st of April. Between then and now, the couple will undertake a number of engagements in the UK. 

There was some particularly interesting new news, though. The Palace also indicated that Harry will maintain his military ranks and his honorary positions for the duration of the “review period” (which, remember, is 12 months), and that although he will not fulfill any engagements in that capacity, he will not be replaced in his roles during the review period. 

Finally, it sounds like the Sussexes’ new foundation will launch later this spring, at which point the new branding will be revealed (the Palace did not confirm or deny that the two cannot use ‘royal’). 

What Does All This Mean?

Part of this new news is not surprising, because permitting the Sussexes to continue to use the royal label was really out of the question. The brand is part and parcel with royalty. The same reasons that compelled the Palace to take the hardline they did and deny Harry and Meghan royal status compels the Palace to also require that the two stop using "royal" in their branding. For me, the official line at the time of the Sandringham Summit (that they were doing everything in their power to "find a way" for Harry and Meghan) has always been a little bit of a head scratcher. I wonder what exactly was floated, because it seems an either/or choice. 

I don't think the Palace could have made any decision but this one, so perhaps the more interesting question is, why this delay in announcing the status of the couple’s brand? 

Although I have seen some fans try to soften what happened with Harry and Meghan's sudden departure, the reports were all but unambiguous. Harry and Meghan did not warn their family they were taking the drastic step that they did (whatever notice they provided—a few hours, a day—was not meaningful). When they announced, the Palace, the press, and the people were left reeling. The Sussexes' shock announcement sparked a dizzying period of meetings and, of course, the tough news for the Sussexes that their plan had a few hitches.

My first suspicion was that the Palace was trying to gauge public opinion on this topic. The Queen had to make a quick decision at the Sandringham Summit, and she made the right one—they couldn't stay royal—but it was a hard and probably not the one she emotionally wanted to make. There is a possibility that a second "have your cake and eat it, too" plan was floated. If the Sussexes kept "royal" in their branding, it would make the Queen's technical ruling effectively null. She may have decided to let the PR shop do some digging and test some polls. Obviously, the public reaction was not positive, and so if this was ever the strategy, it proved up that the Queen had taken the right course and they couldn't have it both ways. This option is remote. With this new news I think the situation comes into much clearer focus. 

The Palace appears to be trying to maintain and mothball as much of Harry and Meghan’s royal life as possible so the two can take it back up again with relative ease. 

Think about it from the BRF's side.  It was just two years ago that we were gearing up for a second spectacular royal wedding. Harry, who had gotten his mental health to a good place, had found the woman who could handle the strain of his public life and join him on that platform, and he was finally set to wed. There was no indication at that time that within two years he would mentally spiral as he has, or that the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Sussex would be relinquishing their royal roles. This was not only not the expectation, but it almost certainly isn’t the best course of action for Harry, and I suspect his family—his father and grandmother especially—know that with a deep visceral certainty. 

We already knew that the Palace was leaving the door open for the Sussexes, but I think this new news (particularly about leaving Harry’s military positions untouched during review) is a more intentional “review process” than we first realized. From the perspective of anyone trying to “mothball” the couple’s royal life, the big hitch is, of course, the branding. It’s not something that can hang in limbo. 

The Sussexes like their brand “Sussex Royal.” Rebranding is both embarrassing and duplicative in terms of cost and effort. If they return to the royal fold in a year, keeping Sussex Royal would be the ideal option. But, it can’t be left in limbo—they can’t conduct business in the interim without a brand and since they might not come back (and even if they do, this next year is off the leash, so to speak) they just can’t use it. They have to rebrand. I think when they launch their foundation in the next month or so, it will be with fresh branding that does not include royal—but maybe something that could transition nicely back into the royal fold? 

To conclude, the most interesting aspect of all this is probably what it hints at with respect to the internal thought-process. The long hesitation from the Palace, and this additional news that Harry’s military roles won’t be filled during the test period, make me wonder… Is the Palace very optimistic that the couple will return? Or are the Sussexes hedging their bets as strongly as possible? Because the real news this week is not so much any individual point—like the Sussexes can’t keep ‘royal’ in their branding—but rather how important this test period actually is. It isn’t an escape clause that has been casually included at the end of the Sandringham Summit agreement as an after-thought, it seems to be (or have become) the centerpiece—the focus.

Kate in McQueen for Engagement with Charles & Camilla

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

I am still planning to write several posts Kate's engagements that I have missed blogging about this month, but today I am just going to jump in on the present.

Today, the Cambridges made a rare joint-public engagement with Charles and Camilla. Obviously, the Cambridges and the Waleses appear at the same events all the time, but today is distinguishable in that it is a “working” engagement as opposed to, say, the four of them all at a State event at Westminster Abbey. Although Kate has done various public outings with Camilla or Charles, and William has done engagements with Charles, the two couples very rarely make this type of joint appearance together. I can’t say for certain, because my memory is faultier and faultier these days, but I think the last time they went out as a foursome was their appearance together at a Gary Barlow concert back in 2011 (below).

There has been a lot of speculation about what prompted this visit at this time. Is this a post Sussex-abdication statement? Some public engagements are months in the planning, but the Palace can whip up public engagements on short notice, too. So, without a tip from the Palace, we can't say whether this was months in the planning, or a recently planned engagement. It could be either. 

The message is clear regardless.  Whether planned recently or some time ago, this event was meant to highlight the line of succession. That is a theme the BRF started developing more aggressively last year. We saw the BRF change gears around the time of the Kensington Palace split. I think the Palace understood it had a problem with Harry and Meghan, and wherever that went—however that problem resolved itself—there was a clear consensus that the upcoming stars needed to get the spotlight in a more intentional and deliberate manner. So, I do think today’s engagement is an extension of a theme we saw developing last year, and which the Palace hammered on quite hard over the Christmas season with the slightly odd (but, I suppose endearing) Christmas pudding photo-shoot and the Queen’s speech. I don’t think we can know, and I don’t think it matters, whether it was a pre or post-Sussex abdication decision. It was a response to the broader turmoil the BRF has been facing in the last year and half. 

Today's engagement had a few moments that were particularly poignant in light of recent events. William was trying to make a basket from a wheelchair, and Charles came up behind him to help.  In that father-son moment, the reality of Harry's absence hung in the air.  Charles truly has lost a son on the public stage. 

Kate was wearing a McQueen coat and skirt in the brand’s signature military style, paired with Ralph Lauren boots and a trendy mini-purse, also from McQueen. That is the Wicca style—Kate has it in several variations. She added sparkle with her Mappin & Webb Empress pendant earrings

I actually love this look. I am a sucker for the buttoned-up military ensembles; I love them as much as Kate does. I think she has such a boyish figure (in a good sense) that she can really carry off these looks very well. Kate has narrow hips, so she can play with looks that draw focus to the waist and hips more than most.  It is a very covered-up look. One of my friends texted me and said she thought Kate could be a nun in this ensemble, since she is covered from her throat to the tip of her toes.   I think the figure-hugging element of this ensemble, because it really is, very closely tailored around her bust and hips, is what saves it from overwhelming her.  She looks very long and lean despite it all.

I love these unusual ensembles on Kate. They are edgy and fun. This is a “look.” It isn’t an off-the-rack midi dress from L.K. Bennett—no offense to L.K. Bennett. To me, these are “royal princess” ensembles that are set apart from the average wardrobe and give royal fashion an extra edge of interest and glamour. I’d rather see Kate experiment with these looks (with regularity) than parade an endless succession of high street dresses and coats. 

For me, this was a big win!

There are so many pictures like this last one. Every time these two show up somewhere Kate gives William this smiley look that seems to say, "You ready to do this royal thing?"  And he is looking back at her with a serious, "Let's go be super-stars, baby." It just makes me laugh.  Happy Tuesday, or Wednesday--whatever day it is. ;)

Kate in Needle & Thread for Africa Summit Reception

Friday, January 31, 2020

It is time to start catching up on Kate, yes? On the 25th, I did an overdue post on Kate's green McQueen in Yorkshire, so now it is time to jump back to her red Needle & Thread she wore to the Buckingham Place reception eleven days ago (January 20).

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hosted the UK-Africa Investment Summit reception at Buckingham Palace on behalf of Her Majesty. This was right in the midst of the Sandringham Summit drama, and lots of fans noted it was the type of reception at which Meghan and Harry would have featured prominently but for their surprise departure from active status. That said, I don't think they would have hosted, because the reception was the final event of the Investment Summit put on by the U.K. government and was attended by multiple heads of state, and therefore hosting was quite a big deal. The fact that the Queen passed it to William and Kate underscored (again) the Cambridges' rising seniority and the Palace's push to keep the spotlight on its stars. One immediate result of the Sussexes departure, however, is that the Wessexes will now feature more prominently in the BRF, as we saw that evening.  

Kate debuted a new label.  I don't know why, but I thought she'd already worn Needle & Thread, and now that I find out she has not, I am wondering why I know so much about the brand. I have followed Needle & Thread for years now, and love many of the label's evening dresses.  The designs fit right into Kate's closet, right over by all her beaded Jenny Ps.

Unlike Jenny Packham's gowns, Needle & Thread always has a little more going on, which may or may not be to you your taste.  "More going on" makes these dresses a little bohemian and a little  quirky. Needle & Thread features beading, needlework, tulle, flounces, ruffles...sometimes it is stunning, sometimes it is too Little House on the Prairie: Runway Edition.  But, hit or miss, the designs are always busy.  For instance, you can see there is a delicate ruffle right at the shoulder of Kate's dress, and without criticizing JP, the beading on the sleeve has a design to it, whereas JP usually just has a non-descript pattern (the blue dress in India is a notable exception). 

Frankly, this dress is not my favorite Needle & Thread. To me, it is pretty close to a tea-length Jenny Packham.  I like some of Needle & Thread's dresses that mix more embroidery in with the beading.  I think I am just not a sequins girl, but Kate definitely is. I loved that she went with such a bold ensemble, though.  Anytime Kate wears red shoes (or really anything with more pizazz than her usual black or blue pumps) I get excited.  She paired this dress with her Gianvito Rossi heels, her custom Casa clutch from JP, and new earrings by Soru. 

A bunch of you messaged me noting that Kate seemed overdressed for the event, but although the Princess Royal came in a very business-appropriate suit, I think Sophie's dress was fairly formal, as were a number of the female guests.  But even if they weren't, I was always taught that the hostess gets to dress more formally. Am I the only one that was raised on that rule?  Anyway, this was a hit. Not a smash hit, but a hit.  And, I love how Kate's hair has been so luxe these past two weeks. More on that in a future post... 

Kate's Professional Shift Has Changed the Cambridges' Public Persona

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge kicked off their 2020 calendar last Wednesday with an afternoon in Yorkshire. The day took on an unexpected gravitas thanks to Harry and Meghan Sussex's surprise announcement that is currently sending shock waves through the Palace, the press, and the public. Meghan and Harry's soft-abdication ratcheted up the heat on the Cambridges to present a stable, calm, and positive face to the public that afternoon. As luck would have it, the Cambridges were already positioned very well to handle this crisis.

Although Sussexes seemed to dominate the 2019 royal news cycle—from the drama of the Cambridges and the Sussexes’ deteriorating relationship, see here (explaining the household split), here (discussing the Foundation split), and here (explaining tense background to the Foundation split); and the series of PR blunders the Sussexes made, which ultimately culminated in their six-week break, see here—peppered in among those blockbuster stories, was another development, and that was a growing discussion about the stability and star power of the Cambridges. 

For years, these two have been our modern fairy-tale—the prince and the commoner he made his princess. It was a natural story, and it was true. Whatever good things Kate might have accomplished had she taken a different path, she wouldn’t be a super-star had she not married a famous man. Of all women, William picked Kate, plucked her up out of obscurity, and made her his princess. That is the true fairy-tale love story we all fell for. There was a corresponding balance of power where William was the full royal, and Kate, royal by marriage, let him take the lead in royal duties. Interestingly, the couple’s strengthening image has developed, in my opinion, because Kate has been growing her own profile. As the seasons of life change, and these two have solidly shifted from newlyweds and new parents, to seasoned parents with growing responsibilities within the royal family, their public dynamic has been naturally shifting, too. Kate has been earning her royal-status and her equity in the firm. 

It began discreetly some time ago, now. At the close of the Heads Together campaign, the Palace began to push to give Kate more public credit for her private work on behalf of the royal family. Since the birth of Louis, the Duchess has been quietly working behind the scenes even more to develop her own path—to better define the focus of her work within the royal family for the next few decades, and indeed, for the rest of her life. We started to see the visible fruits of that work this year, in the beautiful gardens she designed in the spring, and then in the fall as she started to talk more and more about her forthcoming Early Years project. 

Although William has certainly been the principal in public, as is the case with many relationships, the couple’s personal dynamic is different in private. It has long been reported that Kate is quite assertive in the couple’s home life. In their engagement interview, William talked about how funny Kate is (so we know she is smart), and you can see from their banter they have a very balanced relationship. Royal reporters with their ears to the ground have often relayed reports from reputable sources that Kate “wears the pants” at home. It was this private balance that led me to believe and predict the Cambridges would have a third child—because Kate wanted a third!—and, indeed, they did have that third. 

I think we saw their private dynamic on display most obviously during the South East Asia tour. The two were in the middle of a successful tour when they were told by staffers one morning at breakfast that a photographer using a long lens had photographed Kate sunbathing naked during a recent trip the couple had taken to the Luberon in France. Worse, the Palace attorneys were not able to block the French papers, and the pictures would be published soon. It is hard to imagine a more horrifying headline or violating content than they were about to face. William was beside himself with rage. The two had a busy day planned, though, and they had to get out the door to their first engagement. William struggled throughout the day, but Kate was cool as a cucumber, and even more interestingly, you could see she was helping to temper his emotions and public response, keeping him calm, and providing the positive forward momentum that got them through that day. It was not just a tribute to her personality, it was a window into who they are as a couple and as team in private. Kate was able to take the lead that day, because she shares leadership in their private life. 

There has long been a very disparaging sub-narrative about Kate that she is uninspired, bland, and submissive. There is a flavor of disdain for her more subtle and deferential approach to her role. I think that stems from our culture of celebrity which says you don’t matter if you aren’t making noise—if you aren’t asserting yourself, you are being walked all over. But, Kate’s approach has been the more natural one, the more diplomatic and strategically smart one (and her patience and resolve to stick to her course is now paying massive dividends). 

So, we can see that privately, there is a different balance between the two than the balance in their public professional roles, where William has unquestionably been the dominate royal. Now, in developing solo projects and building her identity as a royal, Kate has stepped out and quietly, but confidently, taken ownership of her royal status in her own right. Her work (which has been very diplomatic, very role-appropriate (future Queen), and very steady and focused) has evened up her professional position. In doing so, she has made the Cambridges—together—a stronger force within the family. Before, they were superstars for their Cinderella story. But as Kate has stepped forward and joined William at a commensurate level professionally, she has shifted their energy. As wonderful as that season was, these two don’t feel like Prince Charming and Princess Cinderella anymore; they radiate more mature royalty—they feel like a future king and a future queen. Before they were our favorite fairytale; now they are a power couple. 

I started this post planning to do a quick post catching us up on Kate’s fashion from the Cambridges’ Wednesday event, but as is my wont when I write, I started thinking out loud, which resulted in an op-ed rather than a fashion update. So, fashion update is here.

The Cambridges Kick Off 2020 in Yorkshire

This morning I wanted to do a quick post about fashion to get us caught up on Kate. But, I ended up writing an op-ed about the Cambridges, so I broke out our fashion facts to share on a separate post here.  The Cambridges were in Yorkshire last Wednesday, and Kate was looking great.

She debuted a bespoke McQueen coat in a forest green.  Kate sure loves her forest green. :)  This ankle-skimming coat length seems to be making a real splash.  I am surprised, but I really love the length of this coat. It is a streamlined silhouette, and the length gives it a very elegant and stately appearance. My only quibble with this coat is that the fastenings at the neck are visible and the closure in the front didn't seem to stay flat in all the pictures.  That made it look just a little sloppy in a few shots. Emilia Wickstead, as we've discussed, sometimes has these types of tailoring issues, but it is very unusual to see it from Alexander McQueen.

Underneath the coat, Kate was wearing a houndstooth dress from ZARA.  She loves houndstooth and she loves pussy bows these days, but this dress just was not a win for me. I love pussy bows in certain scenarios, generally in the most classic context of a pencil skirt and white silk blouse with a bow. I am less enthused about them with a patterned dress.  I just don't love this.  If the bow were contrasting--all black or all white--that might help, but tip to toe  I might be tiring  of the pussybows on Kate generally. I don't know, but I know this dress is not a win.

Although the dress isn't really scoring for me, the coat, paired with her beautiful Aspinal bag and those Zeen earrings she debuted in the run-up to (and then during) the tour of Pakistan, is a big win!  She looked super gorgeous, and she and William exuded the best of royalty.  More on that in the op-ed here.

Finally, Mr. Security was on the job, which made my day. :)

The Queen’s Contract & Why the Sussexes Didn’t Get What They Wanted

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The question I posed in the last post and the one that has been on everyone's mind as we waited to see the results of the Sandringham Summit, was whether or not the Queen had the grit to do what she needed to do—to deny the Sussexes their plan to “have their cake and eat it, too.” Although I saw no reasonable path she could take to give them both, I was nervous that the Queen might blink here, and, for the love of her grandson, be persuaded that the “world has modernized” and the monarchy can, too.  Ultimately, the Palace couldn’t find a path, and she did not flinch from making the call necessary to preserve the institution. 

This was not a win for the Sussexes. They didn’t go into this expecting to be ex-royals in under a fortnight (technically, this doesn’t go into effect until Spring 2020, but you get the point). 

We know the Sussexes didn’t get what they wanted because they press-released a remarkable explanation of what they wanted when they made their shock announcement.  Their press release said they would relinquish senior royal status but would “carve out a progressive new role within th[e] institution”—i.e. remain active royals, with HRHs, but without all the strings.  They planned to continue to support the Queen, and to “continue to honor [their] duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth, and [their] patronages”—active working royals maintaining their positions and patronages, royal tours, etc. So, they wanted to remain working royals, but spend more time in North America, more time on their own projects, have more freedom to choose their own initiatives, and as we’ve discussed, create private wealth. 

From that very elaborate game-plan, they got only one thing—the opportunity to create private wealth.  Don’t oversimply things to money. Money is a big deal, obviously, but it is only part of what they wanted.  Meghan very much wanted the royal status, and although I think Harry relinquishes it with a bit of naivete (because he doesn’t understand what it means to no longer be royal), this has become a shock week for him, too, as he gives up the life he was born and raised to lead.  People say that Harry never liked royal life, but his greatest passions and pursuits are almost exclusively the result of his position—from his African and conservation initiatives to outreach to young people to his work with veterans—Harry loves plenty of what his royal job entails.  It has been strange to watch them often disparage the roles that gave them the platforms they crave.  Their entire brand has been built on being royal, as their many trademarks and their website highlight. They did to give it all up willingly, and they will both miss it. 

The Queen issued an eminently diplomatic and thoughtful press release that made sure to single out and praise Meghan—the Palace is sensitive to the fact that Meghan is bearing the brunt of the public dissatisfaction with the current turn of events. HM makes clear that the Sussexes are still cherished members of her family, but there is a quintessentially HM matter-of-factness to both press releases. They both use politic-speak—they sound like one thing and they mean another.  The Queen’s press release sounds warm and loving, but its message is ultimately clear—she thanks the couple for their service, which is another way of definitively stating: you are out of the working firm.  

The language of the Palace press release is similarly laced with positive language that veils some pretty clear mandates and red lines. The couple is “required to step back from royal duties,” and even though they will no longer represent the Queen, they will continue to “uphold the values of her majesty.”  That looks more like a pretty straight-forward condition of this quasi-contract.  I suspect there is a framework of behavior and/or accountability that the Sussexes must adhere to, or they lose perks they have hammered out in this “deal.”  I do not think the reports that the couple will have to seek approval for commercial deals with the Lord Chamberlain are accurate.  That rule applies to working royals, which as these statements make clear, Harry and Meghan will no longer be. It is possible there is some other accountability mechanism, or that it has been made clear to the two that they should follow their best judgment and they will be evaluated on those judgments. 

We don’t know all the conditions of “the contract,” but the press release highlights the two critical elements for public perception—the two will no longer carry out any public engagements at all, they are no longer working royals in any capacity; and they will not use their HRH styles, so they are effectively no longer royal. 

The HRH Styling  

As I noted in my earlier post, the key point is, I think, the HRH status, which when I first saw the announcement, threw me off a little.  The Queen did not "strip" the couple of their HRHs, yet they cannot use them. Is that a win for Harry and Meghan? At first I thought yes, but I have since determined no, and here is why. 

People who say that the Queen cannot take away Harry’s and Meghan’s HRHs are wrong.  It would take the Queen issuing new Letters Patent to do it, but issuing Letters Patent is fully within her power.  The fact that she did not officially "strip them" of the title does not mean, though, that she caved. 

HRH is a style, not a title, and in some sense, when they are banned from using the style, it is effectively removing it. She didn’t go to the trouble to issue the Letters, and there may have been other concerns having to do with precedent, or future uncertainties, that counseled against such a formal move. The Queen was likely advised that simply denying them permission to use that styling sufficed, and left her wiggle room. A win-win for her, but not win for H&M.   

Keep in mind that much of how this all works—styles and titles—is not all cut and dry.  There is dispute about certain questions even among experts.  For example, when David, aka Edward VIII, abdicated, some believed he automatically lost his HRH.  Others thought he retained it. The question was mooted, because his brother George VI issued Letters Patent that granted to David the "title, style, or attribute of Royal Highness."  George VI withheld this honor, however, from anyone David married—aka Wallis. Again, there was dispute about whether the commensurate style or title can be withheld from a spouse. I would argue no, but… some people say yes!  George VI thought yes. 

The key is that even David was granted an HRH. Harry and Meghan have been told, no. They may not style themselves HRHs, which if you think about it, is quite a strong statement, and as I argued in an earlier post, very necessary.  The Queen had to draw a clear line. Even though the Queen has not actually issued Letters Patent, denying these two the use of their HRHs is a very strict red line on their royal status, and incredible change for Harry.  

The couple will now go by Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.  If this format looks familiar, it is. This is the way that ex-royals are styled, e.g. Sarah, Duchess of York; Diana, Princess of Wales, and so forth.   

Why Harry and Meghan Didn’t Have the Upper Hand 

Their press release was so confident and authoritative. What went wrong? 

Harry and Meghan made an error.  They did not have the leverage they thought they did. Even if they had, though, it would have been a suicide pact, because the Palace cannot have senior working royals going rogue.  Meghan and Harry wanted to step out of the chain of command and away from oversight, while maintaining their status—and that could never be if the monarchy is going to survive. No matter the pressure, the Queen (if she was still of sound mind and good judgment) could not have approved the plan. They had to choose—in or out. The earlier denial of their own court was the bellwether, but Meghan and Harry didn’t pick up on that clue. 

I suspect this all has left both their heads spinning a little. I don’t think they had a contingency plan, based upon their statement and the extraordinarily detailed website they launched. They didn't have a Plan B. So, they had to make some major decisions with very little time and likely from their perseptive, few options. I doubt the idea of issuing a 180 statement telling the world “never mind, we have to stay in line” was an attractive option.   Instead, it seems they have tried to cut the best deal they could, which is not a very good one, but better than nothing.  

They clearly have a deal in place that sees the Crown continuing to provide benefit to them.  They wanted a lot, but ultimately had to make the concessions to keep what they could. For practical purposes, they lost their HRHs (but they got away with their dignity intact on that one), they will be styled as ex-royals, they ceded their official patronages, but they kept two things—some financial security and the door left open to return to the fold. Both are critical at this turning point. 

The agreement they have says the Sovereign Grant will no longer fund them, but Charles will continue to privately lend them support. I saw an estimate of between £2 million and £5 million. That’s some nice spending money there, and it is possible they will get more—we won’t know. 

Harry and Meghan need money. I don’t know what Harry has privately. It doesn’t really matter. It could be £5 million it could be £30 million. Let’s say it is £30 million.  Get your smelling salts—£30 million isn’t that much money. It is a lot of money, but it isn’t all that much at the level that royals live. When you live in many-multi-million-dollar homes, and travel on private jets, field polo teams, vacation in the most exclusive locales in the world, and spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on your wardrobe every year, you will blow through £30 million pretty quickly.   

The Sussexes don’t have guaranteed income outside the BRF.  They might very well end up massively successful global celebs who regularly ink multi-million dollar deals. Or, they might have trouble forging the financial success of which they dream. Clearly, for the time being, the uncertainty was enough for them to stick with Harry’s family and accept the money, even if they lost on other counts. 

Most interesting is that the door has been left open.  All royal reporters are saying that Harry and Meghan will reconvene with the BRF a year from now to take stock and decide if this will be a permanent arrangement.  I think this underscores how much the Sussexes did not (incredibly!) expect the Palace to take this stance. They didn’t think they were exiting royalty when they issued their statement.  

The Palace could have left the door open for a number of reasons.  One, it gives the couple a year to cool off and maybe get some of their nervous energy out.  If they are reeling from this unexpected outcome, it gives them a way to save face, too. A year from now the Palace could press release about how much the family needs them back and they could return without having to do an immediate about-face.  Even if they want to make it a go away from the family, even without everything they wanted, it is still a frightening step to take with almost no advance planning. Again, very clear they did not think they were cutting themselves off with the public announcement. This has been a real plot twist for them. 

It could also simply be a safety blanket. One year to see if they can make the deals and generate a cash flow. 

Finally, the Queen could have her own reasons, derived from the wisdom of age and experience, for leaving this door open. 

This will be very interesting to watch. I am sure this is a very bittersweet time for Harry and Meghan.  It will be fascinating to see how it all develops.