Tuesday, May 22News That Matters

The Meghan effect: Fashion experts weigh in on duchess' trendsetting style


Long before Meghan met Prince Harry, she was a fashion influencer. It was something that Canada’s largest women’s retailer, Reitman’s, understood when they designed a huge ad campaign around Meghan and asked her to design a capsule collection of dresses.

So, it should be no surprise that when Meghan made her first public appearance on Harry’s arm, the pair of ripped jeans she was sporting was the fashion statement heard around the world.

Invictus Games Toronto 2017 - Day 3

Wearing ripped jeans, Meghan Markle makes a fashion statement during her first public outing with Prince Harry at the Invictus Games Toronto 2017.

AP

“The whole concept of someone marrying into this family, and wearing ripped jeans, was so shocking,” says Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic for The New York Times.

Friedman says that the duchess-to-be was just being herself.

“This girlfriend who … was an actress, living in Canada, American, bi-racial, divorced — to publicly put a big sign on her head –” says Friedman.

“– And if that wasn’t enough — she’s wearing her ripped jeans –” adds CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan.  

“You know, I think they knew … I think they thought, ‘You know what? This is us, we’re different, we’re goin’ with it,'” says Friedman.

But that’s not all says Friedman. Meghan clearly knows the power of celebrity, and how it can help small brands make big impressions.

“She wore ripped Mother jeans … a big Everlane leather tote … the traffic to those websites went through the roof,” she says. “Everlane had a wait list of 20,000 for the tote.”

Invictus Games Toronto 2017 - Day 3

The Everlane tote bag Meghan chose to carry that day is less expensive, at $165, but the bag was more than a fashion statement.

Chris Jackson

Mother had to create a waitlist for their jeans, which by the way are not cheap at $228. The Everlane tote bag Meghan chose to carry that day is less expensive, at $165, but the bag was more than a fashion statement. Everlane’s mission is to make quality, affordable clothing, using only factories that provide a fair wage and safe environment.

“Caroline Rush, the chief executive of the British Fashion Council said, ‘She’s shining light on local companies using what you wear to challenge conventions,'” says Duncan.

“I think she’s right,” Friedman agrees. “You don’t find Wheat Denim, which is a great, you know, Welsh denim factory, by accident. …she wore … their black jeans on a visit to Wales. They suddenly had so much demand … they had to move to a bigger factory. You know, I think she knew that that would happen.”

Why are people so fascinated with Meghan’s style?

“Well, I think she’s very … attractive and cheerful,” says Friedman. “But she also represents, you know, in the Royal fairy tale … in the Cinderella narrative, she represents an entirely different kind of character. You know, she breaks all the rules as we have always understood them, about who is allowed to become a member of the British Royal Family.

“Both she and Prince Harry talk about …LGBTQ rights …. diversity, and the importance of mental health issues,” Friedman tells Duncan. “…and I think that has really made her choices, her style, feel kind of multidimensional in a way that it hasn’t always for other people.”

“I interact with women every day. And so many of them are in search of how they should be presenting themselves to the world. And Meghan Markle is a fabulous mentor, a fashion mentor,” says Tim Gunn.

“She’s a bit like Mrs. Obama from my point of view. …Because she is accessible… and she wears every possible … fashion from expensive to very, very affordable,” Gunn says. “I see them as kindred spirits. And I believe that the financial influence that Meghan Markle will have and has had — will run parallel to Mrs. Obama.

And that’s saying a lot. Michelle Obama still has a tremendous influence on the fashion business. In fact, a New York University professor studied her effect on the stock market.

“Michelle Obama has been the ultimate role model for so many of us,” says clothing designer Michelle Smith. “What she wears carries a lot of weight because of who she is.”

Michelle Obama

Amy Sherald’s portrait of first lady Michelle Obama (2018).

Amy Sherald/National Portrait Gallery

Smith should know. When Mrs. Obama was seen wearing a white jacket designed by Smith, for her label Milly, the jacket sold out. But that was nothing compared to the last time Michelle Obama wore Milly. The much-talked-about dress — the one Mrs. Obama was immortalized in for the National Portrait Gallery — was designed by Michelle Smith. The day the official portrait was unveiled, Milly sales went through the roof.

“One-hundred-fifty-seven percent increase in sales, just for that day alone,” says Smith. “So as a designer, having an incredible woman like that, wearing my designs … it’s sort of the ultimate stamp of approval.”

Asked if she plans on reaching out to Meghan Markle, Smith tells Duncan,” Yes, I will, [laughs] definitely.”

Prince Harry Marries Ms. Meghan Markle - Windsor Castle

  Meghan Markle arrives for her wedding to Prince Harry in a gown by British designer Clare Waight Keller

WPA Pool / Getty Images

Meghan is expected to boost the British economy overnight. As spare to the heir, Prince Harry’s wedding was projected to bring in about 500 million pounds. With Meghan factored in, that number has doubled.

“I would guess that the Royal Family, or the firm, as they like to refer to themselves … understand the potential … impact // and the kind of constituencies that she can reach, and are smart enough to see that as working to their benefit.

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Prince Harry in the arms of Diana at an 1988 event at Buckingham Palace

AP

A quality that the monarchy didn’t seem to take advantage of in Princess Diana, who still reigns as the most influential royal fashion icon. It’s a title that Tim Gunn believes Duchess Meghan might soon inherit.

“Princess Diana evolved … over … quite a number of years,” Gunn explains. “When you think about Meghan Markle, she’s entering the British royal family at age 36. And Diana entered at, what, age 19? She was a kid. And probably didn’t even know what her own personal style was. She was someone’s dress-up doll. And Meghan Markle is no one’s dress-up doll. She’s a mature woman.

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