Tuesday, July 26, 2011

THE ROYAL WATCH: KATE'S DIANA DILEMMA

Ever since the world caught its first glimpse of Kate Middleton, now Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, sporting the same sapphire engagement ring worn by Princess Diana, the endless comparisons between the two have not stopped. It's only natural that the young woman who married Diana's son would be compared to her. In choosing to give her his mother's ring, I suspect that William tried to somewhat preempt all Di vs. Kate comparisons by getting out in front of it and acknowledging that while his beautiful, stylish young wife is not Diana 2.0, she is her natural successor in the eyes of the public and, if truth be told, in the eyes of the royal family as well.

Aside from the obvious similarities -- the photogenic looks, savvy fashion sense and naturalness with people -- there are substantial differences between the two women, the most significant being that while Diana was expected to fend for herself and learn the royal ropes simply by being thrown in the deep end, Catherine has been the recipient of boundless guidance and support from her husband and the rest of his family.

No matter how hard the British royal family may try to take the best of what Diana brought to their orbit, impress those experiences upon Catherine and sigh with relief that she doesn't bring the same emotional baggage to Kensington Palace that Diana did, they can't escape the spectre of Diana. The public simply won't allow it.



It is a credit to Catherine that her wedding in all its splendor was uniquely her own. She was so dazzling and regal (more than any other royal, it's worth noting) that there was no one or nothing that overshadowed her on that day. That is why it seems a bit odd that it is now, seeing her adapting to her new life as a royal that Diana's ghost seems to hover around her at every turn.

I'm not talking about Tina Brown's ghoulish Newsweek cover either. By the way, why on Earth was Diana made to look so wizened? I'd bet the farm that Diana would have looked a hell of a lot better than was imagined in that photo composite.

When Catherine and William stepped out for the BAFTA gala, I gasped when I saw the duchess get out of the car in a dress that was virtually identical (except for its lavender color) to the dress Diana wore at Cannes. Since Catherine was given a primer on how Diana handled the media and red carpet appearances you have to wonder if her choice of this stunning Alexander McQueen dress was meant to be a silent homage to Diana or is it that she has been so influenced by her late mother in law that she subconsciously picked the style without realizing the connection.

I'm fascinated by William's gifts of his mother's jewelry to Catherine. He has explained that choosing to give her Diana's engagement ring was done in part to assure his mother "played a significant part" in their wedding. He recently gifted his bride with his mother's sapphire and diamond studs (seen in the pictures above) which have been refashioned into the duchess' favored style of drop earrings. Since these earrings are not part of the royal family's jewels but part of Diana's personal collection they are rife with meaning. Kate's decision to wear them to public appearances is a calculated one for sure since she knows people that follow such things are bound to notice and write about it. (Done and done)

While the breathless comparisons between Diana and Catherine's style are a fun fluffy diversion, the growing whispers -- and prevalence of tabloid stories -- about another thing the two women may share is something else indeed. With Catherine's rapidly shrinking frame, Princess Diana's much chronicled battle with eating disorders have been brought back into the forefront.

This picture of Catherine and Nicole Kidman, one of Hollywood's slimmest actresses, at the BAFTA gala is simply shocking (and is sure to horrify the Oscar winner). It's clear that Catherine has lost considerable weight since her wedding. According to one tabloid, experts put her weight at below 100 pounds which is clearly unhealthy for a young woman of her height (5'10"). It was widely reported that Catherine (and her mother) were both on the Dukan diet (basically the French version of the Atkins diet) in the months leading up to the wedding. But now it appears that the new bride is veering dangerously close to the same unhealthy territory that plagued Diana when she first joined 'The Firm.' While it's true that Catherine is older and more sophisticated than Diana was when she first had to adapt to life as a royal, the pressure she is facing is just as intense. In some ways, one could argue, it's almost worse.

Hence, Kate's 'Diana Dilemma.'

Unlike Diana, Catherine has a lot to live up to. Diana forged her own path as the first superstar of the royal family of the media age. Until she came on the scene, there was no British royal that transfixed the world the way Diana did. The Windsors have learned valuable lessons from Diana and more significantly from the public reaction to her death. In order to remain relevant in this post-recession, Internet age, the British royal family knows they need a compliant superstar that will dazzle the public and tow the party line in private. Catherine fits the bill perfectly. She has dutifully gone out and done the walkabouts that were required of her chatting with regular folks and pulled off her first official visit with her husband to Canada and California beautifully.

It's been reported that William and Catherine are pulling back a bit for the rest of the year to enjoy being newlyweds (the rest of the unwritten sentence goes something like this -- and so as not to overshadow the Queen). And, of course, there's Prince Charles who has been all but forgotten in the mix which can't possibly sit well with him. Catherine is said to have grown close to Camilla and looks to her as an advisor on royal life. Call me cynical, but I wouldn't want to have to navigate my way around that snake pit. (Camilla selflessly volunteered to show Diana around when she became engaged to Charles). I'm willing to bet that things could get pretty tense once William and Kate have their first child. There is no way in the world there will be any oxygen left for any other royal in the mind of the public when that happens. Of course, there is a great deal of affection for Queen and there always will be, but as far as the public is concerned there is Catherine and William and Harry (and his future bride). No one else matters.

While everyone seems to be getting on fine now, all of this has to weigh heavily on Catherine's tiny shoulders as she wants to please her in-laws, do whatever is expected of her and make her husband proud. Luckily, she has the love of her adoring husband (which Diana did not). Hopefully, that will be enough to make it through the initiation phase of her new life as a royal. It seems obvious that the stress has taken a physical toll on Catherine even with all the support she is getting. The only visible strain so far that we've seen has been the Queen's less than thrilled reaction to the display of Catherine's wedding dress in Kensington Palace when she accompanied her to see the installation. It's been reported that she found the exhibition "horrid" and expressed those sentiments directly to Catherine. (I have to agree with the Queen. I find the disembodied gown and floating tiara a bit ghostly)

So perhaps Catherine's dramatic weight loss is the first indication of just how much pressure the newlywed is feeling as she adapts to a life so far removed from anything she had ever known. She is clearly a very strong young woman who has not yet faltered in the public eye. She is not 'the new Diana,' but yet she must feel the pressure to live up to a woman who in death has only grown in stature. A tall order to be sure. This has to be worrisome for William because saw first-hand how much his mother's battles with low self-esteem cost her. I'm certain he won't let the same thing happen to his new wife.


Photo credits: Getty

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Monday, July 11, 2011

THE ROYAL WATCH: Kate's Fashion Report Card


She's only been a royal for ten weeks, but the newly minted Duchess of Cambridge is proving she's no novice when it comes to fashion. Having mastered the art of high-low dressing by combining both designer (Alexander McQueen, Catherine Walker) with high street (her go-to label, Issa), Catherine is proving herself worthy of her fashion star title.

For her trip to Canada and California, the Duchess of Cambridge traveled with nearly 40 different outfits (and without a dresser!) but was smart enough to bring her trusted hair stylist, James Pryce along. (Smart choice. What woman wouldn't want a professional blow out every morning?) Without handlers or a lady-in-waiting to keep things looking fabulous, Catherine actually pulled herself together every morning without help. This shouldn't really come as a surprise since she was brave enough to do her own makeup on her wedding day undaunted by the fact that billions of people from around the world would be watching.

I've been impressed by everything I've seen her wear, but especially on this trip. As the Brits like to say, she "didn't put a foot wrong." One of the things I like best about Catherine's sense of style is that that she isn't afraid to trot out her favorite pieces again and again (like those L.K. Bennett pumps she wears everywhere). I'm not sure that makes her a royal recessionista, but it does show that Catherine is very much in touch with 'the real world' and that she wants to be perceived as a modern young woman and not a royal show pony.

She is quickly establishing her signature look by selecting sleek, well-tailored pieces (that aren't necessarily expensive) usually in neutrals or jewel tones that both flatter her and photograph extremely well. I particularly liked the purple long sleeve Issa dress worn with gorgeous Prada pumps and a diamond brooch in the shape of a Maple leaf first worn by Queen Elizabeth on her first trip to Canada in 1951.

It's impossible to analyze Catherine's style without making those inevitable comparisons to Princess Diana and during the royal couple's trip to Canada, I was instantly reminded of the late Princess of Wales when I saw the duchess wowing the crowds on 'Canada Day.' Like Diana always did, Catherine is using clothes to communicate to the world. Diana learned very early on in her public life that appearances counted for a great deal. Catherine has been an equally quick study from her choice of the flawlessly elegant and timeless McQueen wedding gown to her affordable Issa dresses, she has used clothes in the absence of words to tell the world she understands that she's a duchess-slash-princess for the modern age. Simply put, Catherine intuitively understands the power of style. Kudos to her for forging her own path in the limelight by neither dressing like a celebrity designer shill nor succumbing to the British royals penchant for alternately frumpy and freakishly outlandish get-ups (favored by Princess Beatrice and Eugenie. Will you ever forget Beatrice's IUD-inspired hat at the royal wedding? Me either)



Besides her Duchess of Cambridge title, Catherine seems to have inherited another title from Diana -- the Ambassador of British Fashion. While it was widely believed that Diana was required to wear clothing from British designers, it was, in fact, her choice to do so. When she wasn't wearing Catherine Walker or Bruce Oldfield, she always made sure to wear something designed by a native of the country she was visiting along with her favorite British designers. Catherine, it seems, is following suit. In Canada, she mixed Burberry, Reiss and Catherine Walker with pieces from Canadian labels. The minute I saw those first images of the Duchess of Cambridge greeting the crowds in Canada on July 1 wearing an ivory Reiss dress (the same one from her engagement photo!) and that red maple leaf fascinator by Canadian Sylvia Fletcher at Lock and Co., I thought of the striking similarities between her look and the ivory Catherine Walker suit and ivory and red hat emblazoned with a 'rising sun' by Philip Sommerville worn by Diana in Tokyo in 1990. 'Theme' dressing for official visits was very popular with Diana during the eighties and early nineties and Catherine has adopted that rather playful tradition with the same delightful results.



Fittingly during the royal couple's trip to Los Angeles, Catherine appeared at the BAFTA fete in a Grace Kelly worthy gown by Alexander McQueen very reminiscent of the diaphanous Catherine Walker dress Diana once wore to Cannes.

Take a look:

Catherine and William on the red carpet at the BAFTA event this weekend:



Princess Diana and Prince Charles at the Cannes Film Festival in 1987:



Although flattered by the comparisons, I'm told Catherine is weary of the frequent comparisons between her and her late mother-in-law (One can only imagine what she must have thought of Tina Brown's ghoulish Newsweek cover). And so, she is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place when it comes to her look. Since Catherine's and Diana's style is so similar, it's only natural to think that the newest member of the royal family finds some inspiration in Diana in honing her look for her life in the spotlight. While I'm sure Catherine is a great admirer of Diana, I'm also struck by the fact that unlike Diana, she came into her new role as a confident young woman who is very much comfortable in her own skin. (Can you imagine any famous actress today wearing a three year old dress for an important photograph or red carpet event?) By contrast, it was only in the last years of Diana's life that she seemed to have been at peace with herself and her looks.

And that is the biggest difference between these two women who will forever be linked by history. The most attractive element in Catherine's wardrobe is her easy, relaxed confidence that she effortlessly slips into when she's out making appearances with Prince William. After watching them together on this trip, I have to say they are a positively captivating couple. She radiates with happiness; he beams with pride. No designer dress or dazzling diamond can compete with that.

It's just like the old adage my mother, a former model who lived in jeans, always told me, it's not what you wear, it's how you wear it.

Catherine wears her new worldwide fame beautifully. Fashion Report Card Grade: A -- For a fashion star on the rise.

Photo credits: Getty Images, Retna, Fotoglif

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