Armed with a handful of Reiss bodycon dresses and the LK Bennett Sledge heels that would go on to become her first signature, the newly crowned Duchess of Cambridge, who wed William in the spring of 2011, threw herself into her new life with gusto. What she lacked in fashion nous, she made up for with mega-watt smiles and that unfailingly glossy hair, which sparked “Chelsea blow-dry” appointments to soar across the UK. Somewhere along the way, Kate realized that nude form-fitting high-street fashion was not the only way to tackle diplomatic meetings and horse racing alike, and changed tact.
The Duchess forged close relationships with British designers at the country’s leading eveningwear brands: Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, the woman behind her Grace Kelly-inspired wedding dress; Jenny Packham, who decked Kate out in glittering sequins for her first red-carpet appearance; and Said Cyrus at Catherine Walker, a favorite of Diana’s and the harbinger of the dress coats the Duchess grew to hold dear.
Over time, Kate honed her commissions from her trusted inner circle to become less about what she thought was required of her as a senior royal and more in line with her personal taste for ladylike pieces that spelled out: polished. Pleated dresses looked prim but not stuffy at the hand of Burton, while Cyrus’s knack for respectful, diplomatic tour ensembles ensured she always nailed the brief without looking too try-hard.
A new sense of confidence saw her welcome London’s rising stars, from Emilia Wickstead and her immaculately tailored, sugary womenswear to Erdem Moralioğlu’s explosive florals that tell stories, into her arsenal. Roksanda Ilinčić, too, introduced Kate to a different perspective on what royal fashion could look like, encouraging her to step outside the box in a memorable yellow Wimbledon look, which William later coined the “banana dress”.
By 2016, those patent LK Bennetts were out in favor of point-toe Jimmy Choos and Gianvito Rossis. Yes, there were still wedges, but Castañer espadrilles. Her beloved Aspinal of London and Mulberry bags also made way for Chanel classics and boxy Manu Atelier numbers that showed Kate had a finger on the trend pulse. Her traditional Jane Taylor millinery was put on ice as the Duchess became an Alice headband influencer in her own right.