We are back with a quick update to Kate’s Calendar, and then a look at a topic many of us have wondered about as we have followed the Duchess’s style. First, the engagement added to Kate’s calendar.
Friday, June 16: In her role as Patron of the 1851 Trust, the Duchess will attend the charity’s final Land Rover BAR Roadshow at the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre east of London. Kate will join in an educational treasure hunt with students from four East London schools; the group will also spend time with Sir Ben Ainslie, leading the British effort to win the 2017 Cup.
Qualifying races for the finals have been underway in Bermuda for 10 days. This is the latest from the America’s Cup site:
…the four teams competing in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs Semi-Finals; Sir Ben Ainslie’s Land Rover BAR, Dean Barker’s SoftBank Team Japan, Peter Burling’s Emirates Team New Zealand and Nathan Outteridge’s Artemis Racing, are set to resume their battles with each other today.
Sir Ben Ainslie’s team currently trail the Kwis 3-1 in the battle to the first-to-five points needed to progress through to The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs Finals.
Now to our primary focus, answering often-asked questions about some confusing fashion terminology. Our guide through the different terms is by contributing writer Brooke Nurthen, who has authored some terrific posts for What Kate’s Kids Wore.
While the Duchess of Cambridge frequently wears one-off designs, the distinction between haute couture, bespoke, custom-made and made-to-measure can be tricky.
The majority of Kate’s wardrobe is ready-to-wear (RTW) clothing, purchased ‘off the peg’. We’ve noted in many instances the Duchess having had alterations or tailoring done to a certain piece, to improve the fit, ensure the piece falls and wears appropriately on her, or just to change a design element to be more to her liking. Good examples of off-the-rack designs are the LK Bennett Jude jacket and Davina dress first worn for engagements in Leicester and again for ICAP Charity Day.
The umbrella term ‘custom’, applies to most of what we’ll discuss today – a made-to-measure, bespoke or haute couture garment could all be described as ‘custom made’.
To start from the top – haute couture is the pinnacle of art and expense in the fashion world. ‘Haute Couture’ is a strictly protected term, and only designers accredited by the French Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture can use the term. To qualify, fashion labels must meet the following criteria:
- Fashion houses must have a workshop in Paris.
- Employ at least 20 full-time technicians (who may be specialty seamstresses or embroiderers, as well as those who measure, fit and cut).
- Present two haute couture collections in Paris per year. These collections must comprise both day and evening wear.
Fourteen official members, five foreign ‘correspondent’ members and nine guest members currently make up the Chambre. The full list can be found here; members include Givenchy, Christian Dior, Giambattista Valli and Maison Margiela. While haute couture designs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, these houses also will usually also produce pret-a-porter (ready to wear) garments and show at regular fashion week events in March and September. More detail about haute couture pieces via a 2015 Huffington Post story:
Due to the insane amount of time fashion houses put into creating haute couture pieces, it should come as no surprise that a garment like that is going to cost you a pretty penny. The cheapest of couture pieces will cost you $10,000, but evening gowns start at $60,000 and can cost upwards of $100,000.
Needless to say, with a price tag like that, the market for haute couture isn’t that big. It is reported that about 2,000 women worldwide purchase haute couture and of those 2,000, only 200 are regular buyers.
As far as we know, the haute couture label isn’t applicable to anything we’ve seen the Duchess wear. As we’ll explain, this doesn’t mean we haven’t been treated to some incredible custom-made fashions in Kate’s wardrobe. We’ll get to those in a minute; first, a sampling of couture designs from the spring shows. London-based luxury label Ralph and Russo, designed by Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo, is currently a guest member of the Haute Couture Chambre. The duo presented some wondrous pieces in their January show – and some which I can definitely imagine modified, or as-is, for Kate.
The next step down the fashion ladder is ‘bespoke’, which refers to a design imagined and made specifically for the client. To be truly bespoke, the item’s pattern is made entirely from body measurements of the future wearer. ‘Bespoke’ needs distinguishing from ‘Made-to-Measure’ – garments also created from the client’s body measurements but adapted to a pre-existing pattern. Bespoke is Kate’s arena. This is where we find the bulk of her special pieces and an area which will only grow for her in years to come. Examples of bespoke items worn by Kate would include her wedding dresses and the Jenny Packham pieces worn leaving the hospital on the birth of Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
The Alexander McQueen look worn to Prince George’s christening is a good example of a made-to-measure style. The original design for the garment originated with the spring/summer 2012 collection. It was an elegant, thoughtful and well-made design, but without the label of ‘haute couture,’ something clearly not necessary to the creation of a beautiful and appropriate garment.
Kate works with a small network of designers – Alexander McQueen, Jenny Packham, and Catherine Walker, to name a few – who cater to the most special of occasions. State dinners, christenings, and other major events warrant a bespoke creation. There’s an oft-mentioned theory that bespoke garments draw less attention to Kate’s wardrobe for particularly serious or sombre occasions. And, as a duchess with a husband second in line to the throne, the prerogative to have some items made up to your style – particularly in the formative years of a lifelong position in a worldwide spotlight – is surely hers.
Some memorable bespoke daywear looks from recent years are seen below.
From left to right: the Emilia Wickstead coat worn for the Order of the Thistle service back in 2012; the Alexander McQueen lace dress initially seen at the 2012 Jubilee church service, and then again at a 2014 summer garden party; the black-lined, cream lace dress attributed to Jenny Packham, worn to the service for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in 2016; and the aubergine coat first seen at Christmas in 2011. Kensington Palace only specified that the coat was created by an ‘independent dressmaker’ – often speculated to be one of the Queen’s seamstresses.
‘Bespoke’ would also be the right word to describe the vast majority of the Queen’s wardrobe. While this isn’t ‘What Her Majesty Wore’, for further reading on the topic of bespoke fashion in the royal world I can highly recommend the 2012 book, Dressing the Queen by Angela Kelly, HM’s personal assistant and the head of her wardrobe team. It’s a truly fascinating read covering the fabrics, colours and designs of the Queen’s wardrobe, and explaining the full design process. It’s a must-read for the keen royal style watcher and displays the epitome of beautiful, considered, bespoke fashion.
How long does it take to create your average bespoke garment? This comes via a Grazia UK story cited in our original post about the Emilia Wickstead coatdress:
Our pals at Emilia Wickstead tell Grazia Daily that this is a bespoke dress specially made for Kate…. the yellow-gold raffia fabric featured a lot in the Spring Summer 2012 collection. They also tell us that altogether a dress like this takes about 6 weeks to complete.
We’ve also seen a number of bespoke evening gowns over the years. From left to right: the royal blue Jenny Packham beaded design worn for a gala in India; another Packham creation in red for the diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace in 2016; and back in 2012, the Alexander McQueen white and gold gown worn to a state dinner in Malaysia. Even though all of these may appear to fit the definition of haute couture they do not, as they were not created by one of the official Chambre fashion houses.
A big ‘thank you’ to Brooke, for doing such a stellar job walking us through fashion terminology that can bewilder and confuse many a fashion follower.
While many of us would love to see Kate in an haute couture design, I think that is unlikely. Not only is the price far beyond what she typically pays for bespoke pieces, I don’t think she is so committed to fashion she would be interested in the time and energy involved in commissioning a piece from one of the officially recognized brands.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally included the Jenny Packham evening gown Kate wore in Paris in the montage of bespoke evening gowns. It should not have been have been described as a bespoke piece, because, as Laurie pointed out in a comment, the same design was worn by Taylor Swift several years ago. A *big* thank you to Laurie for letting us know so we could correct the post.