Twenty years on from the death of style icon Diana, Princess of Wales Drapers looks at the ongoing influence the royal family has on the UK fashion industry
On 29 June 1994, Diana, Princess of Wales wore a black, off-the-shoulder Christina Stambolian mini-dress to a summer party hosted by Vanity Fair. It was to become one of her most famous looks, hitting headlines and capturing the public’s attention.
This month marks 20 years since Diana’s death, but her influence on the fashion industry is still being felt. A slew of recent documentaries, combined with the approaching anniversary, has reignited interest in her life and style. Photographs of her most iconic looks, including that black dress, have resurfaced on social media and the national press. Last month, she was named the unlikely muse of luxury streetwear label Off-White, after designer Virgil Abloh shared a mood board for spring 18 plastered with the Princess on Instagram.
The next generation of royals also wield significant influence over the UK fashion industry – particularly the Duchess of Cambridge, whose golden touch has become known as the “Kate Effect”. Brands she champions often gain a boost in both publicity and sales, as experienced by maternity label Séraphine. The Duchess of Cambridge wore the brand’s fuchsia knot-front dress in the first official family photographs with her husband, the Duke of Cambridge, and son Prince George. Within hours of the picture’s release in August 2013, the style had sold out.
“Customers were prepared to join a waiting list to get the dress, which is unusual for maternitywear because it’s only a short time,” explains Séraphine founder Cecile Reinaud. “The Duchess also wore one of our coats on an official tour to the US at a time when we were looking to grow in the market – the exposure really held with brand awareness. And even if customers don’t want to buy the exact pieces she’s worn, it still speaks volumes about the quality of the brand, which is important for us an ecommerce player where people can’t touch and feel before they buy.”
Since Kate Middleton’s marriage to Prince William in 2011, she and her sister, Pippa Middleton, have held a particular sway over the bridal and occasionwear markets.
“Clearly, the contemporary royals do have an influence and consumers tend to watch what the Duchess of Cambridge wears the most,” says Andrew Skinner, managing director of occasionwear specialist Coast. “She’s one of the fashion influencers that we would look at – what she’s wearing is representative of a certain woman’s style.”
Bridal designer Kate Halfpenny agrees: “We find brides have definitely been influenced by the Duchess of Cambridge, whether they want a real nod to that kind of look or are determined to wear something very different because it’s not for them, or they don’t feel they can recreate it. There was also phenomenal interest in Pippa Middleton and the style she chose, which was designed by Giles Deacon and had a plunging back.”
She says it is Pippa Middleton’s Sarah Burton-designed Alexander McQueen ivory bridesmaid dress that has had a lasting effect: “That dress definitely had a huge impact on the market – it brought more of a fitted, fishtail shape back into fashion and we started making similar styles as a result.
“Six years on, we’re still seeing that influence because when people start searching for bridesmaid ideas on websites like Pinterest, it’s one of the first images that comes up.”
Meanwhile, the international popularity of Prince George and Princess Charlotte has made the royal children extremely valuable to both kidswear brands and the wider economy. In 2015, Princess Charlotte was estimated to be worth £101m to the brands she wore or used that year, according to valuation and strategy consultancy Brand Finance. Prince George trailed behind, but was still estimated to give brands a £75m boost. Together, the siblings could be worth up to £5.6bn to the UK economy over their lifetimes.
Emily Cohen, co-founder of children’s lifestyle brand Sunuva, first discovered Prince George had been photographed wearing one of the brand’s blue-and-white striped T-shirts following an unexpected call from a journalist. The toddler had donned head-to-toe Sunuva in the official photographs released by Kensington Palace to mark his third birthday in July last year.
Source: Matt Porteus
“The brand was suddenly on so many people’s radar – no other celebrity could do that,” she tells Drapers. “Our clothes have been worn by Madonna’s children and Harper Beckham, but none of them even come close to what we saw with George.”
Traffic to Sunuva’s website rocketed 700% on the day the birthday photographs were released and remained high for the following four weeks. The brand ramped up production to help meet the increased demand.
“I had to call our factory the next day and order a thousand more of those T-shirts, because our existing stock sold out,” says Cohen. “While we were waiting for production, we received 750 pre-orders for that style within three weeks. It was the first time we had put a pre-order function on the website.”
Prince George and Princess Charlotte have also both been photographed in cardigans from kidswear label Olivier Baby and Kids, which specialises in cashmere and Liberty print clothing.
Founder Emma Davison says the effect on the brand was “instantaneous”: “Demand for both items was huge but we were lucky that the cardigans are part of core collection and are available all year round. If it had been a seasonal piece in a specific colour, meeting that demand would have been more difficult.”
Fellow kidswear designer Rachel Riley argues the interest in her eponymous brand after it was worn by Prince George has helped drive international expansion.
“It’s interesting – there tends to be a focus on the impact on a particular product, like our sailboat dungarees Prince George wore on an official visit to New Zealand,” she says.
“Of course, we did see a spike in sales, but much more importantly, it gave huge recognition for the company. Around 40% of our business already came from the US but being worn by Prince George has given us a lot of interest from other countries, like Japan, South Korea and India. We’ve also seen a shift in trends. Our styles are quite traditional and we’ve definitely seen more interest in classic children’s clothing.”
Twenty years on from the death of the Princess Diana, the influence of the royal family is still being felt. The ongoing popularity of the newest generation, particularly the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, means their reign over the UK fashion industry is far from over. And amid speculation Prince Harry will marry actress girlfriend Meghan Markle, there could soon be another member of the family for brands to court.
The royal effect
Reiss Shola dress
The Reiss website crashed as customers rushed to get their hands on the brand’s beige bandage dress after the Duchess of Cambridge wore the style to meet former US First Lady Michelle Obama in 2011. The dress also sold out in store and was later restocked as a result of ”extraordinary customer demand”.
John Lewis yellow cardigan
A knitted yellow cardigan with a peter pan collar from John Lewis promptly sold out hours after Kensington Palace released a portrait of Princess Charlotte wearing the item to mark her second birthday in May this year. Priced at £18, the cardigan proved too tempting for parents eager to copy the look.
Seraphine knot-front maternity dress
It took just two hours for a £46 fuchsia-pink dress from maternity and kidswear brand Serephine to sell out after it was worn by the Duchess of Cambridge in her first official family portrait with the Duke of Cambridge and Prince George.