Note: This article is from The Guardian.
Will it feature flounce and frills? Will it be a naive Merchant Ivory derivative? Dramatic? Or just plain old dull?
The endless speculation about "the dress" has become a soap opera in itself, with the Middleton family seemingly complicit in the plot by being pictured outside several designer boutiques like a gaggle of kitten-heeled shoplifters.
"It’s a national obsession. It’s gossip in its purest sense – inoffensive and thrilling," said Kate Reardon, editor of Tatler. "I’m sure they’ve been teasing us. This couple are presented as being very down to earth and straightforward but they are also the most media savvy young couple on the planet, and they know that this universal not-knowing is delightful."
Fashion commentators remained flummoxed as to whether an expert couture dramatist, a sloaney stalwart or a lo-fi newcomer has won the dress commission of the century. "The fashion industry thrives on being in-the-know first, and this time they really don’t know," said Reardon.
Currently, the strongest rumours surround Sophie Cranston, who designs her own small label, Libélula; Sarah Burton, who is head designer at British label Alexander McQueen; and Bruce Oldfield – a designer who can already boast royal credentials.
Jade Beer, acting editor of Brides Magazine, yesterday summed up the designers in contention as "Sophie [Cranston] at one end, occupying the safer and more classic ground; Burton at the fashion forward end of the spectrum and Bruce occupying the middle ground."
Cranston’s emergence as front runner has left some in the fashion industry with a furrowed brow. Her name was leaked on the internet last week by the Huffington Post and although St James’s Palace is refusing to comment and Cranston has reportedly denied it, the rumour has traction. The 34-year-old won the designer of the year at graduate fashion week in 1999, then went on to work with Alice Temperley before joining Alexander McQueen’s design studio – both labels have also been linked to the wedding dress commission.
In 2002 Cranston founded her own label – Libélula – which means dragonfly in Spanish. Middleton is already a fan of her designs, most recently wearing a black velvet dress coat to a friend’s wedding in January. Her vintage-inspired aesthetic, which often focuses on 1920s and 1930s styles, has slim, bias-cut silhouettes which flatter narrow frames and seems in keeping with Middleton’s style.
"She clearly favours slim-fitting clothes so I’d be surprised to see her in a giant dress," said Reardon.
But others see the commission as a task too great for the fledgling label which has only been creating wedding gowns – which retail at a less-than-regal £800 – since last year.
"The label does its job fantastically well," said Paula Reed, style director of Grazia magazine, "but it will be hard to make an easy-going silhouette work for an abbey setting. When I heard the rumour it brought to mind the barefoot-in-a-barn kind of look. Maybe that’s what the couple would love to do but they are getting married in front of the world and that type of silhouette will have a hard time holding its attention. For me there is a big disconnect between a low-key dress and Westminster Abbey."
But Beer disagrees, seeing the choice of Cranston as a brave one. "If it’s true it’s gutsy to choose a designer who has only been making bridal dresses for a year. It would show enormous confidence in Sophie. Championing a smaller British designer would be a very confident move."
Beer also noted that the rumour of Cranston’s commission was not a fait accompli. "My contacts tell me that the Bruce Oldfield rumour is still quite strong within the Middleton camp," she says. Oldfield designs are traditional and favoured by the likes of Barbra Streisand and Sophie Wessex – and he was a favourite of William’s late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. His name became connected to the Middleton dress in January after reports that Pippa and Carole Middleton had been seen visiting his boutique. "It does seem unlikely though," said Beer, "he could be doing the mother’s dress and it would be unusual to do both mother and bride, so I think not."
Meanwhile the rumour that the commission has gone to Sarah Burton – the discreet and highly regarded creative director at the Alexander McQueen label – is fading. Reports in March that Burton, who was appointed creative director at McQueen shortly after the designer’s death, was a contender had the fashion industry salivating.
"I thought ‘wow what an enlightened, sophisticated choice’ at the time," said Reed. "It would have ticked all the boxes of showcasing British fashion as the whole world was watching. A normal designer with a sparkling CV. But that hope is fading fast."
Fashion commentators are in agreement that the commission will be, as Reardon puts it, "rocket fuel" to the chosen designer’s career – at least initially. It will be the most copied wedding dress in the world and elements of the dress will doubtless provide the template for wedding dress trends for the next few years.
However, the expected "Jason Wu moment", as it is being called in fashion circles – whereby a new designer is catapulted from anonymity into the international limelight, as happened when Michelle Obama wore a white dress by the relatively unknown designer Wu – is not a guarantee of future success.
"There is no guarantee that it will galvanise a career in the long term," said Reed. "Wu got a terrific boost but has not gone to superstardom. You have to follow through with the business, that’s what separates a flash in the pan from someone with real staying power."
Reardon agreed. "Without question the chosen designer’s business will be transformed but whether they will be able to transform that into a lifelong fashion empire is up to them and their business acumen."
The fate of David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the couple who designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress in 1981, remains a warning signal. The silk and taffeta dress, which featured a 7.5-metre (25ft) train and 10,000 pearls, was as memorable as it was overblown, but the Emanuels’ career since has been patchy.
In the 1980s the label continued to dress Diana and other members of the royal family, but by the 1990s any remnants of fashion credibility were lost as commissions varied from Disney to Virgin Airlines.
In the 1990s the couple separated, and in 1997 Elizabeth Emanuel’s solo career became unstuck when she was declared bankrupt and lost the right to use her own name as a fashion label. Since then she has continued to be associated with wedding dresses for the likes of Big Brother contestants and has designed bridal collections for Bhs.
Most recently she staged an off-schedule show at London fashion week under her label, Art of Being. Similarly, Lindka Cierach, who created the Duchess of York’s wedding dress in 1986, has apparently been unable to translate her heritage bridal cachet into designing for Carole Middleton. Her design for the mother of the bride was reportedly abandoned by Middleton.
The most likely prediction for the dress is that it will be striking in its safety. "Her dress sense in the past has been astoundingly safe," said Reardon.
Meanwhile, wedding style speculation is not standing still. Experts are now debating the hair-up-or-hair-down question with some intensity, and current thinking among style commentators is that more than one designer will reap the benefit next Friday.
"She could decide to favour one and a half designers by changing later in the day and spreading the love," said Reardon. "It’s a very modern thing to do and she certainly is a modern girl."
The Kate Look/Simon Chilvers
The Kate Middleton look has evolved little since the official engagement announcement last November. Middleton has stuck with a tried and tested formula of pretty conservatism: tailored wool coats, knee-length skirts, sensible heels and wrap dresses. It’s a recipe palatable to the masses, which has little to do with the latest catwalk looks.
This month for the opening of a community academy in Lancashire, Middleton chose a midnight blue vintage silk mikado two piece by Amanda Wakeley. It was a demure if somewhat ageing choice, including a jacket featuring a hook and eye front, a neat pencil skirt, finishing just above the knee and some block heeled court shoes. Clearly a fan of the two-piece, Middleton had previously worn a scarlet skirt suit by Italian label Luisa Spagnoli for a trip to St Andrew. She accessorised this with a polo neck, bow belt and knee-high boots – the latter, another Middleton signature.
Earlier in the year she wore a series of rather sensible coats. In Anglesey this February, for her first official royal engagement, she sported a classic beige tweedy coat, which was a bit British country with a touch of the Sloane. This was styled with ankle boots, a clutch bag and a feathery fascinator – fascinators are a Middleton family staple, her sister Pippa is also a fan. In Belfast in March, she then chose a pale double-breasted belted trench by iconic British label Burberry, which was a fair more contemporary choice – the coat subsequently sold out.
Middleton has been careful to avoid wearing too many expensive designer outfits though. Having previously held a position at Jigsaw she is au fait with the high-street, choosing Reiss and Whistles to wear in the engagement photos by Mario Testino. The cream silk Reiss "Nanette" dress, originally from autumn/winter 2009 range was re-released earlier this year selling for £159. It has now sold out in the UK. The brand say there are no plans to reissue it again. A beige silk ruffle Whistles blouse, also from 2009, was re-issued just two weeks ago and was been re-named the "Kate" blouse. It sells for £125.
This week, Middleton was photographed shopping for a honeymoon wardrobe at various high-street stores in London. During one spree she was wearing a classic black wrap dress and tan kitten heels. The high-street label Warehouse reported she had bought several items from their current spring/summer collection, including a tropical bird print dress, which suggests that away from the media glare Middleton likes to wear slightly younger, jollier clothes.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010