It's the Kate show
Every so often a very special style icon comes along. She's not a Lady Gaga with her jaw-dropping meat dresses and leopard leotards, nor is she Alexa Chung with her quirky cool outfits that look just a little bit odd on everyone else.
No, once in a blue moon a style icon comes along that the rest of us actually feel we have a hope of emulating, and right now that icon is the future Queen of England.
Last week Kate Middleton looked stunning when she stepped out at a charity ball dressed in a dusky pale pink, floor-length gown glittering with Swarovski crystals by British designer Jenny Packham. The dress, which had been on sale at MyTheresa.com for around €3,000, sold out within hours of the first photos emerging from the event.
This is not a one-off phenomenon. The Duchess of Cambridge is developing quite the Midas touch when it comes to putting together a look that other women can't wait to get their hands on.
She caused the Reiss website to collapse when fans rushed to snap up the figure-hugging nude, Shola bandage dress the royal wore to meet president Obama and his first lady. The brand reported "unprecedented traffic", with a dress selling every minute.
The same thing happened when Kate stepped out in a €70 dress from Zara the day after her wedding, ditto the blue Issa dress she announced her engagement in and the Burberry coat she wore in Belfast -- all have completely sold out.
Even her wedding-day perfume, White Gardenia Petals by Illuminum, has a waiting list. It would appear that her royal seal of approval is a retailer's dream.
Snobbish fashionistas might be quick to blame the trend on the public's infatuation with the new royal in the rosy glow of her fairytale wedding, but Kate's appeal isn't a flash in the pan.
"From the moment she started publicly dating Prince William, she was on the fashion radar and didn't disappoint," says Liz Greehy editor of Stylebible.ie. "As far back as four years ago, a top she wore from Topshop sold out a mere 24 hours after she was pictured in it."
Her look boils down to understated elegance, classic tailoring and a wholesome girl-next-door charm. It's polished without looking like you've tried too hard, timeless but on-trend and figure-hugging without being overly sexy.
It takes a lot more work than it looks. Kate has top advisers on hand, including Irish-born stylist Leesa Whisker, but the way she makes it look easy is part of her appeal. That and the fact that she shops in places mere mortals can afford.
"Kate appeals to women because she wears affordable designers," says Karen Nason, spokeswoman for Debenhams Ireland. Unlike Victoria Beckham with her designer bags or Carrie Bradshaw's pricey Manolo Blahniks, Kate's mixture of designer and high street makes her accessible.
"Even if it's not possible to pick up the exact piece she's worn, every woman can achieve Kate's style with tailored pieces and cropped jackets," says Nason.
Outlets have been quick to catch on to the Kate appeal. Whistles now stocks a 'Kate Blouse' (the cream silk top she wore for her engagement portrait) while Tesco released a bargain version of the Issa dress that sold out in an hour. The store also plans to carry a frock modelled on her Reiss number. Even Debenhams' €9 replica engagement ring by Vincenza sold out the week of the wedding.
Award-winning fashion blogger Katrina Doran from Sugahfix.com has seen first-hand how keen style seekers are to follow Kate's look. She says: "After her visit to Belfast when she wore a gorgeous Burberry trench, I did a fashion news post on how to get the look with a cute mac from Dunnes for £21. I later heard the coat sold out on the following day."
What has undoubtedly widened the 29-year-old's appeal is that she plays it safe with her style choices. Her conservative dressing is the answer to the prayers of women who've spent the past few years baulking at rising hemlines, plunging necklines and unforgiving neons.
Doran explains: "Kate is a perfect example of the difference between fashion and style. She has a classic style -- well cut luxurious fabrics and silhouettes that suit her slim figure. She doesn't take risks."
Yet she avoids looking boring. Liz Greehy says: "It would be easy to appear older when you are concentrating on hemlines, avoiding garish colours and staying clear of loud prints, like Kate does. However, she always manages to capture her youth, be it with a flash of leg, a wonderfully on-trend top or a figure hugging jacket."
Of course, aside from the accessible clothes, part of Kate's appeal as a style icon lies in the romance of her situation. The commoner who married a prince has captured everyone's attention and her lifestyle is ultimately what shoppers are buying into when they rush to pick up their replica dresses.
"There's such a fairytale story that surrounds her marriage," says Greehy. "But there's also her natural beauty and natural style which means women can relate to her. That's why they adore her so much."
"She's the future Queen of England," says Dornan, "so while the wedding day may have seen our interest peak I forecast that this is only the start of Kate's appeal."
How to be a Copy-Kate
1. Accentuate the waist with skinny belts, nipped-in jackets and fitted blazers.
The Middletons are fans of tailoring -- one does not hook a prince wearing leggings and baggy tops.
2. Mix high-street with designer.
Kate paired her Jenny Packham dress with shoes from LK Bennett and her budget-busting Sarah wedding dress was followed up with a honeymoon trousseau of frocks from Warehouse.
3. Keep it simple and chic.
Daytime hemlines are within a whisker of the knee and formal means floor-length. Blues, white, navy and nude are palette favourites with brighter colour blocking, like the scarlet Luisa Spagnoli two-piece acceptable on some occasions. After all, the queen is a fan of colour.
4. Be economical and wear key pieces again.
Recession-wary Kate's been keen to show she's fashion frugal and has stepped out in dresses, shoes and hats on several occasions such as her DVF print dress which she wore to Boujis in 2007 and again last week at the Trooping of the Colour.
5. Accessorise with well conditioned hair, a light tan (leave the darker hue to little sis) and a friendly smile.
The era of po-faced Posh Spice is over -- fashion has gone down to earth and friendly.