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The woman who gives Ms Markle her sparkle

Behind every power couple is a matchmaker ... enter Misha Nonoo, the New York fashion designer and Meghan Markle's BFF. Jane Mulkerrins hears about her part in the royal romance

When Meghan Markle made her first official public appearance with Prince Harry last month, the royal-watching world went into meltdown with speculation on an imminent proposal.

Hand-in-hand with the fifth in line to the throne at the Invictus Games in Toronto, much was made of 36-year-old Markle's casual chic, sporting denim and flats (in stark contrast to Kate Middleton's early outings beside Prince William).

But the standout item was the "Husband" shirt, a stylish white button-down, made by one of Markle's closest friends, the 31-year-old, British-raised, New York-based designer Misha Nonoo.

The entrepreneur, who counts Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg and Whitney Wolfe, the founder of Bumble, among her friends, is also believed to be the person who introduced the 33-year-old prince to the actress in July last year.

Until recently she herself was married to one of Harry's best friends, the Old Etonian and co-founder of the art auction house Paddle 8, Alexander Gilkes.

It is a hot, rainy, revolting New York afternoon when I arrive to meet the rumoured matchmaker and possible broker of the next royal wedding. Nonoo is having her apartment, in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, remodelled, so we've arranged to meet at Spring Place, a cavernous building of co-working spaces and photography studios in TriBeCa.

Nonoo, a willowy blonde in the Gwyneth Paltrow mould, arrives in the sixth-floor cafe looking immaculate in a dress from her own collection - the Elena, a black mini with white cutout detailing - and a white Flirt shirt underneath. "The names of the clothes were just my way of being a bit tongue-in-cheek," she explains.

Born in Bahrain to an Iraqi father and an English mother, raised in Chelsea and educated at the ACS International School in Surrey and the Ecole Superieure du Commerce Exterieure in Paris, Nonoo has one of those truly global backgrounds that can make for a slightly muddled accent, not to mention identity.

But she is, I find, as British as they come, despite being based in New York for almost nine years. "Pubs, M&S Simply Food, W H Smith, Waterstones - I can buy anything on Amazon, of course, but I just love wandering around Waterstones," she laments.

She is also the very model of discretion. When I ask if she can confirm whether it was indeed she who made the introduction between Prince Harry and Markle, she politely demurs. "I really can't answer that," she laughs.

She will, however, confirm her closeness with the woman who has stolen his heart. "Oh yes, I love her to death. She is the coolest girl in the world," she enthuses of Markle.

The pair met years ago, through another mutual friend in Miami. "We were seated next to one another at a lunch and we got along like a house on fire," Nonoo recalls. "She has the most remarkable and generous spirit. I aspire to be as philanthropic as she is, and to have as much of an impact as her."

Markle is an ambassador for World Vision Canada, with whom she has visited Rwanda, and has worked as an advocate for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. "We really bonded over that to begin with - and we both love dogs, too," grins Nonoo. "We have been very close ever since."

Indeed, the pair have plenty in common. Neither Nonoo nor Markle grew up with any siblings. One of the envy-inducing Instagram snaps from their holiday together in Ibiza and Formentera last August is captioned: "When only children find sisters". And both have found themselves divorced in their early thirties - Markle was married to fellow actor Trevor Engelson for two years from 2011 to 2013.

While she's long had high-profile Hollywood support from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Emma Watson, Nonoo's eponymous label has, inevitably, been thrust into the spotlight since being seen on the back of a possible future royal. "I had no idea she was going to wear it," Nonoo smiles. "It was a beautiful surprise and I was touched. The exposure has been incredible."

If this is true, it is a coincidence. Just two weeks ago, when Markle was being snapped in the Husband shirt, Nonoo was making a radical shift in her business model, introducing an order-on-demand service across her clothing range, meaning that, as she puts it: "We never sell out, and we never go on sale."

She remains tight-lipped about how many orders she has received for the Husband shirt, which sells for $185 (£140), since its star turn. Working with a factory in Asia, Nonoo can now produce, dispatch and deliver garments to customers in just five working days.

With clean lines and sleek silhouettes, the entire collection is black and white. Does she ever wear colour? "Um, occasionally. Maybe on Halloween".

At 17, after taking her baccalaureate, Nonoo was a summer intern at Quintessentially, the concierge company where she met Gilkes, then 23. "I thought he was gay," she has said of him. "He was so handsome and well dressed."

They married in 2012 in a spectacular three-day ceremony in Venice, with guests including Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie (who worked at Paddle 8 for a time) and a live performance from Lana Del Rey in a 16th-century castle.

The epitome of a New York power couple, they held lavish parties at their $5m townhouse, and Gilkes, whose friends include Jay-Z, Eddie Redmayne and Elton John, was likened in some quarters to Jay Gatsby. But in March last year the couple separated, and their divorce was finalised this summer.

Just as Prince Harry and the other young royals are bringing about a cultural revolution with their emotional openness and mental health campaigning, so Nonoo is also unapologetic about her enthusiasm for, as she puts it "many a weird, experimental thing". "I'm very spiritual, I meditate twice a day and I love gong baths and sound healing," she says.

Nonoo is no snowflake, though - she's appeared on the Forbes 30 under-30 list and she drops the term "disintermediation" (meaning cut out the middle man) into conversation with casual aplomb.

She's also playful. Her dog, a cavapoo, is named Thatcher. "She is the softest, cutest little thing you've ever seen, so it was very tongue-in-cheek to call her after The Iron Lady," she laughs.

She's just installed a bar in her home. "It has mirrored walls and is probably going to be the room I hang out in the most." If, as Aesop wrote, a man is known by the company he keeps, Markle would seem to be the kind of intelligent, independent - not to mention impeccably dressed - woman you'd want in your at-home bar. Or, indeed, as a modern addition to your royal family.

Belfast Telegraph

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