It was the most anticipated dress reveals of the year; Meghan Markle wed Prince Harry, wearing a Clare Waight Keller gown for Givenchy. Six hundred carefully selected guests were invited to the nuptials at Windsor Castle, which saw Markle become the Duchess of Sussex. A statement from Kensington Palace confirmed that Markle first met Waight Keller, earlier this year and choose the designer for the prestige accolade for ‘her timeless and elegant aesthetic, impeccable tailoring and relaxed demeanour’. The statement went on to read “Ms Markle also wanted to highlight the success of a leading British talent who has now served as the creative head of three globally influential fashion houses – Pringle of Scotland, Chloé, and now Givenchy.”
The Givenchy number was one of the best kept secrets of 2018, with intense speculation that the commissioned designer could be courtier Ralph and Russo, Burberry or Erdem. Whilst a French couture house was not the obvious choice the decision and subsequent meetings between the pair were shroud in so much secrecy that Waight Keller did not even disclose to her husband, architect Philip Keller, until the morning of the big day.
Various sketches and meetings between Markle and Waight Keller saw the final design quickly established. The bateau neckline, aka Sabrina neckline (named after the evening dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 film of the same name) was the main talking point and gave a modern, contemporary feel which framed the shoulders gracefully. It was a dress to reflect the forward movement of the royal family into a new modern era; it was gently fitted with six precisely placed seams to create the fluid shape, allowing the skirt to fall perfectly into a soft, round train behind the bride.
Simple and understated in appearance, Waight Kellers couture offering was created from a double-bonded silk cady with a triple silk organza underskirt. The dress was undecorated and free of traditional bridal lace, embellishment and sparkle which did draw some negative critique however this proved a statement in itself, with Markle firmly determining her own fashion rules. Waight Keller commented that Markle “had an idea of what she wanted”, with the pair working closely, over a five month period, to achieve an occasion appropriate dress.
The stark simplicity of the dress was counterbalanced with a dramatic five metre long, translucent veil, to create the final striking silhouette. The silk tulle veil contained flora of each of the fifty-three commonwealth countries embroidered together in one floral composition; a nod towards Prince Harrys appointment as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador and the important role the couple will play to support the Commonwealth. There were two additional flowers entwined on the design; Wintersweet, which grows in front of the couple’s home at Kensington Palace, and the California Poppy, which is the official flower of Markles home state. The delicate veil took 500 hours of meticulous work to make, with workers reportable washing their hands every thirty minutes to keep the materials and threads pristine.
The Queen provided the ‘something borrowed’ in the form of a 1932 oval and diamond bandeau tiara to secured the veil in place and was perfectly offset by a low chignon hairstyle created by hairstylist, Serge Normant. The fuss free dress was complemented by equally pared back bespoke Givenchy pointed shoe, made from silk duchesse satin. Markle choose a bracelet and earrings from luxury jeweller Cartier; With the final piece to complete the ensemble being the wedding ring; a piece of Welsh gold, gifted by the Queen and crafted in the Cleave workshop.
There was a change of outfits for Meghan as she departed the afternoon reception for the evening party; the second dress was a high halter neck, sleeveless design from British designer Stella McCartney, with shoes by luxury footwear brand Aquazzura. Markle made a fitting ‘something blue’ choice in Diana Princess emerald cut aquamarine cocktail ring.
Back in 2016 Markle stated, “I personally prefer wedding dresses that are whimsical or subtly romantic.” A preference that Waight Keller honored perfectly in the final creation to make one of the most understated minimal royal dresses of all time.
Words / JOANNE M KENNEDY
Image credits / Kensington Palace