A decade after Kate Middleton commissioned Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton to create her a wedding dress worthy of her initiation into the royal family, the Duchess of Cambridge called upon her favourite designer to make three custom ballgowns for her 40th birthday. Each sublime confection, which drew inspiration from Burton’s most recent collections and reused existing fabrications, showed how far the collaborators have come on their journey together, while marking new ground.
The red one-shoulder gown, featuring an explosive gigot sleeve and nifty pockets sewn into the voluminous skirts, is a new silhouette for Kate, whose beaming smile captured by Paolo Roversi, highlights how great she felt channelling haute drama on her 40th. Ditto the beribonned number, which called to mind the Hollywood portraits of Grace Kelly, the Monagesque royal whose bridal gown inspired Kate’s own. While the Duchess’s eveningwear typically follows the same quietly elegant formula, the message here was clear: if you can’t wear a ginormous ballgown on your birthday, when can you? Taking up space – physically and symbolically – by surprising us (see also that memorable Bond girl-esque moment at the No Time To Die premiere) with a hat trick of new looks, indicates that Kate might be a safe presence, but she certainly won’t be pigeonholed into trad royal territory. Carving out her own confident path looks good on her.
The Duchess no doubt loves Burton’s poetic twists on timelessness, but also the storytelling behind her work (her lookbooks are incidentally often captured by Roversi). McQueen’s spring/summer 2022 collection, for example, was inspired by the drama of London’s skies, or the “storm chasing” Burton’s team watched from the windows of McQueen HQ during the pandemic. Kate might have swapped the splashy prints and raindrop embroidery for a calmer palette, but the keen nature lover could still appreciate the drama bubbling under the surface of all that splendour.
Burton also told Vogue that the spring/summer 2022 season introduced her to a new way of working, whereby she sought inspiration from the wider network of women modelling for the house during unprecedented times. “I made clothes for them as people,” the creative director explained. “It was about them inspiring you as much as you inspired them.” While we always focus on Burton shaping Kate’s public-facing persona, the thought of it being a two-way relationship remains unexplored. Team Middleton-McQueen never looked fresher.