The fashion industry would be nothing without its smoke and mirrors, but lately some claims have seemed particularly puffy — specifically those surrounding Prince Harry’s new fiancee, Meghan Markle.
Rumours about the soon-to-be-Duchess’s wardrobe are quick to spread. Last week’s teaser-gone-viral suggested that the little-known designer Inbal Dror had been asked to submit a wedding dress sketch, which spiralled into claims that she was the chosen designer.
Images quickly circulated of Ms Markle’s head Photoshopped on pictures of the brand’s spring collection. Fake fashion news, it turns out, is as shareable as any other.
The “Meghan effect” has arrived and it’s hot; the websites are crashing and the stock can’t be replenished quickly enough. Markle’s Christmas day look — a wide-collared, camel-coloured alpaca coat by Canadian brand Sentaler — is unavailable in all sizes until new stock arrives in March. There’s a 350-strong waiting list for her £229 (Dh1,134.6) Kurt Geiger boots and to get your hands on her £455 Strathberry handbag, you’ll have to wait until it’s reissued in February.
In the last few weeks, Joseph, Self Portrait, Parosh, Aritzia and more have reportedly sold out of an item after Markle has worn it. She’s having a bigger impact on fashion brands than most professional “influencers”, without posting a single selfie on Instagram.
But I certainly haven’t bought a Meghan-alike handbag. Have you? Now that I think about it, I haven’t spotted any clones in the office, at the shops, or on the train. So who are these people, poised with cash-stuffed wallets, ready to drop several hundred pounds on a whim just to have whatever she’s having?
The frenzy for Edinburgh-based Strathberry was certain, but the facts not so at first. Sources began to report that Markle’s limited edition Midi Tote had sold out within seconds of her arriving at Nottingham station with Prince Harry on December 1. It hadn’t, but the hysteria fuelled itself, and the brand can now clarify after the storm has settled that it took 11 minutes for fans to check out with what was left on the Saks Fifth Avenue website in the US, and 24 hours to clear the remaining stock on Strathberry.com. Just 400 were produced in the first place and many were already sold, so the achievement, while game-changing for the small business, was considerably more modest than the rumours that went viral on the day.
“We’ve had a phenomenal level of interest in Strathberry both at home and abroad,” says Leeanne Hundleby, the label’s PR director and co-founder, of the attention they have received since. Hundleby had sent the bag to Kensington Palace on a punt a few weeks beforehand, with no idea that an engagement announcement was imminent. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think it would result in so much attention, and the sales have remained strong.”
It’s an international audience, certainly, which could explain why few people you actually know have yet succumbed to the “effect”.
“Around 75 per cent of our readers are American,” says Christine OBrien-Ross, creative director of the Toronto-based blog Meghan’s Mirror, which documents Markle’s style choices and advises on how to get the look. “She is definitely seen as the new American princess. People everywhere feel like they can relate to her; that simple outfit of a turtleneck jumper and tan skirt is something that we can all wear in our non-royal lives.”
OBrien-Ross says that posts on where to buy Markle’s engagement outfit (a white Line The Label coat and green Parosh dress) and her Strathberry bag, prompted more than 80,000 people to click to find out more about the item on Meghan’s Mirror, with a portion of those going on to actually buy it via partner links. For small brands, this specific kind of spotlight is directly impactful, and for British brands, it’s a gateway to a new global customer base.
“The website had more than £20,000 in sales within 24 hours,” Dave Lochhead and Dane Butler explain of the effect that their London sunglasses brand Finlay & Co saw when Markle wore their £120 Percy frames to the Invictus Games in September. Thirty seven per cent of visitors to their website came from the UK, but the majority were US-based — the first time that their five-year-old company had reached such a big audience abroad.
Perhaps the most surprising effect though, they say, is the uplift they’re still seeing months later. “The end of September is usually a quiet time for sunglasses sales, so the figures were 20 times higher than a regular day at that time of year. She wore the same frames in November and another surge came. September, October, November and December 2017 are now our four highest grossing months online since we launched.”
I’m inclined to look to the Duchess of Cambridge by way of explanation for the precedent set. The “Kate effect” was coined the day that she announced her engagement to Prince William in 2010, wearing a sapphire-blue Issa London dress, which promptly sold out despite its £430 price tag. Brands had experienced nothing like it before, and the label’s founder, Daniella Helayel, would later admit that the moment contributed to Issa’s ultimate demise, as she attempted to keep up with demand for that one style, rather than growing the rest of her business at a sustainable pace.
This time around, though, the labels are savvier to it. “When Catherine and William announced their engagement, there was only a small community of people interested in Kate’s style, which then grew exponentially,” OBrien-Ross considers. “Meghan and Harry have only recently announced their engagement, but the interest in her clothes is already much greater.”
Brands now know that when they send products to Markle they stand to gain greatly from the opportunity — and they can make it last. The current favourite way to keep up momentum? Parosh and Strathberry have duly reordered stock, renaming their products, “The Meghan”. Expect plenty more in 2018.