The Pippa Middleton wedding dress effect
It was a big weekend for red-carpet people-watching — what with the Cannes Film Festival, U.S. President Donald Trump’s first trip abroad since taking office, and the Billboard Music Awards — but for all the competition, the fashion moment I was still thinking about days later was the “not-quite-royal-wedding-of-the-year,” a.k.a. the nuptials of Pippa Middleton, sister of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, with James Matthews.
I think it may change a fashion career. Perhaps two. Really.
The designer in question is Giles Deacon, creator of Middleton’s lacecovered gown, a dress that was, like that of her sister, firmly in the Grace Kelly-marrying-Prince-Rainier continuum: high-necked, capsleeved, moulded to her torso; fairy tale and contemporary at the same time, with a full skirt but not a stuffed one. Not radical by any means. Which is what was interesting. Deacon, after all, made his name as part of the cooler, conceptual strain of British design. “Eccentric” is an adjective often attached to his name. He’s the guy who put Cate Blanchett in an enormous strapless empire gown at Cannes in 2015, decorated with a digitized print he called a “Tudor collage,” and who dressed Solange Knowles in what looked like two oversize, unfurled fans for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala that same year. Last year, he stepped off the London Fashion Week schedule to show couture instead; a signal, seemingly, that he was going to go even more extreme and extravagant.
So when rumours began to fly that Middleton had picked Deacon to make her dress, it seemed unlikely. There was speculation that he had done her party frock for the reception (an outfit that remains a mystery, as the social media ban for the party seems to have succeeded, an extraordinary achievement these days), but that a more establishment choice — Catherine Walker, who ultimately dressed Carole Middleton, the mother of the bride, or Jenny Packham, a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge — would do the bride’s wedding dress. How wrong that was. It turns out that Deacon can walk the line between fantasy and appropriate as well as any of his peers, and there’s a good chance we have all been introduced to the Next Big British Wedding Dress Designer. In not making a statement, he made a statement.
Just as the wedding dress that Sarah Burton created for the Duchess of Cambridge cast Burton’s work at Alexander McQueen in a more accessible, romantic light — and set off a partnership that has continued, with Catherine choosing a blush-coloured McQueen dress for her sister’s wedding — the dress that Deacon made for Pippa Middleton may vault him out of the ranks of insider fashion names and into the ranks of runway-designerswith-thriving-wedding-businesses (Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Alberta Ferretti), as well as into the popular conversation. At least for a certain consumer set.
When Deacon moved to the couture schedule, he mentioned to The Telegraph that he thought moving into the wedding business made sense as a next step for his brand. He has now taken that step in a definitive way. Weddings capture our imaginations like few other events, tapping into a universal Disney narrative, especially when royalty is involved, even if only by association. For a designer, it can increase fortunes: It certainly increases name recognition.
As for that McQueen dress on the bride’s more famous sister — kneelength, colour-co-ordinated with her mother’s and with the sashes on the bridesmaids’ dresses — it served its purpose well: gracefully and effectively fading into the background and allowing Deacon’s work to hold centre stage.
As a result, the second designer name likely to emerge from the weekend’s extravaganza is not another British brand at all but rather the Spanish children’s wear company Pepa & Co. Yup, the one that created the classic white shirts and sage knickerbockers for the pages and smocked dresses for the little bridesmaids, whose ranks included Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
Both miniature royals have already proved to be great movers of merch, with the looks they wear in official photographs causing a sensation on social media almost immediately (see an earlier Pepa & Co. whale sweater-and-shorts-set worn by the little prince for his third birthday). And though the outfits they wore for their aunt’s wedding were custom-made, there are plenty of similar styles on the brand’s website.
They aren’t sold out yet. Let’s see how long it takes.
Pippa Middleton arrives for her wedding to James Matthews at St Mark’s Church in Englefield Green, England, on Saturday.
Pippa Middleton and her new husband James Matthews leave church following their wedding ceremony.
Pippa Middleton and James Matthews kiss after their wedding Saturday.