Is Middleton fashion's future?



The final fashion story of 2010 is unravelling: no, not the shock announcement that Carine Roitfeld, the editor-in-chief of French Vogue, has resigned. The one being played out by two women who have dominated global front pages this month.

First off, we have the red-carpet veteran, Angelina Jolie, who for the past few weeks has been wearing Atelier Versace head-to-toe to promote her latest film, The Tourist.

The combination of Jolie and Versace is movie-star perfection: this is exactly the sort of frock we "civilians", as Liz Hurley would call us, could never lay our grubby hands on. However the question is, if we had the sort of money to buy a Versace wardrobe, would we?

It goes without saying Jolie's image is in very safe hands with Versace. It almost but not quite covers her tattoos and tames down the rather racy image that equally helps keep her in Hello! magazine and our vivid imaginations.

Looking tall and elegant in those fabulous gowns, you can see why she won Brad Pitt. Isn't it this, along with the huge multicultural family and humanitarian efforts, that makes Jolie interesting? Certainly not the fact that she (yawn) wears Versace.

Kate Middleton, on the other hand, is very much an open book in terms of her wardrobe. Being the novice of the two it is interesting to see the future royal is already showing such a shrewd understanding of the new rules of celebrity dressing (ie never forget the common touch).

Having become engaged to Prince William in November, she lost no time in pulling off two outfits (and one hairdo) that contained equal parts aspiration and accessibility.

Her 'do has got women the world over searching out their Carmen rollers and every "value" manufacturer worthy of the name popping out a copy of the now famous periwinkle blue Issa frock.

Middleton's off-the-peg designer dress was by a relatively unknown designer. She "discovered" it. But equally, so could you or I. Her subsequent outfits, worn for the official engagement photos by Mario Testino, are even more illuminating. At the time, I guessed (wrongly) that the cream dress worn by the 28-year-old brunette was by Elie Saab or possibly even Stéphane Rolland - it looked that expensive.

When I heard it actually came from the mid-market chain Reiss, diplomatically described as a "premium" British brand by one newspaper, I was impressed.

Reiss is an interesting one. Pricy for the high street, but very much the sort of shop you might find in any mall, anywhere in the world. David Reiss started out with a menswear store in 1971, then set out to create a new tier of womenswear in 1998, bridging the gap between high street and designer label, which he told me himself had "become blurred". With too many chains battling it out to come up with the best designer copy at the lowest price, Reiss took his brand as far away from the high street as possible to offer what they couldn't: luxury.

Luxury, at least in the way Reiss sees it, is something retail analysts describe as being masstige or massclusive (ie an exclusive product "tailored" to the masses).

Middleton also wore a silk blouse from Whistles and a pair of earrings by the jeweller Links for the portrait session. Both are mid-market. Before the recession, Reiss told me of his expansion plans. Astonishingly, given so many casualties in the fashion industry, Versace, for example, which closed down all its stores in Japan last year, I now see he has pulled them off.

Reiss currently has 90 stores worldwide: 14 in the Middle East, seven stores in the UAE, along with nine in America, five in China and one in Russia.

Anyone wishing to see who's doing astonishingly well in fashion should take a look at last week's profit results by the Spanish fashion giants Inditex (who reported a 42 per cent rise in net profits boosted by the opening of 300 new Zara stores to add to the existing 5,000 in 77 countries) and the Swedish chain H&M (whose figures were up 17 per cent, no doubt thanks to its designer collaborations).

But the mid-market is not far behind and gaining all the time on big-name designers. With the backing of Middleton, could 2011 be the year the "massclusives" finally get a slice of the retail and celebrity pie? Perhaps even a Royal Warrant.

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