Mirror, Mirror: A fashion icon? Maybe some day, but not yet

Kate Middleton's engagement dress became a hot seller, and a hat she wore in 2006 sported heart-shaped trim.
Kate Middleton's engagement dress became a hot seller, and a hat she wore in 2006 sported heart-shaped trim.
Posted: April 13, 2011

A princess doth not a fashion icon make.

Whew, that thought has bothered me like a pebble in my Manolo for a while now.

It's not that I don't like Kate Middleton's style. In fact, the 29-year-old fiancee to Prince William has been killing it, fashionably speaking, since she was officially betrothed.

She was sophisticated in her royal-blue dress by Brazilian designer Issa London. She's classy when wearing the belted white Burberry trench coat with the dainty ruffled hem. And she's a risk-taker - note her penchant for hats, from netted pillboxes to black fedoras.

Others must agree: Last week the Princess Catherine doll went on sale at the 250-year-old Hamleys London toy store.

That said, I think the best way to describe her is lucky. OK, maybe a role model - if you want to grow up to become a princess. (And the progressive woman I am must admit that's not a bad gig.)

I'd even go so far as to put her in the tastemaker/trendsetter category: The most fashion forward are wearing what she's wearing. But despite her ability to move just about anything she wears - that Issa dress sold out within hours of the engagement announcement - Middleton's not the first person to wear these clothes (hello, who hasn't heard of a wrap-style dress?).

So how does one become a true fashion icon? This is an honor reserved for mysterious women of yesteryear, who proved their fashion prowess long before the Internet made celebrity culture so everyday. These women - unlike Lady Gaga, who's more spectacle than icon - have influenced our style choices for generations. They were always up-to-date, but never followed trends.

I'm talking about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, Diana Vreeland, Princess Grace, Madonna, and Diana Ross. These women are fashion adjectives. I can't tell you how many times I've written the phrase "Jackie O-like sheath."

Middleton doesn't make the cut.

"She's right up there when it comes to trendsetting," said red carpet personality Melissa Rivers, who recently launched a new fashion deal website, Shoparatti.com. "But is she truly an icon . . . right now? I'd have to say no. . . . We throw around the term too loosely."

That doesn't mean our fair Kate doesn't have icon potential - especially after we see the gown she chooses for her April 29 nuptials.

We know from experience, a princess' wedding dress carries a lot of knock-off weight: Diana's billowy-sleeved confection by British designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel was a favorite look for brides throughout the 1980s (although she never quite rose to the level of icon, either), and whatever Middleton wears also will have star appeal.

The vastness of Westminster Abbey requires a pretty dramatic silhouette, so if Middleton is able to successfully incorporate her clean, classic look into one respectful of royal tradition, all with the help of a thoroughly modern British designer (my first choice is Stella McCartney), she might quickly rack up points toward icon status.

And if she throws caution to the wind and opts for a sleek column of a dress by American faves Monique Lhuillier or Vera Wang, she could qualify because of fearless originality - another must for iconville.

But until then, Middleton's just not there.

"She needs to create a lifestyle, an entire look that is completely hers. . . . not a stylist's," said Colin T. McDonald, a New York-based celebrity stylist and commentator. McDonald has worked with first lady Michelle Obama, another budding fashion icon, for Harper's Bazaar magazine.

For instance, if she changes her hair - and everyone follows suit - that could shake things up, said Rivers. "I don't know if she'll keep her hair long, but whatever style she may settle on later in life has the potential to become iconic."

Note that she said iconic, which is different from icon. (See, I told you the stakes were high.)

Elizabeth Taylor was iconic - she set trends by what she wore in movies, but her offscreen style didn't influence generations of women. And as much as it pains me to admit, Michael Jackson is not a fashion icon because his glove, the leather jacket, and the Jheri curl aren't and never were classic looks for men.

Farrah Fawcett's feather hair? Seventies iconic, but no icon. And even though I got my locks cut into a Rachel shag, neither is Jennifer Aniston. Nor is Sarah Jessica Parker - but Carrie Bradshaw is. And Halle Berry and her Hollywood glamour and close haircut, which changes with the season but is still her signature look, could be knocking on icon's door.

So Kate, you need a few more years - at least 10. But if we, gulp, start referring to hats as Kate Middleton-esque, that's a sign you are well on your way.

Mirror, Mirror:

See examples of fashion icons at philly.com/styleicon.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or e-mail her at ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at ewellingtonphl.


comments powered by Disqus