Charles and Camilla, Suddenly Chic

Camilla and Charles at a fete for Norway's king and queen. Their three-day Washington visit begins Wednesday with a White House lunch.
Camilla and Charles at a fete for Norway's king and queen. Their three-day Washington visit begins Wednesday with a White House lunch. (By Matt Dunham -- Associated Press)
By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 27, 2005

LONDON, Oct. 26 Six months after their wedding, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive in Washington next week for a carefully choreographed visit designed to show a more mature and happier heir to the throne.

The visit, which includes a lunch and dinner at the White House, a seminar at Georgetown and a visit to the National Institutes of Health, will also give Americans their first close-up glimpse of Camilla, who has undergone a remarkable image makeover since her wedding.

No longer described as frumpy in the media here, Camilla is now seen as a fashion trendsetter, albeit more for the Burberry and tweed crowd.

"I don't think people associated Camilla with the word 'chic' before her wedding," but now they do, said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty, a magazine about royal life.

In fact a new book of colloquial expressions includes the phrase "Camilla chic," part of an overall lifting of the duchess's image since Princess Diana, Prince Charles's first wife, famously called her the "Rottweiler." Diana, an enormously beloved figure who died in a car crash in 1997, had complained that Charles and Camilla had carried on a relationship while she was married to him, causing a backlash against the woman who now has taken her place.

But as time has passed since Diana's death, and especially since the April wedding, Camilla has received decidedly better reviews. Little noted that perhaps it's as simple as Camilla coming out of the shadows and people liking what they see: "Before, nobody really knew much about her."

Susie Dent, the author of the pop culture language book, said the turnaround in perception about Camilla's fashion sense "has gone hand in hand with change in opinion about her. She was an outsider and now she is very much accepted. She has been legitimized."

Of course, Dent pointed out, Camilla's "status is still fairly precarious. Who knows what will happen to the royal family tomorrow?"

Camilla's face -- framed by a massive diamond tiara -- was splashed across front pages here Tuesday as newspapers prominently noted that it was the first time she wore in public a tiara loaned to her by the queen. "Resplendent in diamonds, the Duchess of Cornwall last night staked her place as the second lady of the land," the Daily Mail gushed, describing her as having "regal composure" at the state dinner at Buckingham Palace for the king and queen of Norway. That kind of positive tabloid press was all but unthinkable six months ago.

The royal couple are to arrive in New York Tuesday and their first stop is a visit to Ground Zero, where British victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are also to be remembered. Prince Charles and Camilla are to meet U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and attend a reception at the Museum of Modern Art.

Their three-day Washington visit starts Wednesday with a private lunch at the White House, followed by a visit to the School for Educational Evolution and Development in Southeast Washington and an official White House dinner.

Thursday and Friday, the couple have numerous appearances including an NIH seminar on osteoporosis -- a passionate interest of Camilla, whose mother and grandmother suffered from the disease -- and a Georgetown seminar on "faith and social responsibility."

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