What’s in a name?
Britain’s greatest playwright had an answer, and Shakespeare’s second most famous question—right after Hamlet’s morbid one on death—might be the most important clue to the mystery of who will design Kate-now-called-Catherine Middleton’s wedding gown.
With so much speculation on style and aesthetics, could it be that the designer’s name itself holds the key to the closely-guarded secret? Will she wear the regal-sounding McQueen or a designer that shares her forename?
Sure, it sounds frivolous. But the British royal family takes their names seriously. After all, they changed the name of their house to Windsor in 1917, disposing of the German Saxe-Coburg Gotha name to sound a bit more British.
In the same way, Kate has become Catherine. Regal. Refined. Never again a “Waity Katie.” She’ll drop her middle class Middleton surname and gain a title on her wedding day.
Initials seem to matter, too. The couple’s monogram on official royal wedding memorabilia is CW, a break with the sovereign-before-spouse tradition. William and Catherine’s unfortunate monogram would otherwise be “WC,” the abbreviation for water-closet, or toilet, in most European countries.
Royal watchers are looking for all sorts of clues on who will design the dress. “Initially, the bookies were so certain it was [Bruce] Oldfield they wouldn’t take any more bets,” said Huffington Post royal correspondent and blogger Yvonne Yorke. “But Catherine and William are pretty good at playing a cat and mouse game with the press. They’ve left a lot of red herrings and false clues to fool us.”
Fashion insiders are betting that Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen will design the gown. Alexandra Shulman, the editor in chief of British Vogue, maintains that Sarah Burton is the best British couturier to make a regal wedding gown, and recommended the designer to Middleton herself.
Bridal shop owner Carine Halabi of Carine’s Bridal Atelier in Georgetown concurs that McQueen is the right designer for the job. “Whatever she wears is going to change bridal fashions for decades to come,” said Halabi. “She has to choose a British designer, and Sarah Burton for McQueen is the logical choice. The house is best equipped for a couture gown of this magnitude.”
But a McQueen gown puts Middleton, the commoner princess, into high fashion’s glare. She’s normally photographed in High Street styles like Topshop, Reiss and Whistles. A shift from High Street to McQueen is akin to trading in Ann Taylor for Prabal Gurung. The change would be a jarring break with the narrative and style the public has grown to know.
Middleton may avoid the McQueen label because of the name itself. She is not yet a princess, and her popularity is, in part, due to her humble origins. As Anthony Faiola of the Washington Post reported last week, Buckingham Palace is going to great lengths to avoid past mistakes and Diana’s iconic place in fashion and culture. “Though both women inspired fashioned trends, Diana’s style was pure couture, while Kate is more off-the-rack,” wrote Faiola. “No one here is yet predicting that Middleton could match Diana’s iconic status, nor perhaps would she want to.”
But if Middleton’s taste isn’t fit for a McQueen, there are other labels that give nods to her new family.
Yorke reported last week that she is certain Middleton will wear the little-known British label Libelula by Sophie Cranston. Yorke thinks Cranston would be a perfect choice for Kate’s “body-conscious” and sleek aesthetic. She also writes that “the Libelula Española was one of the first helicopters invented”and Prince William happens to love helicopters. Is the symbolic name enough for her to choose Cranston?
“We’re all looking for little clues, anything we can find,” said Yorke. “But I think the name of the label is a coincidence. I’m not saying she picked Libelula just based on the meaning. But I think it’s, perhaps, a cute and subliminal nod to prince William’s helicopter job.”
Perhaps. But Middleton could give an even greater nod to William’s late mother. British designer Catherine Walker, whose monogram happens to be CW, died in September after a long-fought battle with cancer. A favorite designer of Princess Diana, Diana was buried in a black dress she bought from Walker a few weeks before her death.
In February, British Vogue reported the rumor that Middleton had commissioned Catherine Walker & Co, the label set up by Walker before her death, to make the wedding gown. That rumor has since subsided in favor of other designers like Alice Temperley, Sophie Cranston, Daniella Helayel and Sarah Burton.
But maybe the woman wearing Diana’s ring may also wear her favorite designer?
Of course, it’s all speculation based on nothing but whispers and words. But in this monarchy, secrets and symbols seem to matter enough to keep them. Maybe Shakespeare holds the key to this princess-to-be’s most grand and poetic statement.