The Dress: Is This It?

She stepped out of the car and those around her cheered. I did not. While she stood there adjusting her veil, I was trying to find the McQueen elements, the signatures. I found none. As she walked into Westminster Abby, her gown moved, but not in a fashion that swished with royal splendour. I was trying to determine if there was horsehair at the hem. I wasn’t sure.

Kate Middleton is perhaps the embodiment of the every woman. And like such a woman she wanted to look pretty—plain old pretty—on her wedding day. It appeared to me that she was less concerned with wanting to look like a princess bride than a pretty bride. To me, Kate Middleton had not really left Bucklebury.

There was nothing wrong with the wedding dress per se. Sarah Burton certainly knew what she was doing. It had the requisite elegance, craftsmanship, and modesty. In ivory and white satin gazar, it was overlaid with French Chantilly and English Cluny lace on the bodice as well as the skirt that stretched out at the back into a train, reportedly almost three metres long.

The details would make any mother schooled in dressmaking proud. The lace applique was created, by hand no less, at the Royal School of Needlework. Hand-cut lace flowers of rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock (all very English, of course) were festooned on the dress. It was even reported that the opening at the back was held together with 58 silk gazar and organza covered buttons, fastened onto Rouleau loops. The couture touches were certainly there.

In the end, it was a dress designed by a woman for a woman. I doubt Alexander McQueen, if he were still with us, would have designed it this way. I am not even certain he would take on the job. If you look at what will soon be exhibited in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a tribute to McQueen called Savage Beauty is assembled, you would, perhap, be able to see that his typical gothic Victoriana—a potent cocktail of  Edgar Allen Poe-ish horror, tragic death, obscure romance, and perverse sexuality—is quite at odds with Sarah Burton’s sweet purity of a dress.

I was thinking that the person most suited to designing Kate Middleton’s gown is John Galliano. Of course, the disgraced ex-Dior helmsman would be the last name on the Princess’s mind. Compassion and weddings are not perfect pairings like satin and lace. But Mr Galliano is clearly qualified, with couture experience, a willing nod to English history and fabric craft, and a histrionic sense that would not be out of place in Westminster Abbey. And wouldn’t designing such a dress be tantamount to a royal pardon, just the thing to ensure that he will not remain the forgotten hero cast out of a storied French atelier?


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