Published April 29, 2011
LONDON – There was tradition and modernity, sober styles and touches of whimsy: the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton showcased Britain's fashion roots, as well as the claim it's staking at the forefront of haute couture.
All eyes, of course, were on the bride's dress — and it immediately became the stuff that dreams are made of.
The gown, whose details were kept secret until Middleton stepped out of the Goring Hotel to travel to Westminster Abbey, was a magnificent ivory confection with lace floral detail designed by Britain's Sarah Burton, creative director at Alexander McQueen.
A plunging neckline added an edgy touch to an otherwise traditional dress with lace-covered sleeves that ended at the wrists. Her hair was half up, half down, lightly curled and decorated with a tiara. She wore drop earrings.
"The dress itself was a glorious mix of modernity with a hint of historic reference and a wonderful silhouette to complement the architectural beauty of the abbey," said Avril Graham, Harper's Bazaar executive fashion and beauty editor.
Maid of honor Pippa Middleton wore a simple cream column dress also designed by Burton, with a deep neckline, and naturally styled hair. Her bridal tones and sashaying walk down the aisle behind her sister caught the eye of several commentators.
"Her dress was exceptionally fitted, and it was basically white," said Mark Niemierko, a wedding planner who has organized some of London's most extravagant nuptials. "For a bridesmaid that's always been a no-no but I think the idea could really catch on."
The flower girls also were decked out in cream dresses with full skirts and flowers in their hair.
Queen Elizabeth II looked stately yet cheerful in a primrose Angela Kelly dress and matching hat.
Carole Middleton, the bride's mother, wore a sky blue wool crepe coatdress with matching satin piping over a sky blue silk shantung day dress. Both were designed by the Catherine Walker label. Middleton's hat was created by British designer Jane Corbett.
Middleton often dresses youthfully like her daughters, but on wedding day she looked very much the matriarch.
The duchess of Cornwall wore a champagne silk dress and a duck egg blue and champagne coat by Anna Valentine, along with a Philip Treacy hat and Jimmy Choo shoes. Anna Valentine designed Camilla's dress for her 2005 wedding to Prince Charles.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's wife Miriam Gonzalez Duantez — a Spanish attorney — sent tongues wagging with a body-hugging dress draped with lace and a red hat but most guests were more conservative, wearing simple suits and knee length dresses in pastels and blues. Jewelry was understated, too — small earrings and strings of pearls.
On their heads however, guests wore a riot of color, sculpture and design.
Irish designer Treacy made most of the hats for royals attending the wedding — 36 in all that included creations for Prince Charles' wife, the duchess of Cornwall, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie, Princess Michael of Kent, Queen Anna-Marie of Greece and Princess Mathilde of Belgium.
He also designed a hat for Hollywood royalty: Victoria Beckham wore a midnight blue Treacy hat. And dozens of less famous guests wore his creations — many resembling architectural works meant to elongate and frame the face.
"The wedding is an incredible boost for British fashion and for Britain," said Harold Tillman chairman of the British Fashion Council, which promotes British fashion abroad.
"There is nothing better than a morning suit for men — every man looks good in it. And all the guests looked wonderful. Most were beautiful and elegantly understated, with all the wildness and exaggeration in the hats."
Princess Beatrice, 22, the daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, was wearing an ensemble of Valentino couture and gloves by Cornelia James with Treacy hats that rose like a modernist building from her hair.
Her sister, Princess Eugenie, 21, was wearing an outfit by Vivienne Westwood with an equally dramatic hat and a ring by Solange Azagury-Partridge with a Union Jack design. The two sisters love playing with fashion, trying out cutting edge styles many of their aristocratic peers would be too nervous to wear.
"The princesses are young and they wanted to make a statement. They wanted to have a little fun, which they should," said Tillman.
Prime Minister David Cameron's wife, Samantha, broke with tradition: she wore a sparkly hair clip instead of a hat. Her dress was a tight Burberry teal affair set off by a striking necklace by Erickson Beamon for Erdem.
"Her dress and jewelry were great, but I was disappointed she didn't wear a hat," said Niemierko. "She could have easily carried one off."
Zara Phillips, the queen's granddaughter who will also get married later this year, was wearing Paul Costelloe. The couple's friend, Tara Palmer Tomkinson was wearing Deborah Milner.
The wedding presents a golden opportunity for designers. Many replica hats and dresses are expected to be in shops this week.
Victoria Beckham wore a dress of her own design: the dark tones of the smock-like maternity gown had a slightly funereal look. Her husband David was one of the few guests to not wear a British designer, choosing wore a top hat with tails designed by Ralph Lauren, with a medal signifying that he is an officer of the order of the British empire pinned to his jacket.
Singer Elton John wore a purple tie and ivory waistcoat, while his partner David Furnish wore a light gray waistcoat and light-gray tie.
A handful of Italian designers are making appearances. Prince Harry's on again off again girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, chose two custom-made Alberta Ferretti looks — an aqua green satin dress for the abbey and an asymmetric, midnight blue satin gown for the evening.
The crowds outside were more eclectic. Most made sure they dressed warmly for an overcast British spring day, but accessorized with flags and photographs of the newlyweds.
Hats were as popular outside the abbey as inside. Some women wore hats shaped like a wedding cake, others wore plastic bowler hats with a union jack pattern, and some simply wore children's party hats.