With the royal wedding watch at 157 days and counting now that the big date has been announced, eyes all over the world are turning toward what Kate Middleton will be wearing when she walks down the aisle with Prince William at Westminster Abbey on April 29.
The dress guess is the topic of widespread speculation — and a bookmaker’s dream. Daniella Issa Helayel, the designer who crafted Middleton’s deep blue dress for her official engagement announcement, was an early favorite, but London oddsmakers have since elevated powerhouse London designer Phillipa Lepley to front-runner status.
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Appearing on TODAY Tuesday, People magazine’s royal watcher, Suzanne Zuckerman, told Meredith Vieira it might be a case of “Buy British” that elevated Lepley from a 25-to-1 long shot to a 3-to-1 favorite in the wedding gown sweepstakes. Lepley is a born and bred Englishwoman, while Helayel hails from Brazil, although her design company is in London.
“Much like Michelle Obama tapped Jason Wu to design her inaugural gown, Kate has the power and the ability here to tap a British designer,” Zuckerman said. “There is a sense of nationalistic pride that goes along with that.”Video: Who will design the royal wedding gown? (on this page)
Still, there remains a sentimental favorite in the form of Elizabeth Emanuel, whom William’s mother, Diana, elevated from relative obscurity to design the $115,000 wedding dress for her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles, the most watched wedding in TV history.
Appearing via satellite from London on TODAY Tuesday, Emanuel recalled that heady time, when she had to outwit photographers trying to get a shot of the gown-in-making, and relied on her staff not to succumb to huge payouts from the British press to divulge its details.
But Emanuel warned that any comparisons between Kate Middleton and Diana Spencer might be ill-advised. Kate is 28 and has been in the public eye since first being identified as William’s girlfriend back in 2001. Diana, on the other hand, was a tender 20 when she married Charles just a year after they first met.
“The difference between Kate and Diana is that Kate has developed her own sense of style; she very much knows what suits her,” Emanuel told Vieira.Slideshow: Kate Middleton’s princess style (on this page)
She added: “I would imagine she would go for something quite simple, but also it’s going to be a fantastic challenge for a designer because it’s a royal occasion; it’s going to be a historical moment. It’s got to be something that really reflects the history.”Interactive: A history of British royal weddings (on this page)
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And that history would be British. Despite Middleton’s strong connections to Helayel — the $625 Issa dress Middleton wore to her engagement announcement sold out just hours later — Lepley became the betting favorite in the belief that Middleton will eventually choose a native Brit designer.
“It’s important that they do use a British designer for us to all fly the flag just that little bit more,” Peta Hunt, fashion director for the British magazine You & Your Wedding, told NBC.
While Helayel is known for her clean, polished look in wedding gowns, Lepley, who has designed wedding dresses for several celebrities, may be the designer who can best flatter Middleton’s figure, Hunt said.
“I think she does a really romantic dress,” she said. “They’re large-scale, but not heavy and clunky. She can bring a delicacy and lightness into a huge garment, which I think is quite an achievement.”
The whole world will watch
Emanuel noted that times have changed considerably since she dressed Diana: Emanuel was barely out of design college when she offered a black evening dress for Diana to wear at her engagement announcement to Charles. That dress turned the public eye from seeing Diana as a shy teen — she was only 19 when she became engaged to Charles — into a future princess. Diana was so enthralled with the engagement dress that she phoned Emanuel personally and asked her to be the wedding dress designer.
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While Emanuel’s creation for Diana — the delicate bodice, ruffled collar and 25-foot detachable train — became iconic, she told Vieira the pressure on whichever designer wins the plum assignment from Middleton might be even greater than what she underwent. The viewership for Kate and William’s wedding is likely to smash Charles and Diana’s record-setting numbers.Slideshow: A royal couple’s long courtship (on this page)
“The bride is the most important part of this at the end of the day,” Emanuel said. “[You have to] try to put in the back of your mind that there’s going to be I don’t know how many billion people watching, so you’ve got to try not to think about that.”
For the record, oddsmakers list Helayel as second most likely to get the wedding dress assignment, at 9-to-2 odds, while Emanuel is the third-favorite at 5 to 1. Other famous designers in the mix include Vivienne Westwood at 8 to 1, and Vera Wang at 16 to 1.
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