IT’S a very dreary landscape out there right now for retailers. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of the lucky few – Burberry is one such brand. It can do no wrong, it seems, and never less so than when the Duchess of Cambridge is seen sporting its togs. After being spotted wearing a £650 trench in March last year, the same coat sold out overnight. Indeed, reports about Burberry’s fourth quarter profits have been rather inclined to focus on the Kate Middleton effect. It appears that Prince William’s bride could be seen eating a croissant and the next day butter churners would be announcing an unprecedented boom in sales (though the DOC, judging by the way a Burberry jacket looks on her, probably doesn’t eat croissants).
Certainly Reiss, the upmarket high street chain, is one of the lucky beneficiaries of the Middleton effect. It noted a £10m increase in sales last year (from £85m to £95m) due to the Duchess’s support – she wore its frocks at the Epsom races and to tea with Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace. Sapphire engagement rings, nude tights, blue wrap dresses (like the Issa one she wore for her engagement snaps) and lacy wedding dresses with long trains are all items associated with the Kate, and have all done well/sold out/been reproduced at Tesco instantly (and sold out again). It gets better. The Duchess of Cambridge, it is claimed, has boosted the economy by £1bn thanks to a nation of would-be Cinderellas. According to market analysts Mintel, the average women in the UK aged 25-34 has spent £250 to look like her.
I find it all baffling. For all of Kate’s charm, her life path is hardly one other women can hope to emulate, and her charm rests on distinctly pre-feminist virtues: demure reticence, a lack of publicly-expressed strong views and a knack for keeping her mouth shut.
I can’t help but think that today’s young women would be better served by racing to the shops to emulate Margaret Thatcher, returned to the forefront of the female consciousness by the film, The Iron Lady. Thatcher, whatever your politics, is simply the most spine-tinglingly impressive success story to emerge from British womankind since Elizabeth I. My contemporaries (the Middleton-chasing age group) lack a clear memory of the Thatcher power years, but Meryl Streep has just given us an eminently imitable picture of her in all her blue-suited, pussy bow-sporting, square handbag-toting, pump-heeled, hatted, bouffant-haired glory. The younger Thatcher, the politically awake Oxford graduate (played by Alexandra Roach), offers up nifty power suits and a slim waist. There have been murmurings about a (re)birth of Thatcher cool in various glossy fashion outlets. Yet I bet the Carolina Herrera and Valentino dresses said to evoke the Iron Lady’s style won’t outsell Kate’s wrap.
The Thatcher armoury of style quietly keeps you neat while you get on with the job of being clever, powerful and successful. “What you do is decide the clothes in which you are comfortable,” advised the Iron Lady herself. “You must be comfortable. Never flashy, just appropriate, well-tailored, and it is not unfeminine to be well-tailored.” Now that’s a fashion book from which my generation could take a leaf.
Zoe Strimpel is City A.M.’s lifestyle editor and author of the Man Diet (Avon), out now.