Meghan Markle finally walked down the wedding aisle last week, resplendent in a lacy, sparkling white dress. It was, of course, the “Suits” season finale, and she was marrying her on-show fiancé.
But it was also a mere three weeks or so before Markle herself — biracial American, now former actress, divorcée, United Nations women’s advocate — will walk down the aisle in Windsor Castle to marry her real fiancé, Prince Harry (beloved royal soldier and hell-raiser turned mental health activist). That made for a digital frenzy about what may be coming, which is only going to grow as the days wind down.
The still outstanding question: What will she wear? There are economic and cultural repercussions riding on the answer.
And you thought it was just a dress. Pshaw.
First, odds were on Ralph & Russo, makers of Markle’s official engagement dress. Then Erdem Moralioglu. After all, he is a Canadian — Markle lived in Toronto while she filmed “Suits” — who has become a stalwart of London Fashion Week, famous for his way with a romantic lace dress, and Markle told Vanity Fair she had been wearing his clothes for years. Then Burberry became a favorite, because — well, Britishness. (It probably won’t be the Anne Barge “Versailles” gown Markle wore in “Suits,” though that extravaganza did have a princess vibe.)
The answer won’t be certain until the bride appears on May 19, but what is increasingly clear is that whoever the designer is, he or she will be vaulted into the global conversation.
In today’s influencer culture, when an individual’s ability to ignite far-reaching trends simply by dint of her own appeal is more effective than any advertising campaign, it is beginning to seem as if Markle could be the most influential of all. Even though she has deleted all of her social media accounts.
The numbers began to roll in almost as soon as Markle appeared with Harry at the Invictus Games in Toronto last September wearing ripped jeans from the California brand Mother and carrying an Everlane tote. Mother had a 200 percent increase in traffic to its website, the company said, and a 60 percent increase in Google searches compared with the same week the previous September. According to Lela Becker, president and founder of Mother, the jeans sold out in three days and 400 people signed up on a wait list for a reorder.
At Everlane, there are more than 20,000 people on a wait list for the tote she carried, according to the company. When Michael Preysman, the Everlane founder and chief executive, was asked to come up with an equivalent celebrity, he said, “Angelina Jolie.”
The white wrap coat by the Canadian company Line the Label that Markle wore for the engagement announcement sold out almost immediately, the brand said, and the website crashed. Traffic to the website of Birks, the Canadian jeweler responsible for the opal and gold stud earrings she was wearing in the same appearance, spiked 500 percent, according to Birks, and does so each time she wears a Birks piece.
“We have had celebrities wear our pieces — Claire Foy, Serena Williams — but none has ever matched the magnitude of the global response,” said Eva Hartling, vice president of Birks.
When Markle carried a Strathberry bag for her first official appearance after the engagement, it sold out in 11 minutes, and traffic to the Scottish company’s website rose 5,000 percent. In January, she wore a pair of black jeans from Hiut Denim, a small Welsh brand, and in March the company moved to a bigger factory to fulfill demand.
The scale of the response is huge. Especially given that Markle will never have the title princess attached to her name (the “overwhelming likelihood” is that her title will be Princess Henry of Wales, the BBC has reported, but not Princess Meghan), and that her husband is now sixth in line for the throne, following the birth of that other potential influencer, William and Kate’s baby No. 3.
That lesser status is why Brand Finance, a British consultancy that specializes in brand valuation (especially of intangible assets), originally projected that the wedding would be worth about 500 million pounds ($700 million) in tourism and unofficial endorsements: a meaningful event, but not a phenomenon.
But as soon as the report was issued, said David Haigh, the chief executive, “people went bananas. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a press release get more coverage.”
Haigh began to revise his projections upward. Now, he believes, the wedding itself will have economic repercussions “closer to GBP 1 billion — and to be honest, it could be more than that.”
There may not have been another public figure whose clothing choices were obsessed over to such an extent since Michelle Obama, who inspired a study by a New York University professor in the Harvard Business Review that analyzed her effect on the fashion stock market.
Indeed, since the Obamas left the White House, there has been something of a vacuum when it comes to a public figure consciously using fashion in a creative way to advance specific ideas, and ideals. Melania Trump has proved reluctant to engage consistently in strategic dressing, and Brigitte Macron, the first lady of France, has been notably loyal to French brands, especially Louis Vuitton. If Markle has a role model for how to use her job as “wife of” to advance a broader agenda, it may be Michelle Obama.
“We’ve seen that Meghan Markle is very considered in her choice of what she wears, and understands the soft power that fashion can have in terms of connecting to a community, shining a light on local companies and using what you wear to challenge conventions,” said Caroline Rush, the chief executive of the British Fashion Council.