As Meghan Markle arrived at Windsor Castle to marry Prince Harry on Saturday 19 May 2018, the world was watching with bated breath to see what the new Duchess of Sussex would be wearing and, after months and months of never-ending speculation, which designer had been chosen to create the dress of the year, if not the decade.
Despite rumours ranging from the likes of Ralph & Russo (the only British couture house) and Stella McCartney (who designed the second gown) to Burberry, Erdem, Stuart Parvin and David Emanuel, the name Clare Waight Keller was hardly mentioned in the rumour mill until the morning of the nuptials. Since she is the artistic director of a French fashion house (Givenchy) and formerly held the same position at another French brand (Chloé), her name did not immediately spring to mind, with experts hedging their bets and focussing their attention on British houses. But really, Waight Keller made so much sense – and, as soon as her name was revealed, it seemed as if it had been the perfect choice all along.
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The decision of Meghan’s to choose Waight Keller came down to a number of factors, Kensington Palace revealed on the big day. Her success as a British talent for a start, but importantly, that she is a female designer, as well as her global influence and that she is known for her elegant aesthetic.
“After meeting Ms. Waight Keller in early 2018, Ms. Markle chose to work with her for her timeless and elegant aesthetic, impeccable tailoring, and relaxed demeanour,” read a statement from Kensington Palace. “Ms. Markle also wanted to highlight the success of a leading British talent who has now served as the creative head of three globally influential fashion houses – Pringle of Scotland, Chloé, and now Givenchy.”
So how exactly did Waight Keller rise to the top of her game? Here we break down everything you need to know about the designer responsible for Meghan Markle’s memorable wedding dress.
She had a prestigious fashion education
Waight Keller studied her BA in fashion at Ravensbourne College of Art, before going on to achieve a masters in fashion knitwear at the Royal College of Art. The designer had always been interested in fashion and her journey to being a designer was set out from childhood. She was born in Birmingham and her mother would hand-stitch her clothes.
“That’s one of my first memories: standing there and my mother saying, ‘Don’t move, don’t move, I’m going to pin you, don’t move!’” she told the Wall Street Journal. “Then, as my sister and I got older, we had to become her helpers. She hated how I pinned patterns because I’d make too much of a bubble in the fabric — little, subtle things that I didn’t realise at the time became second nature when I got to school. When they tell me now that something is labour-intensive, I’m like, Really?””
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She has experience at some of the world’s most well-known brands
Following her graduation in London, Waight Keller set her sights on New York, where throughout the ’90s she went on to work for some of the world’s most prestigious fashion labels. First up, she landed a job as a designer for Calvin Klein womenswear, before going on to work for the prestigious Purple Label at Ralph Lauren, where she cut her teeth working on men’s tailoring, something that would come in very useful later in her career.
In 2000, Waight Keller worked as a senior designer under Tom Ford during his heyday at Gucci, a role that brought her back to England and had her designing alongside the likes of Christopher Bailey.
Five years later and she was ready for her first creative director position, at Pringle of Scotland. Here, she was credited with revamping the brand and turning it from a small Scottish knitwear company into a global, modern fashion label.
When she resigned in 2011, she was praised heavily for what she had done.
“Clare’s unique understanding of knitwear and design talent allowed her to modernise the image of Pringle, while remaining true to its heritage,” Douglas Fang, a member of the family that owns Pringle, told WWD. “Clare will be greatly missed.”
She revamped the Chloé girl
The designer moved to Paris to become creative director of Chloé in 2011, a position which she held for six years. In this role, the designer was following in the footsteps of renowned designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo and the house’s founder, Gaby Aghion.
During her tenure at Chloé, Waight Keller was widely praised for her ability to make the brand wearable and extremely profitable by drawing on Aghion’s easy and breezy bohemian aesthetic, but adding a touch of boyish charm. From the standout cult dresses and blouses to that famous tracksuit and the Drew handbag, Waight Keller helped Chloé to become the most profitable brand at Richemont, with an estimated €400 million in sales the year she left.
She is a working mother
When speaking about designing the royal wedding gown, Waight Keller explained that choosing someone who is a working mother was also “part of [Meghan’s] story”. The designer has three children – twin 15-year-old girls, Charlotte and Amelia and a six-year-old son named Harrison – with her architect husband Philip Keller.
“While the kids are at school, I’m flat-out at work,” Waight Keller told W in 2015, when she was still creative director at Chloé. “But I come home and work vanishes as soon as I hit the door. Unless there’s something really urgent and pressing, there’s so much going on here that work isn’t in my head. I think that’s what’s really grounding about having a family: You don’t let the crazy fashion world take you over.”
She is the first female artistic director of Givenchy
Last year, in a historic move, Waight Keller was appointed the first female artistic director of Givenchy in the house’s 66-year past. At the time, the label said they had chosen her due to her compelling vision, her commitment to leadership and her ability to break the rules.
“It’s a big book. It’s 65 years of history to which she’ll be adding a very important new chapter,” Givenchy chief executive officer Philippe Fortunato told WWD at the time of the hire. “She’s a very interesting balance between magic and logic, and I’m personally very, very excited to have her on board.”
Her first few collections for the house have been received well for taking the fluid, ’70s aesthetic she designed so expertly at Chloé and making it sleeker, more polished and more Givenchy. She did all this while secretly designing Meghan Markle’s wedding dress.
Truly one of the greatest British fashion talents of our time, we cannot wait to see what she does next.