The jury is still out on what impact Kate Middleton will have on both retail sales and fashion’s overall course—but that doesn’t mean style watchers aren’t paying close attention to what is now being referred to as the "Kate Middleton Effect." But what impact will she have on the U.S. market in particular? America loves a princess just as much as anyone else, but reaction to Kate Middleton has been mixed on this side of the pond. Sales of tabloids like OK!, Star and US Weekly featuring the soon to be princess on their covers have had disappointing sales. On the other side of the spectrum, Vivien Sheriff, a milliner for whom Middleton has a fondness, has seen a dramatic spike in orders for her fascinators, particularly from the States. The interest has been so great that Sheriff decamped to New York for her first American trunk show in early April. Sheriff is just one example of the brands Middleton is turning to retail gold Stateside.
A Style Icon for a "New Era"?
Middleton is both mocked and praised for her personal style in the press. Some say her fashion choices are dowdy and outdated. Others praise her for her grown-up style and elegance. And while the debate rages on as to what kind of style icon she will be in comparison to the late Princess Diana and Michelle Obama, just about everyone has an opinion.
David Yermack, a professor at New York University’s Stern School who has studied the impact of Michelle Obama’s fashion choices on the retail market, doesn’t believe that Middleton will have the same fashion staying power. "This obsession with Kate Middleton’s wardrobe will be episodic," he says. Yermack points out that Kate Middleton has been in the public eye since 2003, and it is only recently that people have started to pay close attention to her wardrobe choices. "I don’t think she can morph into a fashion icon when everyone knows her so well."
David Wolfe, the creative director of trend forecasting firm The Doneger Group, on the other hand says, “I am so sick of Lady Gaga. Kate Middleton is a style icon for a new era.” He points out that she reinforces the grown up minimalist looks designers like Céline and Yves Saint Laurent have been pushing in recent seasons.
The "Middleton Effect" on Sales
And what has all this meant for sales? A Burberry trench coat and Links of London earrings have sold well in the U.S. thanks to Middleton’s endorsement (the Links earrings even started a fight in the brand’s New York store between two women over the last pair). Knee-high boots have also seen a spike in sales thanks to Middleton, but this has largely been limited to the UK market. Style.compare.uk, for instance, reports that there has been a 663 percet increase in knee-high boot sales in the last month alone. Liverpool women are particularly boot crazy—the UK city has seen a 65 percent increase in knee-high boot shipments in the last month.
"We love Kate!” David Reiss, CEO of fashion brand Reiss, says describing the impact of Middleton’s choice of a Reiss white dress, "The Nanette" for her official engagement portraits. "Let’s put it this way, we already have really strong brand recognition in the U.K., but now people have a new understanding of who we are in the U.S.” The Middleton chosen dress was re-released in the US (since it was from the label’s autumn 2008 collection) and sold out within two days.
Reiss also happens to be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and opening a string of new stores in the US -- Middleton mania has certainly provided tons of free advertising that the brand wouldn’t otherwise have enjoyed. Other Middleton favorites like Issa and Temperley London, with limited US distribution, have certainly benefited from their newfound royal associations in the US.
Debate about Middleton’s impact on sales aside, iconic items associated with the wedding are selling in droves. The QVC Kenneth Jay Lane Princess Ring, modeled after the sapphire and diamond engagement ring that once belonged to Princess Diana, and is now being worn by Middleton, has sold over 53,000 units since its November launch. That's more than 350 rings a day. QVC is further cashing in on the wedding, scheduling several shows on April 29th that will be wedding focused and offering officially licensed royal collectibles and replica wedding rings from the official gold of the royal family, Clogau Gold.
The wedding gown of Middleton’s choice is also likely to become an iconic item to be copied by brides the world over. Princess Diana’s dress by Emanuel became a standard of the 1980s, and Middleton’s will likely have the same impact on the bridal market.