Kate Middleton's wedding dress, designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, has fast become one of the most iconic bridal fashion moments of all time. The classic style, with its long lace sleeves and a full, princess-worthy skirt, nodded to the gowns worn by two other royal brides, Princess Grace of Monaco and Kate's grandmother-in-law, the then-Princess Elizabeth, and will doubtless continue to inspire weddings for years to come. But how was this beautiful gown kept so entirely secret in the run up to William and Kate's Westminster Abbey wedding? And how did Kate eventually decide upon a designer?
How was Kate Middleton's wedding dress kept secret?
It's no surprise that such an anticipated design was shrouded in secrecy until the big wedding day reveal at Westminster Abbey - though just quite how secretive the process was has (appropriately) remained under wraps until dressmaker Mandy Ewing revealed the lengths to which she and her team went to keep the dress a surprise.
'We knew who it was for, but it was very secret - we had net curtains up and cleaners were not allowed into the room and the code on the door was changed,' she explained after Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited the Royal School of Needlework in November 2017.
'The dress was all in the news, but nobody knew who was doing it. When you're working on it you just focus on it and try not to think about what's in the news. But it was an exciting event and everybody loved working on it - it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,' she added.
Sarah Burton was 'honoured' to be chosen as Kate's wedding dress designer
While designers like Jasper Conran and Bruce Oldfield (a favourite of the late Princess Diana) were rumoured to be in the running for the job, Alexander McQueen eventually came out on top. According to a palace statement on her wedding day, the Duchess chose the British brand ‘for the beauty of its craftsmanship and its respect for traditional workmanship and the technical construction of clothing,’ and wanted the dress to ‘combine tradition and modernity with the artistic vision that characterizes Alexander McQueen’s work.’ Sarah Burton, the brand’s creative director, certainly achieved that brief.
Discussing the process in an interview with the New York Times' T magazine back in 2014, the designer said: 'Some people think that I'm afraid to speak up about the happy experience I had creating the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress, but I can tell you that is nonsense.'
'I loved making the dress ...] and we put our hearts into it. I respect the intimate nature of that lovely project and I respect the friendships that were forged during it [...] An instinctive, intelligent, imaginative young woman's wish for a beautiful wedding dress - or any kind of dress - is the most natural thing in the world. And I was honoured to pick up the challenge and always will be.' Indeed, the process marked the start of a strong fashion partnership between the house of McQueen and the Duchess of Cambridge: for a high profile royal event, such as the Trooping the Colour, a christening or even the recent [wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Kate tends to opt for a smart custom design by Burton.
Look back at royal wedding dresses through history in the gallery below...
Queen Victoria, 1840
Queen Victoria is one of just two British Queens to have married while reigning (the other is Queen Mary). For her wedding to Prince Albert at St James' Palace, the young Queen chose a simple off-the-shoulder style in white satin, with a flounce of Honiton lace at the neckline. Instead of a coronet, she wore a simple orange blossom garland.
The train was almost nine feet long
The gown’s dramatic nine metre train certainly made for impactful wedding photos, but it wasn’t even half the length of Princess Diana’s wedding dress train, which famously measured 25 feet (and was almost too big for the Princess to fit into the royal carriage in which she travelled with her father to St Paul’s Cathedral…)
The lace bodice used a traditional Irish technique
Though the lace appliqué for the bodice and skirt of the dress was hand-made at the Royal School of Needlework, the talented craftspeople used the Carrickmacross technique of lace-making, which dates back to Ireland in the 1820s. Individual flowers were hand-cut from lace, then appliquéd onto ivory silk tulle. The floral design incorporated the rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock, a nod to the national flowers of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
The dress design included numerous nods to British design history
According to a palace press release, the dress paid tribute to the Arts and Crafts movement, which favoured simple forms and traditional craft techniques. The narrow bodice, meanwhile, nodded to the Victorian tradition of corsetry, a hallmark which has run through McQueen’s design DNA since the designer’s infamous MA collection.
Kate actually had two wedding dresses
Just like the new Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, Kate wore two dresses on her wedding day: one for the Westminster Abbey ceremony and another for the evening reception at Buckingham Palace. Her second gown was a simpler affair, a strapless style in white satin with a jeweled band at the waist, worn with a faux fur bolero.
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When Kate and William announced their engagement in 2010, Kate wore a sapphire blue Issa dress.