With less than two weeks to go until her wedding, Princess Eugenie’s fashion faux pas are well and truly a thing of the past. Liz Jones charts her regal reinvention.
It’s like something out of Hans Christian Andersen. You know the song: ‘There once was an ugly duckling, feathers all stubby and brown…’ Because, my goodness, has Princess Eugenie turned into a swan.
We still have to wait for the big reveal on her wedding day, but we can already see how well she’s scrubbed up in a recent issue of Vogue: why did we never notice that mouth before? In pillar-box red lipstick, her face reminds me of a member of Monaco’s House of Grimaldi, not Windsor. And her choice of clothes from the rails offered on the shoot: Erdem, an edgy Richard Quinn foil cape and florals by Valentino. This gal knows her labels.
The transformation into a soignée swan at the grand old age of 28 is not just because Kate and Meghan have upped the style stakes. As Eugenie says ‘Growing up in the media, it’s…interesting. We’ve had serious grounding from our parents. They’ve had their fair share of media interest, and it makes us stronger.’
Eugenie and elder sister Beatrice, 30, have always loved dressing up, much like their mum Sarah, Duchess of York, but didn’t take fashion too seriously. They were their mother’s
daughters: all puff sleeves and origami hats. Being ninth and eighth in line to the throne and with only a few official duties (Eugenie works for art gallery Hauser & Wirth), they had assumed, well, why would anyone care what we wear? We’re jolly Sloanes! Problem is, people like us do care. And it was after the ridicule of their outfits at Kate and William’s wedding in 2011 that the sisters hired stylist Charlie Anderson. She was a good choice: she had dressed Harry Potter star Emma Watson who, just like Eugenie, is petite and looks best when styled in a slightly retro fashion.
The metamorphosis, though, hasn’t happened overnight: Eugenie has experimented with print and colour, and she has learnt how to make the most of her figure by channelling a 40s and 50s feel in her tailoring. And it’s worked! My reviews of her outfits have just got better and better…
In 2011, at cousin Zara Phillips’s wedding, I reported in the Daily Mail that she was still in ‘frumpy two-pieces’, which ‘cut her in two, while the bustle on her rear does her no favours. The skirt is too short, showing way too much thigh.’
William and Kate’s wedding the same year was also famously a stylistic nadir: ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee, aka Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, provided the cabaret. Eugenie wore a blue Vivienne Westwood pouffy dress with a too-busy bodice; both, for a change, hid their knees. The hat meant anyone seated behind her missed the whole thing.’ Ouch! But just in time for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012, Eugenie had started to tone it down a tad. Says Stephen Jones, who made her hat that day: ‘They love their grandmother, so they wanted to be well turned out for her. It wasn’t about them.’
For Pippa Middleton’s wedding in 2017, I wrote her a rave review again: ‘Princess Eugenie wore a navy princess-line dress that was sober, but showed off her milky shoulders.’ Gone was the bulky fabric, the creases, the crazy hat… and in its place was something restrained and, yes, sexy.
But what really completed the incredible transformation was the outfit she wore to Meghan and Harry’s wedding: a simple blue dress by Gainsbourg, a fledgling British label, which is an encouraging sign that Eugenie will champion lesser-known brands that need a leg-up only a royal can give them. Off duty, too, she has made a print dress her signature, worn not in a Queen Mum way, but with youthful casualness.
Eugenie’s new image has been driven not by snide comments in the press from people like me (or a pre-engagement fitness routine of 7am circuit training), but by a growing sense of confidence that comes only from being loved by The One, aka wine merchant Jack Brooksbank, 32. Her Erdem cheongsam-style dress for their engagement announcement in January was inspired.
And for anyone who is sad she has sold out, meaning all those big royal dos will be a lot less fun, never fear. She’s not in thrall to fashion. Even when one of her norfolk terriers weed on the hem of a couture gown during the Vogue shoot, she didn’t give a hoot. Which just about sums up the new Eugenie: fashion is lovely, but it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
The stylist behind Eugenie’s new look
After Kate and William’s wedding, Beatrice and Eugenie retired, bruised and battered. But hats off to them (literally) for realising that, as they’re in the public eye, they needed help. Fergie took action, hiring British superstylist Charlie Anderson (left) to work with her daughters. The mother-of-two is well known for working with the likes of Emma Watson, Anne Hathaway, Katie Holmes and Nicole Richie, as well as wrestling posh girls out of frumpy twinsets and pearls beneath a muddy Barbour and into something more Fashion-conscious and sexy – a talent practically written into her job description while fashion director of Tatler, where she worked for seven years.
Her brief? To spend a year working with the York sisters to ‘turn around’ their image. Charlie, who lives in Surrey and is now a full-time yoga teacher, encouraged Eugenie to pay attention to the right labels: Vivienne Westwood, Roland Mouret et al. And it seems her tutelage has paid off. Today, in among her designer investments, Eugenie’s wardrobe is chock-full of hip high-end high-street brands including Sandro, Maje, Rag & Bone and Essentiel Antwerp.
Eugenie is ‘a little more refined in her choices’ than her sister, says Charlie, who used the celebrity trick of borrowing rather than buying evening gowns. ‘I dressed them in borrowed labels such as couture Elie Saab,’ she has said. ‘But we borrowed across the board – it was never about what things cost, it was just about what worked for them.
Today, Charlie looks proudly on her former charges. ‘They have got more daring and they seem to be getting to know themselves better – plus, remember, they do have to adhere to certain rules, especially when they are with the Queen, such as always wearing tights.’
THEN: April 2011
At William and Kate’s wedding, Eugenie hits a low. The neckline of this Vivienne Westwood suit makes her top-heavy, the bows add bulk, while the roadkill Philip Treacy hat
is more Easter bonnet contest than royal do.
NOW: June 2018
Bursting with confidence at this year’s Serpentine Summer Party, Eugenie knows she has great shoulders and she shows them off in a Roland Mouret asymmetric dress, worn ‘very now’ over skinny black trousers. Gone is her apologetic posture – here stands a princess in her prime.
PURPLE BUT PATCHY
A less comedy effort for Granny’s diamond jubilee, and the Stephen Jones hat is spot on. But the cowl neck is all wrong for her bust and the Suzannah dress hideously creased.
FAR TOO BLUE
No, no and thrice no. This petrol blue outfit, worn to a society wedding, is way too tight: more reality TV star than princess. It all screams, ‘I’m sick of being scrutinised!’
AN ASCOT WINNER
For Royal Ascot, she wore a Roksanda prom dress that makes the most of her figure. The peter pan collar is fresh and young and, boy, does she have great arms.
This is a label she loves: London brand Eponine. The princess line, the keyhole glimpses of flesh…perfect. She’s more shoe literate, too: spiky heels have replaced the middle-aged courts.
MORE FLASH THAN CLASS
Just because it’s Burberry doesn’t mean it suits you. This dress is too shiny and the shoes far too wintry for the Serpentine Summer Party. But her fashion sense is clearly growing.
NAILING IT IN NAVY
At Pippa’s wedding, Eugenie showed huge restraint and grown-up sexiness in Paule Ka, eclipsing the Duchess of Cambridge that day who yet again wore a McQueen 40s-style dress.
At a palace party, Eugenie went all-out fashion in an Alice + Olivia wrap dress. She showed thigh, cleavage and the confidence of knowing that this style looks great on curves.
A STUNNING STYLE SHIFT
This Gainsbourg dress, worn to Harry and Meghan’s wedding, is very 60s and the hat restrained. Some wags on Twitter felt she was a bit Britney Spears’s ‘Toxic’, but I like the simplicity.