The Duchess at 40 Part One & Birthday Photos Followup

I am back with the first of a four-part series looking at the Duchess’s style.  But before we get started on that portion of the post, there are a few updates on the new photo portraits of the Duchess released this weekend. Most importantly, here is a tweet penned by the Duchess herself posted yesterday.

Also on social media, a darling Happy Birthday post from Mila Sneddon, the 6-year-old who was part of the Hold Still photo project the Duchess spearheaded, someone with whom the Duchess has stayed in touch, seeing her most recently at the Christmas Carol concert taped in December.  

The Kensington Palace Twitter account responded to Mila, saying, “Thank you, Mila!” 

We have learned more about the photo shoot itself and more about the photos’ inspiration. This story in The Telegraph shares some of photographer Paolo Roversi’s comments on the shoot as translated from a report in Corriere Della Sera, an Italian newspaper. 

Roversi revealed that he first met the Duchess in November at Kensington Palace, where he joined the Royal and her staff for tea and biscuits.

He told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “At first the Duchess was apprehensive. She is machine-gunned by photographers every day but is not used to posing.

“Knowing my photos with models she was a little fearful of facing a real session, which required about four hours of work. But I reassured her that once we started it was going to be very easy. And so it was.”

We also have more specifics now on the Duchess’s inspiration for the images. We return to The Telegraph piece: 

The Duchess, who read history of art at St Andrew’s University and is passionate about photography, told Roversi she was particularly inspired by Julia Margaret Cameron, the pioneering female photographer of the 19th century and Alice in Wonderland author, Lewis Carroll.

She also showed Roversi works by Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.

Several WKWers commented on Facebook about the birthday portraits reminding them of Ms. Cameron’s work. A brief Google Arts & Culture bio notes, “Julia Margaret Cameron was a British photographer who is considered one of the most important portraitists of the 19th century. She is known for her soft-focus close-ups of famous Victorian men and for illustrative images depicting characters from mythology, Christianity, and literature. She also produced sensitive portraits of women and children.” Below, two works by Ms. Cameron.

The National Portrait Gallery, where the images will become part of the permanent collection, also references Ms. Cameron’s work in its bio of Mr. Roversi.  

Paolo Roversi (b.1947) is one of the most highly respected and influential image makers of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. Informed by a wide knowledge of the history of photography, his distinctive images have frequently been compared to nineteenth century practitioners such as Julia Margaret Cameron or Camille Silvy. At the same time Roversi has been an innovator who has mastered digital technologies and has continued to make exciting and visionary images photographing contemporary figures such as Rihanna, Emma Watson and Kristen Stewart.

The Gallery lists more than 120 Julia Margaret Cameron portraits in its collection as well as other works by the photographer.   

Some readers may recall that the Duchess curated a special portion of the 2018 Portrait Gallery exhibit, “Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography.” The exhibition was “the first to examine the relationship between four ground-breaking Victorian artists: Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–79), Lewis Carroll (1832–98), Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822–65), and Oscar Rejlander (1813–75).” Below, the Duchess at a February 2018 preview of the exhibit. 

As far as lighting and makeup go, Mr. Roversi told Corriere Della Sera, the images were shot, “All in natural light. Her with little make-up, no hairstyle, simple pearl earrings, a ring… The focal point of Kate’s face is her gaze and smile. I didn’t want her too lady Duchess, too establishment, but purer and more contemporary as possible, even more timeless.”

Town and Country has more from Mr. Roversi’s Corriere Della Sera interview in this piece by Caroline Hallemann. 

Roversi revealed that in order to get the three images, he took “250 shots almost all in black and white.” That number was winnowed down to “about 70,” and eventually to the three that were shared with the public. Prince William, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis even helped to make the final selection.

Roversi also shared that Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen “chose the dresses” and that there is another “secret” image of Kate, which was taken while she was dancing on set.

“In the end I wanted to take pictures in motion,” reads a rough translation of Roversi’s interview, “so with that wonderful wide skirt I made her dance in front of my camera, a kind of accelerated waltz mixed with a pinch of rock’n’roll. And it’s a secret image for now.”

In a British Vogue piece titled The Deeper Significance of Kate Middleton’s Ethereal 40th Birthday Portraits, Elisa Taylor writes:

The Duchess wore Alexander McQueen not once, but twice, but three times. By doing so, she cemented herself as a continued champion for not only the fashion house—she also wore a Sarah Burton design for her 2011 royal wedding to Prince William—but for British fashion as a whole.

So championing a British brand in one of her most high-profile moments as a royal so far? That’ll likely resonate for some time to come.

The Duchess of Cambridge often projects a down-to-earth sensibility: previous portraits have her in sweaters, blouses, suits, and other off-the-rack styles. Roversi’s shots, however, exude an aura of gloss, glamour, and grandeur. A viewer can immediately recognize that the subject is of historical importance.

Below, the third birthday portrait. 

Other thoughts come via this column by New York Times Fashion Director Vanessa Freidman. 

Taken by Paolo Roversi, the Vogue photographer known for his soft-focus time-out-of-time style and high romanticism, the Catherine portraits show the duchess in three different Alexander McQueen gowns — a choice that not only ticks the box of wearing British, but also continues Catherine’s relationship with Sarah Burton, the designer who made her wedding gown.

In them, she is playing the part of the consort of the heir to the throne, an avatar of fantasy and someone who can bring it down to earth. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Finally, on this topic, Mr. Roversi’s statement about working with the Duchess. 

Taking the portrait of Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, was a true honour for me, and a moment of pure joy.

I was moved by her warmth and friendly welcome and enchanted by her shining eyes that reflected the loveliness of her soul and her smile showing the generosity of her heart.

It was a profound and rich experience for me, an unforgettable moment. I have met a wonderful person, a person who, with her positive energy, can bring hope to the whole world.

And that wraps up our coverage of the three photos! (Unless something else is revealed that should be included.)  Now to our look at the Duchess’s style over the years. 


The Duchess of Cambridge’s 40th birthday seems a perfect time to look at some of the traits characterizing her wardrobe and style. I have divided these into four posts featuring specific characteristics or traits of the Duchess’s style. The goal wasn’t to select the Duchess’s “ten best looks” or the “most memorable outfits,” but rather, to see the commonalities and look at how her style has evolved over the years. We’ll see overlap among the different groups as we progress through the posts. 

We begin with an event prior to the Duke and Duchess’s wedding, as it portends traits and style elements consistently seen in the Duchess’s wardrobe as a member of the British Royal Family. 

PRE-WEDDING KATE: When appearing at engagements before her marriage to Prince William, the Duchess signaled her ability to dress with intent, using her wardrobe as a way of sending unspoken messages. At her first formal appearance following the announcement of her engagement to Prince William, her attention to detail was evident. The event was a lifeboat christening in Anglesey, Wales.

Then-Kate wore a restyled Katherine Hooker coat, a piece first seen five years earlier at the Cheltenham Gold Cup (below left). The garment was re-engineered for the Anglesey engagement.

Katherine Hooker is just one of the heritage brands worn by the Duchess, smaller British- or UK-based designers, many crafting garments by hand with UK-sourced materials.

Her silk velvet fascinator by Vivien Sherif showcased one of her earliest examples of intentional dressing, using a garment or accessory to send an unspoken message. The piece featured pheasant feathers, the insignia of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and two military tunic buttons.

The tunic button on the right carries the Royal Welsh Fusiliers’ insignia, and you can also see a cameo below the buttons. This underscores the attention to even the smallest details in the Duchess’s wardrobe; all elements are considered in an ensemble, and little is left to chance.

Kate accessorized with brands she has stuck with over the years, including Aquatalia (boots) and Kiki McDonough (earrings).  

THE BRIDAL DUCHESS: It’s impossible to do a retrospective without including the Duchess’s iconic wedding gown designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen.

The Duchess as she looks back at the enormous crowds.

Another view.

This photo shows how the gown stood out inside Westminster Abbey.

And this shows how the 9-foot train was arranged when the couple was seated. 

The exquisite dress was crafted of ivory and white satin gazar.

As noted by Hello magazine, it “featured a V-neckline, long sleeves, a fitted Victorian bodice and, in signature McQueen style, padding on the hips. Kate’s train was an estimated 8.85 feet long, which made quite the statement as she walked down the aisle.” Below, Ms. Burton arranging the veil and dress just before the ceremony.

Another look.Kate Wedding Gown in Abbey Shot from Above Sarah Burton Adjusting Gown April 29 2011 Polaris

Another view as the couple bowed/curtsied to HM.

And as they were just about to exit the Abbey.

The details show how carefully planned the ensemble was, with every element holding a specific meaning or significance. The silk tulle veil was its own work of art, embroidered by Royal School of Needlework craftspeople. The dress and veil incorporated hand-cut embroidery representing the national flowers of England (rose), Scotland (thistle), Wales (daffodil), and Ireland (shamrock).

In this image, you can see how the breeze gently lifts the veil on the Buckingham Palace balcony.

The Cartier Halo tiara was on loan from HM. The earrings were created by Robinson Pelham and were said to be inspired by the Middleton family’s new coat of arms, which included oak leaves and acorns.

Hello reported that “Kate’s bouquet when she married Prince William was a combination of the Middletons’ and the royal family’s favourite stems. Each flower was symbolic: lilies, for the return of happiness; hyacinths, for steady love; ivy, for fidelity and friendship; and myrtle, the emblem of matrimony.”

Here you have a view of the gown and veil as they were displayed at Buckingham Palace. 

That wraps up the initial portion of our series. I rearranged the content a little, moving some of the special series to Wednesday’s post because this was getting very lengthy. In our next post on Wednesday, we will look at the Daywear Duchess and the Formalwear Duchess.  


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