Catherine, Princess of Wales’ Daring Erdem Look from This Week Has a Deeper Backstory

A British fashion label apparently became a divisive element in her relationship with sister-in-law Meghan Markle.

Kate Middleton
(Image credit: Getty)

Even to the naked eye, the Princess of Wales’ outfit choice to this week’s Commonwealth Day service would appear bold: A navy jacquard-print Erdem skirt suit, accompanied by a matching navy wide-brim Philip Treacy hat, navy Gianvito Rossi heels, and a pair of sapphire and diamond drop earrings that, per Vogue, were Princess Diana’s. According to the outlet, Kate “tends to veer away from more fashion-forward wardrobe choices for an occasion as formal as this,” tending to favor her old standbys like Alexander McQueen, Emilia Wickstead, and Catherine Walker. Kate has worn Erdem many times in the past, and, in seeming acknowledgement of the Princess’ close relationship with the fashion brand, the look she wore this week is pre-fall, not available to buy until at least August of this year.

But, if headlines are to be believed, the choice of Erdem for the Commonwealth Day service is even bolder than may first appear. “Was Kate’s Commonwealth Outfit a Subtle Swipe at Meghan?” The Daily Mail asks. “Kate Middleton Shades Meghan Markle By Wearing Designer Who Snubbed Duchess of Sussex,” OK proclaims. The Mirror’s headline on the matter read “Kate and Meghan’s Shared Love of Designer ‘Caused Tension As One Got Priority.’” Outlets are calling it no coincidence that Kate chose Erdem for the service at Westminster Abbey—the same service that, three years ago, was Meghan Markle’s last as a working member of the royal family—a sartorial dig, if you will, at her sister-in-law. In this writer’s opinion, it’s probably not that deep, but it is an interesting story to look into: How a British fashion brand somehow became, as The Daily Express put it, “a pawn in Princess Kate and Meghan’s ‘feud.’”

Even before meeting Prince Harry in summer 2016, Meghan—then an actress appearing on Suits—favored the fashion brand. She wore a dress from its 2015 collection in early 2016—according to The Daily Mail, before it was available to the general public—for an appearance on The Today Show; she wore the label again in March 2017 at a wedding in Jamaica that she attended with Harry (again, a pre-fall item not available to the public), and then again around the time of the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, perhaps a nod to the designer’s Canadian heritage (Erdem Moralıoğlu was born in Canada but grew up in the U.K.; Meghan filmed Suits in Toronto and always felt a special connection to the country). But, after marrying into the royal family in May 2018, despite an obvious affinity for the brand, Meghan rarely ever wore the label again. The reason? Kate loved Erdem, too, and, because of her higher rank in the royal pecking order than Meghan, Kate always got first dibs and was prioritized by the label. Erdem was a relatively rare brand that both women gravitated toward, Kate, for example, choosing the designer for public walkabouts like the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019 and to an official state dinner at the British ambassador’s residence in Sweden in 2018. Kate wore Erdem—launched in 2005—as far back as her earliest days in the royal family in 2011, while on tour in Canada just months after her wedding that April. 

Kate Middleton

Kate, 2015

(Image credit: Getty)

“Royals throwing their weight behind British designers, as Kate has done with Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, is not just diplomacy, but business, too,” The Daily Express reported. “Through this public display of support for British brands, royals have the ability to make fashion careers and put money in the companies’ coffers.”

The Erdem microcosm was but one branch off of a very large tree of “the heir and the spare” dynamic—which translated not just to Prince William and Harry but also to their wives—and it apparently did not sit well with Meghan. Allegedly, according to The Daily Mail, Meghan said, to the point that Kate got first right of refusal to clothes, that the then Duchess of Cambridge “wasn’t even Queen.” 

Kate Middleton

Kate, 2019

(Image credit: Getty)

“When Meghan joined the royal family, it’s claimed Kate was given priority, despite the fact that both women were longtime customers and the fact Meghan appeared to have some kind of relationship with the brand,” The Daily Express reported. The Telegraph reported “Kate always appeared to get first dibs on designers,” including Erdem, which was “one of Meghan’s absolute favorites.” The outlet said that Meghan reportedly fumed when Kate received the brand’s latest designs first and that the move had “gone down badly” with her, and The Mirror reported “it has been claimed the women’s shared love of the designer may have been one of the things to cause tension in the early days of their relationship,” and “that things turned frosty when Meghan found herself behind Kate in the queue for the latest outfits from the designer.”

Meghan Markle

Meghan, 2019

(Image credit: Getty)

The well-documented Erdem row is about clothes, but it’s much bigger than clothes. In his new book Gilded Youth: An Intimate History of Growing Up in the Royal Family, author Tom Quinn writes—as reported on by Marie Claire recently—that Meghan hated being second fiddle always, as per the unchanging line of succession that dictates such things. An ex-Palace staffer claimed Meghan was, per OK, “shocked” she could never come “first in the pecking order.”

“She hated being a second-rate princess—second to Catherine Middleton, I mean,” the source told Quinn for his book. “She thought she would be living in Windsor Castle, for example, and just couldn’t believe it when she and Harry were given Nottingham Cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace.” Her husband, Harry, would go on to (in)famously write about his own experience being second fiddle always in the bestseller Spare—overflow of which Meghan certainly felt, as well.

And, while Kate and Meghan both love the label, Princess Eugenie, Princess Beatrice, and Sophie, the new Duchess of Edinburgh, have also been seen in the brand’s designs. So, the ultimate question pertaining to this week: Was Kate’s outfit choice a swipe at Meghan? Again, in this writer’s opinion, likely not, but it’s a continuation of a conversation about the pervasive royal hierarchy, one that translates all the way down to the clothes on the members of the family’s backs. 

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.