In New York City, a team of 30 from bridal designer Madeline Gardner’s company has spent the past five days clocking 12-hour shifts to replicate the two dresses Meghan Markle wore at last weekend’s royal wedding. At the time time, three thousand miles away in Los Angeles’ Garment District, a handful of people from the bridal line Floravere have been working around the clock to create a design similar to Markle’s Givenchy gown.
In an attempt to capitalize on the royal wedding hoopla, designing dresses that typically take months is no easy feat. The race to be the first designer to accurately copy the gown worn by Britain’s newest royal, who brings an estimated net value of $212 million to the brands she endorses, is one filled with hurried decisions, prompt pattern making, swift sewing, and on-the-fly marketing - all to recreate styles that already exist.
“It kind of adds a little fun to the whole wedding industry. For us, it’s exciting to present it to brides who want the look,” says Gardner.
Markle’s sartorial influence is very real. When she wore an oversize $750 coat from the Canadian brand Line the Label in November to announce her engagement with Prince Harry, the brand’s website crashed - even though they don’t operate an e-commerce portal. In April, she graced the Invictus Games Sydney in a green floral Self Portrait dress accompanied by a black Roland Mouret crossbody bag, both of which sold out shortly after she was seen wearing them. And the blush pink number by the British brand Goat that she wore on Tuesday, in her first official appearance as a royal, is also out of stock.
For Gardner, the expeditious process began the moment Markle set foot in public in her white silk, three-quarter-length sleeve gown. “I sat in front of the television and sketched how she came out. When she wore the sexier halter dress in the evening, I sketched that one up as well,” she says. "I actually sketch pretty quickly, so overall it took about half an hour to perfect them all."
Molly Kang, co-founder and CEO of Floravere, set her alarm for the wee hours of the morning on Saturday and went to her designer’s home.
“We were obviously all on standby and ready at the crack of dawn, West Coast time, when Meghan walked down the aisle,” says Kang. “I went to my designer’s house at 4 a.m., because no building would let us in at that time.”
For Kang, the process is less about making a carbon copy and more about providing brides with an option to channel a style similar to Markle's.
“Savvy brides want a dress that feels unique,” says Kang.
With that in mind, Kang and her team highlighted the aspects about the Givenchy dress that they loved, like the neckline, and revised others, like using a double-bonded silk cady fabric, shortening the sleeves, and hand-sewing buttons down the back.
“We preserved the seams and the long lines but modified the A-line silhouette,” says Kang, whose design took about 50 hours to come to life, from sketches to the finished product.
Gardner’s goal, on the other hand, was to replicate both styles as closely as possible to the originals, although she noted the fit of Markle’s bateaux-neck ceremony dress could have been tighter or more tapered under the bust.
“Meghan may have wanted it that way, but the average bride wouldn’t wear it that loose, so I’ve tapered the bodice,” says Gardner.
Luckily for her, because both of Markle’s dresses happened to be on the simple side, the two pieces only took her team - 15 people on each gown - about 60 hours to create. But before Gardner knew what she’d be replicating, her biggest concern was that Markle would choose a fully embroidered design, like the Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen creation Kate Middleton wore for her 2011 nuptials to Prince William.
"Meghan's gown was about the fabric and the contoured lines and getting the neckline right. It needed to be slightly above the shoulders, yet give the look of an off-the-shoulder, Sabrina neckline,” she says. “Kate's gown was a bit more challenging due to the intricate and distinctive embroidery used for the delicate bodice and to surround the hemline of the ballgown skirt. Many more yards of fabric were consumed."
Because Gardner promised to get her first samples to J&B Bridal in Chambersberg, Pennsylvania, for an official unveiling this weekend, she’s relieved that the only place she ran into a snag was locating the proper material.
"Meghan's gown was a silk cady, which is a very exclusive woven sateen usually with a crepe backing,” Gardner says. “We didn’t have any on hand so we went on a search to find both the hand feel and texture as well as the weight and sheen. I shopped several fabric vendors until I was able to come up with the one I felt had that rich, wonderful density and look." Once she and her team got their hands on the desired fabrics, patternmakers, cutters, and sewers got to work creating 250 to 500 copies of the $999 “Duchess” dress.
Kang’s designs, meanwhile, typically take two to three months to come to fruition, with a pattern often taking 20 hours alone. She says this week has been a whirlwind for her and her team.
“It was a great opportunity,” Kang says of the $1,475 M. Markle gown, available Friday in sizes 0-24. “It’s not that we necessarily want to be first. I’m fairly certain there are overseas factories that have already made knockoffs.”
Gardner predicts that both styles will become successful, although she thinks the ceremony dress might be more popular, because it’s what people saw the first time they saw Markle on her wedding day.
“So many brides have written me saying they’ve already chosen their wedding dresses and they wouldn’t have looked at such a plain dress but now they’re giving their dresses second thoughts,” she says. Though she’s noticed a resurgence of sleeved gowns over the past year, she hasn’t seen anyone with such a modest, opaque sleeve.
“It will definitely impact the industry. Nude illusion sleeves have been really popular, and I’ve had so many requests for satin dresses, so there’s a trend there,” she says.
And while these two particular styles may not be her best sellers - Gardner reportedly sold just 200 Kate Middleton replicas - Gardner predicts Markle’s influence will nonetheless affect future bride’s trains of thought: “They’ll be a little more open to classic looks.”
Fashion brands have long turned to celebrities for design inspiration. More than 15 years ago, Allen Schwartz of the ABS label began making affordable knockoffs of wedding dresses and red-carpet gowns worn by A-listers like Sharon Stone, Halle Berry, Cate Blanchett, and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy.
“Word got out that I was making all of these $250 to $350 dollar versions of celebrity dresses, and I got a tremendous amount of publicity from it,” says Schwartz.
After appearing on Oprah, Extra and Entertainment Tonight, the designer says he was able to garner tens of thousands of hits in one hour, but the attention didn’t necessarily translate to sales.
“A lot of people started making copies cheaply, and mine weren’t cheap, they were nice,” Schwartz says, calling it quits in the copycat department about 10 years ago.
“It was taking away from the true value of what Allen Schwartz was about,” he says. “It got old, I didn’t like the stigma, and I felt like I was worth so much more.”
Though intellectual property and copyright issues don’t really come into play - designers tend to define their styles as “inspired by” or a “version of” - both Gardner and Schwartz acknowledge that it wouldn’t be impossible for legalities to arise.
“If I were using a specific lace or embroidery, that would be somewhat of an issue, or we’d have to try to use the exact lace, which would make it astronomical,” says Gardner. “These designers are kind of expecting it to happen - I’d take it as an accomplishment and a compliment. It’s never been an issue.”
Kang, a self-admitted Markle fangirl, feels her design is different enough from the original to be considered a copy. For her, making the dress was more about highlighting all the things she loves about the newest princess.
“We think she stands for similar values and similar things we feel are our ethos,” Kang says. “She breaks rules but respects tradition - she’s independent and feminist.”
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