Call it the Meghan economy.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding is a little more than a month away and the wedding dress designer guessing game is in full swing. The May 19 wedding could generate 500 million pounds for the British economy, according to the London-based consulting business Brand Finance.
But Markle is already having a business impact — the royal-in-training’s fashion choices for key appearances have been a boon to brands, especially lesser-known ones. Worldwide coverage of their engagement announcement in November and subsequent official public appearances have helped to introduce millions to an assortment of the former “Suits” actress’ favorite labels.
The net present value to brands that Markle endorses is estimated to be 150 million pounds, or $212.1 million, according to David Haigh, chief executive officer of Brand Finance. While speculation about the designer of Markle’s wedding dress is swirling, Haigh said, “It will be like winning the national lottery for whoever does it. Every time she wears a coat, it goes online and sells out. When you see the coverage, it’s very interesting. It’s almost like a catalogue. She appears somewhere, there are little arrows [near the photos] saying she got this coat here, it cost ‘X,’ these boots come from there — whatever, whatever.”
In her pre-royal life, the years she spent living in Toronto shooting “Suits” seem to have left an indelible impression, fashion-wise. Toronto-based stylist Jessica Mulroney, a member of Markle’s inner circle, undoubtedly helped to get the actress up to speed with local designers. New York-based designer Misha Nonoo is another confidante. The princess-to-be wore a Husband shirt from Nonoo’s “Easy 8” collection for her first official appearance with Prince Harry at the Invictus Games. Nonoo declined comment on her friend’s evolving style, or her impact on the business.
Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo of Ralph & Russo, the label worn by Markle for her official engagement portrait, passed on an interview request. (London bookies have Ralph & Russo on the short list to be in-the-running to design Markle’s wedding gown.) Executives at Jimmy Choo, Markle’s go-to for heels, also declined comment. Ditto for Jason Wu, who designed the sleeveless navy wrap dress Markle wore in February at the first annual Royal Foundation Forum in London. Aside from that, and an off-the-shoulder Theory jacket that she paired with a Stella McCartney coat for a January visit to Cardiff, England, major American labels appear to be conspicuously absent from her wardrobe.
Mackage, Smythe, Greta Constantine, P.A.R.O.S.H., Birks and Line the Label are among the lesser-known brands that Markle has worn for key occasions. Along with spikes in online sales and interest from retailers, the worldwide photo ops have spawned mammoth amounts of free publicity. Mackage founders Elisa Dahan and Eran Elfassy can attest to that. The company racked up 1.6 billion media impressions 24 hours after Markle wore their Mai coat during a surprise visit to Belfast last month. With site traffic five times the daily average, Mackage planned to cap pre-orders for the $750 item at 200 units in that color to maintain a sense of exclusivity. (When Markle wore another Mackage coat the day after her royal engagement was announced, the brand’s site traffic quadrupled.)
“Way before Prince Harry was in the picture,” Markle was invited to a Mackage show during Toronto Fashion Week in September 2015. A few days before, she met with Dahan and Elfassy to choose a customized show outfit. “We were super big fans of ’Suits,’ so we ended up talking a lot about ‘Suits.’ But she is super down-to-earth, nice and positive about the brand,” Dahan said.
Markle’s support has had a snowball effect on Mackage, prompting existing retailers to request the Mai and attracting new customers, too. (Markle also wore Mackage’s $690 leather Baya jacket to the Invictus Games last fall.) “Her time in Toronto made her discover there is a lot of talent here and a lot of well-made product,” Dahan said. “Canada has a really good reputation for style and quality. It’s not just about style. It’s craftsmanship and detail. I think she developed an affinity for a lot of the brands she was wearing when she was here. They became go-tos for her.”
Sold in 27 countries, Mackage has six freestanding stores in North America and five concept shops in South Korea. Another boutique is slated to open in Montreal this fall, and locations in Chicago, Boston, New York and Vancouver are being considered, Elfassy said. Beyond the Markle effect, the company will have another reason to celebrate next year when it reaches the 20-year mark.
After Markle wore a Greta Constantine skirt in Belfast, the company sold 127 units of the $445 custom-made skirt and bolstered its Instagram followers by 2,000 in 36 hours, according to founders Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong. The pair first met Markle several years ago through Mulroney in Toronto. With a confidentiality agreement in place, the company declined to get too specific about Markle.
In her “Suits” days, Markle offered her skills to the Canadian retailer Reitmans and guest-designed a limited edition work-to-weekend collection that turned out to be a winner. Monique Brosseau, vice president of marketing and visual presentation of Reitmans, said at that time, “We all agreed that Meghan was a good spokesperson and ambassador, because she was aligned with what we stand for. It’s no-nonsense, but she loves fashion. She’s very stylish. She’s not too young, not too old, she’s right there and she’s liked by so many women in Canada thanks to her ‘Suits’ contract.”
While Markle has worn Sentaler coats over the years, her $1,295 Christmas day choice “sold out instantly” and was placed on back order twice. Designer Bojana Sentaler met her at the brand’s showroom a few years ago and described her as “very lovely.” The camel style Markle wore over the holidays is one of the brand’s classics so it will continue to be offered. “Everyone asked if she got it for the occasion. I think she was shopping in her closet because she owned the coat,” Sentaler said.
As for her dedication to so many Canadian brands, Sentaler said, “We took Meghan in here as if she were our own. She became really close with a lot of the designers, as well as the fashion industry in general. I think she just generally loved Canada and her time here. As a designer, I can say she has been very supportive to the Canadian fashion industry. It’s very hard for Canadian designers to become known outside of Canada. She was genuinely involved through events [and the Reitmans line.] Canada has been really, really lucky to have her here.”
The word around London is that Markle and Harry plan to practice some fashion diplomacy during their official travels, Haigh said. “I think they appreciate that their patronage has a very significant economic effect. I think it will be very consciously thought about. It will be very beneficial for the people they do it for.”
Noreen Flanagan, editor in chief of the Canadian magazine Fashion, said Toronto became Markle’s adopted home. When she first moved to the U.K., it became natural for her to continue to wear Canadian labels. In recent outings she has added Alexander McQueen, Victoria Beckham and Marks & Spencer to her rotation. “Now I love seeing her also integrating some British brands into her fashion choices. But I think she has that connection to Canada and she’s proud to be representing or promoting Canadian brands when she chooses to wear them,” she said. “Obviously, she will continue to have close relationships with her friends here which would include Jessica [Mulroney.] I’m sure Jessica will always be encouraging her to not lose her connection with Canadian designers. But will we play as much as a prominent role in what she wears day-to-day? Probably not. As she takes much more of an international role, she will have to demonstrate a fair degree of fashion diplomacy and wear British, American and obviously Canadian, but [clothes from] wherever she is traveling as well.”
In early January, after Markle wore a 2015 Smythe coat to a Brixton radio station with Prince Harry, the Canadian company “really scrambled” for two or three hours to create a pre-order situation “to try to monetize that because she does have enormous influence,” said cofounder Andrea Lenczner. She and her business partner Christie Smythe called the Italian mill where the style was made to ensure the same fabric was available and put the $995 coat online for pre-orders for a month. Along with a 2,900 percent hike in site traffic that day, the media exposure helped Smythe lock up orders from Harvey Nichols, Apropos in Germany and “lots of little boutiques.”
Markle has worn Birks jewelry six or seven times in recent weeks, as she did for last fall’s official engagement announcement. Eva Hartling, vice president of the Birks brand and chief marketing officer, said it sold five times the average number of units of the $995 opal earrings. After Markle wore snowflake diamond jacket earrings, sales for a $5,000 style and a $6,000 one jumped, which was surprising given their price tags. Markle’s support has “meant increased awareness at the international level. We’re a brand that’s been in Canada for a long time. We’re well-known in certain regions of the U.S. We’re getting press coverage where we never have — in Japan, China, Russia, Germany — countries where we don’t have retail or wholesale presence,” Hartling said.
Last fall, Birks fine jewelry was launched in the U.K. through a deal with Mappin & Webb. Hartling said, “This was a wonderful coincidence. She is followed around the world but there is more attention and interest in the U.K. specifically.”
Another beneficiary of Markle’s Midas touch was the little-known label P.A.R.O.S.H. After she wore a forest green dress from the label for the official engagement announcement, founder Paolo Rossello was interviewed for 20 magazine articles in England alone, never mind requests from ones in France and Italy. The remaining 100 units of that style sold out in an hour, and 2,000 other people visited the site that day. Sales have never been stronger for P.A.R.O.S.H., which started in 1985. In the early days, annual sales were 50 to 100 units compared to nearly one million units today, he said.
With five freestanding stores in Europe, P.A.R.O.S.H. will open another boutique in London. “It was just a very good feeling for my soul, my spirit and my heart to dress a princess,” Rossello said. “I don’t care if, at the end of the year, my profit is $100 million or $10. The company does very well and we have 400 [retail] customers. That was a very nice, small story. We are very lucky but that doesn’t change our brand. It changed my mind, of course. I am very proud, yes.”
Other brands that have also benefited from the Markle economy include J. Crew, after she wore a belted navy coat with white piping for an International Women’s Day outing. Executives declined comment beyond a statement: “We are constantly humbled when multidimensional, dynamic modern women turn out to be fans of J. Crew, inspiring our customers to seek out new items and styling.”
Markle also indirectly helped Finlay London sell “multiple thousands of pairs” of its Percy sunglasses, after wearing them to the Invictus Games. That has led to “a major six-figure online boost,” according to cofounder David Lochhead, who noted 75 percent of all online sales in the past six months have been for the $180 Percy shades with the vast majority choosing the light tortoise-like style Markle sported. And many of those shoppers spent another $60 to engrave theirs, as Markle had, he said. With a new 650-square-foot store in London’s Soho and images of Markle on the brand’s web site, the royal-driven interest is only expected to increase. “There is a really lovely sense in the U.K. that Meghan is deliberately supporting smaller U.K. designers,” Lochhead said, pointing to Strathberry and Charlotte Elizabeth as other examples. “The attention that has fallen on us as U.K. designers has been really wonderful and just totally changed the game.”
After Markle carried a Strathberry bag for an Edinburgh visit, the company sold “hundreds” of bags within hours and placed a reorder to meet further demand. The Scottish label is broadening international distribution to more than 100 stores, thanks in part to Selfridges online, the addition of Nordstrom and growing from five Saks Fifth Avenue stores to 25. The upswing will enable the company to reinvest in the 25-person brand, which had nine employees 18 months ago, said Guy Hundleby, who owns the company with his wife, Leanne. As for the Markle effect, he said, “It’s been huge. There is no doubt about it. She’s been phenomenal.”
But the couple prefers to build Strathberry with measured steps. “We could grow possibly faster and produce more bags but we want to grow at the rate that we feel is right for us as a brand.” Guy Hundleby said.
Divorced American actress winds up marrying a fun-loving British royal: If that sounds like the makings of a Lifetime movie, well, there is one in the works. “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance” is to air on Lifetime May 13. Costume designer Claudia Da Ponte and her team spent two weeks researching – much of that time online checking out Markle’s now-defunct Instagram, and sites like Meghan’s Mirror, before mapping out what she and Harry actually wore to specific events. “I knew I was getting myself into a handful when I signed up for the project. Everything she wears, like any royal, basically sells out in four minutes,” she said.
Given that, getting similar styles from the brands she wore wasn’t always an option for the 30 looks needed for actress Parisa Fitz-Henley, who portrays Markle. “There was a brand that said, ‘OK, we’ll have that coat back in stock in July,’ And I said, ‘We’ll be long gone by then.,” Da Ponte said. “We recreated as much as we could and tried to get other pieces from the brands. She wears a lot of Canadian brands so we used as much from those brands as we possibly could.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Morton’s unauthorized biography, “Meghan: A Hollywood Princess,” should only add more gasoline to the fire of interest in all things Markle now that it has been released. The author chronicles some of her fashion ties including Nonoo, the Coveteur’s Jake Rosenberg, Edie Parker’s Brett Heyman and Wes Gordon whom Morton described as her “fashion mentor.” Marcelo has also known Joe Zee for years, “since they first met in 2011 drinking and shooting the breeze until late into the night.” Morton also referenced how “thrilled” Markle was that Ivanka Trump — prior to her father’s presidential run — accepted an invitation to meet for dinner and drinks after Trump agreed to complete a questionnaire for a “Tig Talk” on Markle’s since-shuttered lifestyle site “The Tig.” (Whether that meeting actually happened is not known.) Morton’s book referenced how Markle gushed online, “Don’t get me started on her jewelry collection: The late night ‘window shopping’ I have done on my computer, snuggled up in my bed with a glass of wine, staring longingly at the beautiful designs.”
The Markle effect can linger long. Cami NYC is still seeing the residual impact more than two and a half years after Markle wore its Sweetheart camisole. The piece is featured on the blog Meghan’s Mirror. (Another blog Mad About Meghan also documents her style.) But Cami NYC founder Samantha Steen was quick to note that Markle wasn’t the driving force that doubled sales last year. More than 100 non-sponsored influencers and pre-Meghan accounts like Net-a-porter are helping to fuel growth. Nevertheless, when Markle is big in the news, Steen will share images of her wearing Cami NYC via the company’s social media channels. Markle’s unofficial endorsement is included in the press package. “It is a very big deal that she wore it and is now going to be future royalty. It creates more credibility on our account because we’re still such a small brand. It’s great exposure,” Steen said.
In February, after Markle wore a Tuxe bodysuit with a pussy bow under her Alexander McQueen tux, the Philadelphia-based company’s site traffic increased 10 times the daily average for a solid month. Several hundred units of the item are currently on back order and 10 new wholesale accounts have been picked up, said founder Tamar Daniel. “We have quite a long list of stores to ship to and to work with, which has been great. It’s kind of like a trade show that we didn’t attend,” she said.
As for the Markle economy, Daniel said, “It’s a real thing. It’s true what everyone says. First of all, just the amount of site traffic went way up and then department stores and media from all around the world have been reaching out. Of course, a lot of consumers wanted to buy the top that she wore.
“The part that people don’t realize and the more interesting repercussion is the awareness for the brand on an industry level. From my perspective, that was the real win,” she said. “That has immediate impact but also [allows for] long-term sustainable growth.”
Launch Gallery: Meghan Markle's Fashion Style 2018: All The Looks