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6 designers tell what happened after a royal wore their brand

This is what happens when a princess wears your dress. Image: Getty
This is what happens when a princess wears your dress. Image: Getty

When the Duchess of Sussex stepped out in Sydney on Tuesday, royalists and fashionistas collectively – and spectacularly – lost their minds.

Clad in a stunning crisp white dress, Meghan’s fashion influence was about to change one Australian designer’s day and possibly life, if history is anything to go by.

Karen Gee, who designed the dress, said it triggered buyer interest so feverish, it actually crashed her website.

However, the designer said the royal wearing her dress was a “wonderful surprise”, with the surge of interest a good thing to have.

“In that moment we worked with all our suppliers to ensure we could sustain business as usual,” she told Yahoo Finance.

“I think thats key to being able to respond to situations like these – having those you know, who know you, and you can trust.”

The dress, which retails for $1,800, also comes with ethical credentials. Karen Gee is recognised by Ethical Clothing Australia and has a body positive ethos.

“At Karen Gee, we create tailored silhouettes in a refined palette, with the focus to fit to flatter and enhance the female form,” Gee said.

“We have always been an admirer of Meghan’s impeccable taste – she is elegant and has a classic, timeless quality.

“We are just very grateful and humbled and embrace the opportunity to introduce even more women to Karen Gee.”

It’s not the first time Meghan Markle has caused happy chaos for a designer.

The Dion Lee dress

Just days after wearing Karen Gee, the Duchess stepped out in Melbourne wearing a blue gown by another Australian label, Dion Lee. Within hours of her appearance, Dion Lee’s website had also crashed.

Nevertheless, the designer said the brand is “so grateful”.

“I think Meghan brings a sophistication and ease to the designs; she is relatable to people and that relaxed sophistication is at the core of our brand,” Lee told the Herald Sun.

“We custom-made the gown at her request and it’s so special to see the product on Meghan.

“She looks beautiful and we are so grateful for the worldwide exposure she has given the brand.”

The House of Nonie dress

“It’s just been crazy,” Canadian designer Nina Kharey told Hello! in July this year.

The founder of high-end brand, House of NONIE said she didn’t know the royal was going to wear her sleeveless trench until her phone began to blow up with excited texts from friends and family.

Her father was in tears and her site was overwhelmed.

“I woke up with [my phone] battery at 100 per cent and by 9 am I had to plug it in because it was dying. My Instagram has blown up, [and] my emails, and I can just imagine how the orders are looking at the moment!” she said at the time.

The Anita Dongre dress

It’s not just Meghan; Kate Middleton also crashed a number of sites after wearing one of their designs.

Indian designer, Anita Dongre, who designed the dress Kate MIddleton wore to play cricket with children in Mumbai in April 2016 said she also wasn’t aware the royal would wear her dress.

But within hours of the appearance, Dongre’s IT staff were in a panic; the website has crashed as hundreds of eager fashionistas crashed the website.

“The factory is just producing the dress now. Everyone is focusing on that. It is all we are producing now,” Dongre told the Wall Street Journal at the time.

She said the label usually produces up to 200 units per piece, but demand for Kate’s dress saw a five-fold production increase.

The ISSA London dress
Kate Middleton wore an ISSA London label dress to announce her engagement. Image: AAP
Kate Middleton wore an ISSA London label dress to announce her engagement. Image: AAP

Then there’s the ISSA London wrap dress, worn by Kate Middleton to announce her engagement to Prince William in 2010. Sapphire blue, it perfectly matched the diamond and sapphire engagement ring that used to belong to Princess Diana.

It was a fairytale moment, but for Daniella Helayel – the designer behind the dress and the ISSA label – it was almost a nightmare.

“From the day of the royal engagement our sales doubled,” Helayel told the Daily Mail.

“I didn’t have the money to finance production on that scale. The bank refused to give me credit, and the factory was screaming for me to pay its bills. I needed an investor.”

Her friend, Camilla Al-Fayed offered a lifeline, buying a 51 per cent stake in the company but that wasn’t enough.

Helayel departed the brand in 2011 and ended the label.

“I left because I couldn’t take any more,” Helayel said.

“I felt so stressed that my hair went white and started falling out. I was broken by the end of it. I had a great business, which I’d built up on my own over a decade. To watch it evaporate was heartbreaking.”

The Jenny Kee jumper
Princes Diana wore a Jenny Kee jumper while pregnant. Image: Getty
Princes Diana wore a Jenny Kee jumper while pregnant. Image: Getty

It’s a vastly different story for Australian designer, Jenny Kee.

“It was a great moment in my design career when the princess wore my koala,” Kee told Yahoo Finance.

Princess Diana wore the famous koala knit to a polo match in 1982 while pregnant with William. It was gifted to her by Neville Wran’s daughter, Kim Wran, at Diana’s wedding and was a favourite of hers, Kee said.

“She was pregnant with William and there’s just something so beautiful about that. It will always be a special moment and not to be repeated,” she added.

For Kee, the moment was accompanied by great publicity. But, she notes, she didn’t have a website to crash in 1982.

“It’s a different world now,” she said. “It was 36 years ago and the thing is, the knits were all hand-made. I could only ever sell so many knits because they were completely hand-made, they took two weeks to make.”

Kee’s label was also well established and popular among celebrities like Elton John, Mick Jagger and Olivia Newton-John. The label, which heavily features native flora, was already nationally recognised.

Nevertheless, “It was a great advertisement for me and for Australia.

“Diana wearing it actually put a stamp of “This is going to last forever, this sort of design.””

A celebrity wearing your clothes can never be a bad thing, Kee said. Naturally, you want everyone to wear your clothes but the publicity boost granted by a celebrity appearance is undeniable.

“It can only be good for the label and if you’re a creative person then you just continue on and that’s just one thing that happens and you just continue designing beautiful things.”