A little more than seven years ago, Kate Middleton and Prince William announced their engagement, and the dress she chose for the occasion would go on to become one of the most iconic looks in modern history. Timeless, yet current, the royal blue silk jersey wrap design (that so perfectly complemented her 12-carat sapphire ring) epitomized her elegance and grace — and within seconds, it catapulted its brand Issa into undreamed-of fame.
It also led to its downfall. The designer, Daniella Helayel, couldn't keep up with the demand, and in an unfortunate series of events, she found an investor, sold a majority stake of her company, and eventually left due to creative differences, with the brand finally shuttering in 2015. It's become a cautionary tale for under-the-radar brands.
Cut to present day, and it feels like déjà vu — though it's Meghan Markle, not Kate Middleton, Prince Harry instead of Prince William, and a white robe coat by Canadian brand LINE the Label in place of an Issa wrap dress. And not unlike seven years previously, the coat from LINE the Label sold out within minutes and the brand suddenly found itself in the center of a worldwide, Markle-fueled phenomenon. It's official: The Meghan Markle Effect is effectively, well, in effect.
"We were delightfully surprised she chose to wear one of our designs for the royal engagement photocall. We had no idea she was going to wear our coat; it was a proud moment for our team," says John Muscat, president and co-founder of LINE The Label, going on to explain that Markle discovered the brand on her own and has been a loyal customer for years. "We received an influx of emails, calls and messages on social media immediately after the photos went public. The coat was from our Fall/Winter 2017 collection and it sold out within minutes."
Muscat's team hasn't looked into exactly how much traffic the brand raked in but it was enough to break the site — it was reportedly down for a few minutes in the morning on the day of the photocall. And now, three weeks since the engagement, LINE the Label is still receiving a "huge amount of interest in the coat in winter white," says Muscat, which led to the brand renaming the coat after Markle. "This was our way of honoring her, in the same way she chose to honor us — she's been wearing this specific coat for a long time. It's effortlessly chic, just like her."
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But to avoid overextending itself (and at the same time, preventing a similar fate that befell Issa), the brand is being strategic about how much they plan to restock. "We are being very selective about how many we re-cut in this color," he continues. "This particular wrap style has been an iconic piece in our collection season after season, so customers will be able to find the same silhouette interpreted in different colors."
But of course, the Meghan Markle buying frenzy wasn't limited to the coat. There was the forest green, sleeveless sheath dress by Italian brand P.A.R.O.S.H that Markle wore for her televised engagement interview, along with her strappy nude Aquazzura pumps. "We sold out of the 'Meghan' dress in less than one hour — it was insane," says Paola Rosello, designer and founder of P.A.R.O.S.H. "We had 5,000 consumers checking to see if the dress was available, all at the same time; we've never seen that kind of engagement." But she's confident that they can keep up with the demand: "This has been my job for 40 years — we are supported by an amazing staff," she says. "It won't happen to us; we are prepared."
It's worth noting that many celebrities, and these days, social media influencers, also have a similar impact on consumer behavior, but unlike Oprah Winfrey's favorite things or the Kardashian-Jenner's endorsement of waist trainers, Middleton and Markle's reach is felt the world over. We're fixated on them, their every move, their every look — and it's because of the simple fact that they have married or are marrying into royalty, explains Dr. Cathrine Jansson-Boyd, professor of psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, who's studied consumer behavior for nearly 20 years.
“We’re almost socialized into thinking that a fairy tale life is something that’s to be highly desired, and we’re quite envious of that, so when it happens in real life, i.e. with Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, people identify quite readily with that because it’s exciting,” Jansson-Boyd says. “We want the coat she wears because we believe that if we can have something of hers, it will make us a part of the experience. It also gives people hope—it’s false hope, usually—but we’re not rational beings, so we think, ‘Maybe one day I’ll have that life, because clearly she could.’”
And even though Markle was a celebrity prior to her engagement thanks to her role as Rachel Zane on USA's "Suits," she was still relatively unknown, especially in the U.K., which added to her appeal even more. "If you think back in terms of the royal family, people couldn't identify with them — they were totally disconnected from real life. But Meghan is almost like the girl next door, someone we can relate to, someone who represents a new type of royalty," Jansson-Boyd continues. "Also, she's mixed race, and we're seeing, globally, people aren't just from one background anymore — we're culturally mixed up. So the closer someone seems to us, the more we can identify with him or her."
Her approach to fashion, too, is insanely relatable. No over-the-top luxe pieces, no avant-garde designs, no ostentatious price tags to match. Instead, her looks are simple, minimal, respectable, with high-street styles that fall in the hundreds-dollar range, versus thousands (even her Aquazzura shoes were on sale at the time of her engagement). So when the couple made their first post-engagement royal appearance at a youth project in Nottingham, the Meghan Markle Effect, unsurprisingly, struck once again swiftly and suddenly. She wore a long double-breasted ‘Elodie’ navy coat by Mackage, a black Wolford turtleneck, an ivory Joseph skirt, a tri-colored Strathberry tote, and suede Kurt Geiger boots.
"We saw a huge boost in traffic on the day she was seen with the coat and the days after — around 105 percent more than we got the day before, and 362 percent more than we got last year," says Eran Elfassy, co-founder of Mackage. "The coat sold out immediately, and because we saw the popularity of the coat, we decided to recut the coat and put it up for pre-order on our website. It was no surprise that people were already placing their pre-orders the minute we put it on our website."
"We made pre-orders to produce the maximum we could, but we ran out of wool after 48 hours of the pre-sale," adds Elisa Dahan, co-founder of Mackage. "Even though we would love to make more, there was no more fabric to do so."
Strathberry, too, saw a surge in web traffic (it was up by 5,000 percent; the following day, the site saw close to 100,000 visits) and the bag sold out online and across all international retailers in 11 minutes. (Saks Fifth Avenue, Strathberry's exclusive U.S. retailer also saw "an immediate uptick in sales," says Tracy Margolies, chief merchant of Saks.) "Demand for that particular style has been incredible. After Meghan carried the bag, 3,500 shoppers signed up for stock updates on the tri-color midi tote, encouraging us to launch a pre-order for shipment at the end of January. The first pre-order was sold out within a days" says Leeanee Hundleby, PR director of Strathberry, who also mentioned that the brand has seen a significant increase in sales for other Strathberry totes. "The Meghan Markle effect has taken interest in the brand to an extraordinary level."
Neither brand is at all concerned about keeping up with the demand. For Mackage, Elfassy says they know exactly how many coats they're able to recut and sell, while Strathberry has a stock of leather at its factory in Spain, which means it's in the position to be flexible to meet demand. "The biggest obstacle for us is the time it takes to make every bag, which takes up to 20 hours," Hundleby reveals. "That will always impact the speed of delivery."
So the Meghan Markle Effect appears to be good for business, and considering the overwhelming demand from consumers, it won't be slowing down any time soon.
"The fact that it happened so quickly means Meghan Markle was swept off her feet, which adds to the romance and the greatness that is their fairy tale," Jansson-Boyd says. "People want to buy into that — she's happy, and they want to feel happy, too."