One fashion label played an undeniably pivotal role in influencing and defining her style until 2011: Issa.
Issa's creative director Daniella Helayel grew up surrounded by sun, sea and the stunning nature of the Brazilian coast line. The distinctive prints the designer has become known for have clearly been influenced by Daniella's roots.
'Nature was very generous to Brazil and is enveloped by unique landscapes and dazzling colours. My collections are designed to reflect the effortless elegance and the laid back lifestyle the country is known for. I love making women feel glamorous and chic and always design with comfort and confidence in mind.'
Ms Helayel completed her studies in New York and worked as a fashion consultant and buyer before moving to London where she was inspired by the city's eclectic energy and diversity. In 2001, Issa was born, and since then Daniella's collections have been embraced by celebrities including Madonna, Scarlet Johansson, Eva Mendes and Sharon Stone. But it was primarily Kate's love of the brand's versatile dresses that introduced the them to millions.
Kate chose a beautiful, floor-sweeping coral gown for the Boodles Boxing Ball in 2008. It was the first time we had really seen William and Kate together at a glamorous event and Kate certainly made quite an impression. It remains one of her best looks to date in my opinion. In 2009, Kate chose a very similar halter-neck Issa gown when she hosted a table at the Saatchi Gallery to raise money for the Starlight Children's Foundation.
Kate has displayed a selection of eye-catching dresses at society weddings in recent years including the black Issa dress with sheer panels she wore for the wedding of Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly in 2008. It was an important day for Kate; not only was she attending the wedding of Prince William's cousin, she also met the Queen for the first time.
Lady in red Kate opted for a silk jersey Issa dress for the wedding of Emilia D'Erlanger and David Jardine-Paterson. It was a chic, sophisticated choice for Kate and simply perfect for the occasion.
In October 2010, William and Kate attended Harry Meade's wedding in Gloucestershire. The tanned couple had just returned returned from Kenya and speculation was rife in the papers they were secretly engaged (of course, it wouldn't be confirmed for almost another month). Kate wore a cobalt blue dress by Issa, her first custom made garment by the brand, signalling the strength of the fashion relationship.
Much to the delight of royal fans all over the world, the long awaited engagement announcement of Prince William and Catherine Middleton finally happened on November 16, 2011. It was an immensely exciting and daunting time for Kate who gave her first ever public interview. What does one wear for such a momentous occasion? Kate chose a Silk Jersey Wrap Dress by her go-to designer Issa.
|The British Monarchy Flickr|
Something many noted immediately was Kate's engagement ring. The oval blue sapphire surrounded by a cluster of 14 diamonds belonged to William's mother, the late Princess Diana. Speaking about his decision to give it to Kate, William movingly said: "It's very special to me. As Kate's very special to me now, it was right to put the two together. It's a way of making sure my mother didn't miss out on today." The Issa dress complimented the striking ring wonderfully.
The dress was a marvellous choice for Kate. The ruched detailing on the neckline was stunning and the length was appropriate yet still young. The dress is crafted from pure silk and features wrap over panels at the waist providing a truly flattering fit. The wrap dress is a signature of Issa's and remains available today for £499 at Harrods, The Editeur and Les Nouvelles.
Issa was one of the first labels to experience "The Kate Effect" and the demand for Kate's engagement dress and publicity following the announcement was transformational for the brand. It was recently revealed it was almost too much for the business to handle:
'Demand was so huge that the business couldn't cope. If Kate wears a Zara dress, these huge companies have the backing to follow through. Issa was basically run by interns, students and Daniella.'
Days before the royal wedding Kate was photographed shopping in London wearing a short-sleeve Issa Black Wrap Dress with a v-neckline. At the time fashion experts were predicting Kate would choose Daniella Helayel to design her wedding dress.
And the day before the royal wedding, a radiant Kate arrived at The Goring Hotel wearing her Issa bird print dress.
During William and Kate's first official joint tour of Canada in June/July 2011, Kate brought back the bird print dress for a youth reception.
|Canadian Heritage Flickr|
On July 1st, William and Kate celebrated Canada Day with the regal Duchess electing to wear a rich purple wrap dress by her favoured designer Issa. Kate wore her hair up to display the exquisite detailing and the neckline of the pretty frock.
|Canadian Heritage Flickr|
The event marked the final occasion Kate publicly wore clothing by the brand.
|Canadian Heritage Flickr|
I regularly receive emails from fans of Kate asking why the Duchess no longer wears Issa clothes, the answer is very much an obvious one. In July 2011, it was announced Camilla Al-Fayed bought a majority stake in the brand:
'The daughter of ex-Harrods owner, Mohammed Al-Fayed, purchased a 51 per cent stake in the label which was thrust into the public consciousness after Kate Middleton chose to wear a slinky blue dress for her engagement photo call.
Al-Fayed's title will be chairwoman and she will oversee the commercial expansion of the brand, while Helayel (who continues to hold a 49 per cent stake), will remain as creative director.'
No doubt the Al-Fayed name is one most of you are familiar with. Princess Diana was tragically killed in a car accident in 1997, with her then lover Dodi Al-Fayed, son of Mohammed Al-Fayed. Following the tragedy Mr. Al-Fayed made a number of accusations against the Royal Family, branding the Duke of Edinburgh a "nazi" and a "racist" and publicly blaming the Duke and MI6 for the death of his son and Princess Diana. In a television documentary he burnt the royal coat of arms that used to adorn the wall of Harrods.
Speaking on The Hour, Mr. Al-Fayed controversially said:
'To know that your child has been slaughtered by a bunch of gangsters calling themselves the Royal Family and the head of the British royal family himself, calling himself Prince Philip, he's a nazi at the core, well known racist.'
Naturally there is bad blood between the Queen and the Al-Fayed's and the notion of Kate wearing clothing from a brand owned by Mr. Al-Fayed's daughter is simply unthinkable. Will we see the Duchess publicly wearing Issa again? As long as Ms. Al-Fayed is chairwoman, I would say definitely not.
I imagine it was a difficult decision for Daniella Helayel to strike up a partnership with Camilla Al-Fayed. The brand is doing incredibly well but losing a loyal customer with the status and influence Kate has is a major loss for any brand. It is a terrible pity, in my opinion, because it was a wonderful fashion relationship and one I expect would have continued otherwise. Daniella's wrap and printed dresses suited Kate's frame and remain some of her best looks.
The Duchess has gone on to forge excellent working relationships with designers such as Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen, Jenny Packham and Emilia Wickstead. Let us know which of Kate's Issa looks are your favourites?
UPDATE: On May 2013, it was unexpectedly announced Daniella Helayel decided to leave Issa. According to industry experts she's been unhappy for some time and wants to pursue other projects. The designer said "Creating Issa has been one of the greatest rewarding things in my life. I may be leaving, but the Issa girl will live forever in my heart".