Ever since The Queen attended London Fashion Week for the first time in February 2018, to present the Inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, it has become a tradition for a senior royal woman to attend the event. This year, proceedings may be online-only but that didn’t deter the Countess of Wessex from joining a Zoom session to present 2021's winner, menswear designer Priya Ahluwalia, with the award.
The session offered the Countess, who has become one of the Royal family’s style leaders in recent years, the opportunity to share some insights into her personal approach to fashion.
Speaking in a Zoom webinar hosted by Caroline Rush, the British Fashion Council’s Chief Executive, Sophie congratulated the London-born designer, who is of Nigerian and Indian descent, on her latest collection which was inspired by Yaa Gyasi’s novel, Homegoing. ‘Your autumn/ winter collection is just stuffed full of the most beautiful colours, they are stunning… I wish I was a man,’ said the Countess, adding that she was, ‘coveting’ the patchwork shirt which Ahluwalia was wearing.
Later, the Countess, sporting a £595 navy and white Victoria Beckham dress featuring an abstract cabaret dancer print (‘I’m flying the flag’), was asked to describe her own personal style. While she initially looked flummoxed, her answer echoed what many fashion commentators might say about her look. ‘A work in progress? It’s developed over time, I think it’s probably reasonably classic, but I like things with a bit of a twist,’ she said. ‘I sometimes get a bit braver and then retreat again.’
One of Sophie’s bravest fashion moments came in 2018, when she became the first royal to take advantage of a change in the Royal Ascot dress code and wore an Emilia Wickstead jumpsuit, a style which had only that year been deemed acceptable for wear in the Royal Enclosure. In recent years, her love of bold patterns and elegant silhouettes by designers ranging from Alaia and Max Mara to Galvan and Suzannah has made her a posterwoman for ageless style.
Her jumpsuit decision was perhaps inspired by the royals who have come before her. Speaking about what makes British style so unique, the Countess said, ‘if you look at what royal women have worn over generations, and really going back in history, they always made huge fashion statements, but often their statements are perhaps more influenced from foreign shores, because we've been inveterate travellers all the way along’.
Next, the Countess and Ahluwalia, who was chosen to receive the award thanks to her focus on craftsmanship and community, were asked whose style they admire. ‘I think Angelina Jolie always looks amazing and Queen Rania of Jordan always looks stunning,’ Sophie confessed, while the award-winner opted for Rihanna. Ahluwalia also said, ‘I always love the Queen’s fashion, she is a fashion icon.’
Sophie met Jolie in 2018 at an event to raise awareness of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, a cause which both women have given their voice to. The Earl and Countess of Wessex were pictured with Queen Rania and her husband, King Abdullah of Jordan at Windsor Castle in 2012 while Sophie and Rania stood beside one another at the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden in 2010.
During the session, Jackie Newbold, Personal Assistant to The Queen’s Dresser, Angela Kelly, who sat on the front row with Her Majesty at the Richard Quinn show in 2018, gave her congratulations to Ahluwalia, who was also one of the winners of the prestigious LVMH prize in 2020.
The Countess also discussed the importance of the designer’s dedication to using recycled materials in innovative ways, the importance of arts education and the drop in fashion sales as a result of the pandemic, which she said she had heard about on the radio.
Whether the Countess will persuade Prince Edward to don one Ahluwalia’s colourful designs remains to be seen.