Even at 11 years of age, Meghan Markle was advocating gender equality, and who doesn’t love the story of the cute young Markle questioning a Procter & Gamble TV commercial for Ivory dishwashing soap, which claimed that “women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans”. She wrote to the company and others in leadership positions and successfully got the slogan changed from “Women all over America” to “People all over America”.
Today, as an American actress famed for her role as Rachel Zane, a paralegal on TV series Suits, Markle has admirably leveraged her high-profile status and voice to champion women’s rights and female empowerment, and to campaign for other charitable causes. During a 2015 interview, according to Eonline.com, when TV host Larry King pointed out that she was not the average American woman, the outspoken celebrity responded, “No matter what you look like, you should be taken seriously. And for me also, I think it’s really great to be a feminist and be feminine.”
That particular incident provides one with a gist of the catalyst behind Markle’s activist motivations that encompass work for the organisation One Young World and as a UN Women’s advocate and an ambassador for World Vision’s clean water campaign. According to Theguardian.com, she said her social worker mother “raised me to be a global citizen, with eyes open to sometimes harsh realities”.
Long before meeting her real-life Prince Charming, the 36-year-old was already enthused about philanthropy. This is something she certainly shares with her fiancé’s late mother, Princess Diana, who was regarded as “the people’s princess” and had worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of those in need. As an ambassador for World Vision, Markle travelled to Rwanda in February last year — mere months before she first met Prince Harry and their subsequent whirlwind romance — to witness how the community has benefited from access to clean water, thanks to a pipe built by the global relief charity, according to Foxnews.com.
World Vision Canada chief marketing and development officer Lara Dewar said, “I personally witnessed Meghan’s passion to improve the lives of children and know her heart to advocate for the rights of girls and amplify their important voices. She will undoubtedly bring vast energy to her charity work as a member of the royal family. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for her and Prince Harry — a couple who clearly have a heart for social justice.”
Ending her ambassador role at World Vision and UN Women to embark on the next stage of her life, a representative of Prince Harry told Fox News that with Markle’s experience as an activist, she will take on new causes after their marriage. However, since the announcement of her engagement to Prince Harry, attention on her fashion sensibility and the style predictions of her wedding gown come spring 2018 has, to a large extent, eclipsed her body of work as an advocate and humanitarian.
On this more “frivolous” front, Markle’s sartorial clout has been propelled onto the world stage and made headlines everywhere. We know that buying interest in the £460 ivory coat by Canadian brand Line The Label she wore for her engagement press session caused its website to crash and said coat to be sold out in minutes. The £495 top-handle burgundy bag by Edinburgh-based brand Strathberry she carried for her first official outing with Prince Harry in Nottingham was also sold out in 11 minutes.
Markle’s sell-out effect echoes that of Kate Middleton, who famously influences women to clamour after her style choices, be it a pair of L K Bennett mid-heel pumps or a feminine Jenny Packham frock. By simply donning a fashion brand for her public engagements or private outings, Markle’s power to cause a spike in fashion sales will also prove to be a definite commercial boon for the brands she elects to endorse. From the Finlay & Co sunglasses she wore to the Invictus Games in Toronto to the black Hunter boots and classic Barbour waxed cotton jacket she was seen wearing, these brands have all reported a hike in revenue from the “Meghan effect”.
As reported on FinancialTimes.com, Fflur Roberts, head of luxury at Euromonitor, said as an American future royal, Markle has an unusual power to lift brands in the US. “The fact that she’s American makes a lot of difference. It’s going to open many more doors to brands in the US. The whole world will be following what she’s wearing and will want to have those products.”
Already the comparison of Markle’s fashion sense to that of legendary style icons like the late Grace Kelly and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and on the same side of the pond, her future sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, has been rife and will very possibly escalate in the run-up to the pending royal wedding.
What she has worn thus far, after being catapulted into the public sphere as Prince Harry’s romantic interest, bears quite a similarity to the wardrobe choices of former US first lady Michelle Obama. A seamless mix of corporate chic, American sportswear sensibility and ladylike modernity punctuated with the occasional outfits that reflect the style zeitgeist for the young — be it a pair of ripped jeans or a leather biker jacket — Markle’s fashion inclination is striking a chord with women looking to see if she will be an instigator of a new style code for royalty. Hopefully, Markle will define her own fashion path and not evoke the more conservative options of the well-dressed Middleton, whose taste is more British-inspired and expected of princess fashion.
A 15-year history of experience as an actress has indubitably trained Markle not only in what to wear to look good on the red carpet and when out making public appearances but also how to deal with the massive burden of being under constant scrutiny by the media and the world at large. This will stand her in good stead being betrothed to the fifth in line to the British throne and an inevitable destiny of a lifetime in the public eye.
Already, Markle is sporting longer hemlines, attired in below-the-knee length to maxi length outfits for her official engagement appearance and her Nottingham walkabout. How she will transition from the on-duty and off-duty looks of an actress to those of a princess or rather duchess-in-waiting will absolutely keep royal watchers and style lovers in high anticipation and on tenterhooks, in much the same way the world’s eyes followed Princess Diana’s every fashion move decades ago.
Of course, nothing will cause a bigger stir than the impending revelation of Markle’s wedding gown. The question of who she will enlist to design and make the dress will have all her followers waiting with bated breath. Will a British designer or someone from Markle’s home nation do the honours? Our bet is on a Brit, and so names like Erdem, whom Markle has reportedly worn for years (as she revealed to Vanity Fair recently), will figure high as a royal couturier of choice for the actress. Whichever designer gets this commission of a lifetime, Markle’s confident and modern style will be most interesting to watch as she ushers in more than a breath of fresh air to royal dressing for the 21st century.
Most importantly, the big question remains: As Markle’s fashion voice ascends in influence, will her voice as a feminist and humanitarian continue to be heard and ring just as clear and loud in empowering women and helping the disenfranchised? With husband-to-be Prince Harry — co-founder of organisations like Sentebale set up in honour of Princess Diana to work with young people affected by HIV/AIDS in Botswana and Lesotho and who has been recognised by the international community for his charitable efforts with the Golden Heart Award (2010) and Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award (2012) — sharing Markle’s passion for charity and humanitarian work, the chances look pretty good that this power couple will continue to strive in tandem to make the world a better place for those who are not able do it for themselves.