Britain is in an uproar over a baby.
To be fair, he’s not just any baby. Despite the lack of title and the relative paucity of given names — a mere two to his father’s four — Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, son of Prince Henry Charles Albert David (a.k.a. Harry) and his American former actress wife, Meghan Markle, has stirred up more passions than someone a distant seventh in line to the throne might warrant.
Buckingham Palace rankled some in the press and public on July 3 when it confirmed the youngest royal would be christened in Queen Elizabeth’s private Windsor Castle chapel without photographers to capture the arrivals and departures of guests. (We received two artfully staged Instagram photos after the blessed event instead.) Nor will Harry and Meghan, who are officially known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, be revealing the names of the baby’s godparents. The fact that these things are Not Done has put more than one nose out of joint.
In an age of overexposed celebrity children and “kidfluencers,” Archie’s elusiveness is either refreshing or maddening, depending on which side of the argument you fall. But it’s also remarkably on brand, if not for the royal family, then at least for House Sussex, which initially locked down the details of Archie’s birth, rejected the traditional photo op on the hospital steps, and have expressed their desire to raise their son as a private citizen.
At the same time, Harry and Meghan have drawn animus from taxpayers for rumors that they were dipping into the 82 million-pound Sovereign Grant — a cut of the annual profits from the vast real estate portfolio known as the Crown Estate — to pay for, among other things, “floating floors” and yoga studios at Frogmore Cottage.
“They can’t have it both ways,” journalist and royal biographer Penny Junor told the Sunday Times. “Either they are totally private, pay for their own house, and disappear out of view or [they] play the game the way it is played. Seeing Archie and his godparents arriving at the christening is what people are interested in.”
If the clamor for Archie is any indication, however, Harry and Meghan will have trouble shielding the tyke from the klieg lights of global scrutiny, or brands that may seek to monetize his image.
“People are so excited about Archie because Meghan and Harry are enormously popular,” says Susan E. Kelley, publisher of blogs What Kate Wore, What Meghan Wore, and What Kate’s Kids Wore. “And they’re excited because Archie comes from a different background: Meghan’s biracial background, Harry’s background [as the son of the late and beloved Princess Diana], the fact that they’re so engaged in charitable causes and outreach.”
Already, Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research, predicts that the upsurge in sales of baby clothes and gear associated with the youngest royal will boost the UK economy to the tune of 1.25 billion pounds over a two-year period due to increased spending.
“Meghan is known to have a keen sense of style and she will want to follow a distinctive line in baby products, shawls, baskets, infant clothes, and even what toys are being used by her child,” Bamfield told Hello magazine.
Indeed, the “love affair” between members of the British monarchy and the fashion industry shows no signs of abating, according to Richard Haigh, the managing director of Brand Finance. In 2015, the British consultancy estimated that the “Kate Middleton effect” — fueled by the Duchess of Cambridge’s appeal as a young and glamorous queen consort-in-waiting — buoys the British economy by an additional $205 million every year as women scramble to “repli-Kate” her style. The “Charlotte effect” and the “George effect” from her children rake in an annual combined $228 million, Haigh tells Vox.
This isn’t just conjecture. After Kate and Prince William rolled out a newborn Prince George in a bird-print Aden + Anais muslin swaddle, the Brooklyn-based brand received 10,000 new online orders “almost immediately,” crashing its servers. And when Kensington Palace released a photograph of Princess Charlotte on her second birthday, her yellow John Lewis cardigan with fluffy blue sheep promptly sold out.
“I think that for some parents, they might not be able to afford an outfit that Meghan or Catherine is wearing, but they could save up to buy the same outfit or top that their kids like to wear,” explains Jessica Michault, senior vice president of industry relations at Launchmetrics, a marketing platform. “I see it sort of like, if you love a fashion brand but you can’t buy the designer dress, well maybe you invest in the perfume from that house. So in some way you are connected to that which you admire.”
Might there be an “Archie effect,” too?
The “Markle Sparkle”
“It wouldn’t be surprising to see baby Archie following in his mom’s footsteps,” says Morgane Le Caer, fashion insights reporter at Lyst, the global fashion intelligence platform. “Meghan’s fashion influence has been undeniable.”
“Undeniable” might be an understatement. While Kate’s choices lead to a 119 percent uptick in online demand over the week following a public appearance, Le Caer says demand for Meghan’s ensembles can clock an average 216 percent.
Meghan ignited the “Markle Sparkle” as soon as she appeared by Prince Harry’s side at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto wearing ripped Mother Jeans and a casually rumpled “Husband” shirt from Misha Nonoo, their rumored matchmaker. The former sold out within three days; the latter put a minor-but-buzzy brand on the fast track to international recognition. Other companies — Line the Label, Strathberry, and Finlay & Co. — have seen similar lifts.
“There’s no question there’s an enormous amount of curiosity about Meghan — much more so than might necessarily be expected” for someone further down the pecking order, says Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic of the New York Times, who has described Meghan as a “singular mover of product.”
“I think that it speaks to her as a transformational figure, although in the beginning she was much riskier,” she adds, noting the shocking (to royal watchers, anyway) lack of pantyhose, her sheer engagement photo dress, even — ye gods! — trousers. “Since her marriage, I think she has toed the line a bit more.”
The royals have always supported social and environmental causes, though few perhaps as ebulliently and forthrightly as Meghan, who uses her Hollywood-honed mastery of the media to drum up attention for worthy enterprises.
On a tour of the South Pacific last fall, Meghan’s appearance in a pair of Outland Denim skinny jeans was enough to kick up sales at the Australian brand by 640 percent, which in turn allowed it to employ another 46 seamstresses at its factory in Cambodia, many of them victims of sex trafficking or forced labor. Later, when she stepped out on South Melbourne Beach in a pair of eco-friendly Rothy’s Black Point shoes, made from recycled plastic bottles, sales of the style quadrupled while those of other colors doubled.
“Whether intentionally or not, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the couple dress Archie in brands that align with their beliefs and speak to their environmental ethos,” Le Caer says.
“A lot of parents use their child to communicate to the world about their own identity and to even project the identity they want for their child,” she says. “This is why parents with a favorite sports team will put a little sports onesie on their baby to say, ‘Look, my baby is a Michigan fan!’ The royal family is no exception.”
Managing the royal family brand complex
In the rare glimpses we’ve seen of Archie, he’s been enshrouded in tradition, figuratively and literally.
To introduce their baby to the world, Harry and Meghan opted to wrap him in a merino wool blanket from G.H. Hurt & Son, a Nottingham-based shawl maker that has swaddled every royal baby since the queen gave birth to Prince Charles in 1948. At his christening, Archie wore a replica of the Honiton lace and satin gown commissioned by Queen Victoria for the baptism of her namesake daughter in 1841. (The original, which was retired in 2004 after clothing 62 royal babies, including five future monarchs, is too fragile to be worn anymore.)
Which is to say while Meghan doesn’t always adhere to what Pauline Maclaran, a professor of marketing and consumer research at Royal Holloway, University of London, calls the “royal family brand complex,” Archie has stuck to a thousand-year playbook, full of “micro- and macro- pageants … and ritual experiences,” that has cast the royal family as a cultural symbol and created a psychological need for “imagined participation” in their lives.
Such customs emphasize not only the “lineage and the tradition but also the longevity of the monarchy that it continues seamlessly on,” says Maclaran, who is the co-author, with Cele C. Otnes, of Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture.
Kate is a masterful wielder of this kind of soft power. She favors British brands such as Alexander McQueen (which designed her wedding gown), Burberry, and Jenny Packham. She dresses Charlotte in ditsy-print smocked dresses and Mary Janes that telegraph English heritage with a capital H. Her sons, George and Louis, occasionally wear hand-me-downs from William and Harry, a tack Maclaran says has as much to do with continuity as it does parsimony.
“Kate, in particular, as our future queen has to tread this tightrope very carefully, and she really needs to show that she does support British industry but also that she’s frugal, that’s she’s not a spendthrift,” Maclaran says. (Cue the headlines about Kate “recycling” her clothes.)
Maclaran doesn’t think that Meghan will want her children to be “seen in such a time warp,” though Harry, who is proving himself a more hands-on dad than his older brother, may refute that.
“I like to think she had great fun dressing us up,” Harry recalled, mentioning his mother’s love of “weird shorts and little shiny shoes with the old clip-on” in the 2007 ITV documentary, Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy. “I sure as hell am going to dress my kids up the same way.”
Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, kidfluencer?
Perhaps one of the biggest clues to Archie’s fashion future can be found in his name, which is neither stuffy Archibald nor overly trendy Archer, but a bridge between the old world and new.
This will likely play out in Archie’s ensembles, and on the thousands of blogs and social media accounts that document the younger royals’ every sartorial step in an already heightened online celebrity culture.
“The royals know that their clothes will be identified within minutes and either praised or scrutinized,” says Christine Ross, the creative director of blogs including Meghan’s Mirror. “Meghan sees that she has an opportunity to spotlight brands in a positive way. I expect the few times we see Archie, Meghan will use the opportunity to showcase smaller brands, rather than big names.”
But Meghan is also just as likely to embrace mini-me versions of the designer brands she patronizes: Givenchy Kids, Baby Dior, or Ralph Lauren Kids, to name a few. As the Telegraph recently pointed out, Archie arrives at a time when luxury children’s wear is “having a moment.”
“I would not be at all surprised to see Stella McCartney Kids, not just because it’s a brand she’s worn but again because of its eco-conscious nature,” says What Kate Wore’s Kelley. “I think we’ll see some small British and Commonwealth brands and also some US brands and Canadian brands. I think of places like Hanna Andersson and Burt’s Bees Baby, which use organic cotton and are committed to sustainable manufacturing.”
As “two proud feminists,” the Duke and Duchess of Sussex might also want to sidestep stereotypes by dressing Archie in a more gender-neutral fashion, says Le Caer from Lyst. The couple reportedly planned a “genderless” nursery with white and grays replacing pink or blue. At least one source claims Archie will be raised without gender stereotyping.
“Meghan and Harry have already shown their more relaxed approach to parenting,” she adds, “which suggests that they might do things their own way when it comes to baby clothes.”
Of the commotion over him, Archie is blessedly unaware. (The 2-month-old can barely support his own head!) Let him sleep, for when he wakes, who knows what mountains he will move?
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