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The Cambridges

The dress that launched a royal style icon

The Royal Wedding 2011
ROBBIE DALE/CC BY-SA 2.0/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Ten years ago, Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement with a photocall at St. James’s Palace, and the future royal made her mark on the fashion world with the instantly iconic Issa wrap dress.

The sapphire blue silk jersey wrap dress, from Brazilian-born Daniella Issa Helayel’s Issa London brand, sold out within 24 hours.

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Speaking to People magazine after William and Kate’s engagement announcement, Helayel said, “We are thrilled with the engagement news, and I’m very happy that she has chosen to wear Issa today.  She is a very pretty and lovely girl.”

According to news reports at the time, Kate inspired copycat fashionistas to sell out the dress in 24 hours at Harvey Nichols and other boutiques around the world. The Sapphire London dress also created a 45% boost in sales for Issa London.

“The dress worn by Kate sold out almost immediately. Issa is one of our bestselling brands and the versatility of the pieces mean that they can be dressed down for the day and dressed up for special occasions,” said Harvey Nichols boutique owner Averyl Oates in an interview with Vogue.

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The future duchess helped spark a trend for little blue dresses—much in the same way that her late mother-in-law sported a little black dress in the early ‘90s that instantly launched the ‘revenge dress’ look.

Replica versions of the dress began to appear, retailing at a more affordable price, and the trend continued onto the red carpet the next season. It also launched Kate as a style icon, with websites created to identify and share every clothing item she wore at public appearances.

Years later, after leaving the Issa London brand behind due to financial difficulties resulting from trying to keep up with the ‘Kate Effect’, Helayel gave an interview to the Daily Mail and said that she had no idea that Kate planned to wear the Sapphire London dress, and didn’t know about it until pictures began to appear online.

“That morning I’d gone to yoga as usual, and then I got a call from a friend telling me about the royal engagement. It was all very exciting.

“We didn’t have a TV at the studio, and this was pre-Instagram, but we soon knew Kate was wearing Issa because at four o’clock the phones began ringing and didn’t stop. It was bonkers.”

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Kate had been spotted in Issa London dresses for a while before her engagement, but the last time she was photographed wearing one was in July 2011 on an official royal engagement.

That month, Helayel sold a majority stake in Issa London to Camilla Al-Fayed, who is the sister of the late Dodi Al-Fayed. Al-Fayed was rumoured to be dating Diana, Princess of Wales at the time of her death and was killed in the same accident on 31 August 1997.

Helayel capitalised on the Sapphire London dress in 2016 when she designed a collection for Monsoon that featured a similar wrap dress.

In 2015, House of Fraser, a department store that acquired the branding relaunched a collection of past Issa London items that included the dress inspired by the Sapphire London dress.

About author

Jess is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives in Halifax and has a passion for all things royal, particularly the British Royal Family.