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The Story Behind Kate Middleton’s Alexander McQueen Birthday Gowns

A decade after Kate Middleton commissioned Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton to create her a wedding dress worthy of her initiation into the royal family, the Duchess of Cambridge called upon her favorite designer to make three custom ballgowns for her 40th birthday. Each sublime confection, which drew inspiration from Burton’s most recent collections and reused existing fabrications, showed how far the collaborators have come on their journey together, while marking new ground.

The red one-shoulder gown, featuring an explosive gigot sleeve and nifty pockets sewn into the voluminous skirts, is a new silhouette for Kate, whose beaming smile captured by Paolo Roversi, highlights how great she felt channelling haute drama on her 40th. Ditto the beribonned number, which called to mind the Hollywood portraits of Grace Kelly, the Monagesque royal whose bridal gown inspired Kate’s own. While the Duchess’s eveningwear typically follows the same quietly elegant formula, the message here was clear: if you can’t wear a ginormous ballgown on your birthday, when can you? Taking up space–physically and symbolically–by surprising us (see also that memorable Bond girl-esque moment at the No Time To Die premiere) with a hat trick of new looks, indicates that Kate might be a safe presence, but she certainly won’t be pigeonholed into trad royal territory. Carving out her own confident path looks good on her.

The style sleuths at What Kate Wore were quick to point out that the Duchess’s red ballgown looked similar to this bombastic creation from Alexander McQueen’s autumn/winter 2021 collection, beloved by rebels and royals, alike.

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