Rebranded: How dazzling Camilla dumped her dowdy image


Last updated at 17:31 25 November 2007


For a woman who once lacked style, confidence and had little interest in clothes, official photocalls were something to be endured, even privately dreaded.

Yet when the Duchess of Cornwall stepped out at a state banquet in Uganda on Friday in a shimmering aquamarine gown, she looked regal and at ease, even in the presence of the Queen, the most natural performer of them all.

Perhaps her show-stopping, five string diamond necklace was a little over the top, but at least it got the message across.

The new forceful elegance has not happened by chance. It is part of a major behind-the-scenes rebranding exercise by Clarence House to bring Camilla to the attention of the world as the wife of the future King.

Charles and his advisers were also mindful that just as he wished to have an impact with the Commonwealth and heads of state, the inquest into the death of his former wife Diana would be in full swing.

Palace sources say he was conscious that the late Princess's image would be blazoned across newspapers and television for months on end and were worried about the unfavourable comparisons that may have been drawn.

"Camilla is being rebranded," said one Royal insider. "Clarence House was very worried about the impact of the Diana inquest.

"They knew that unfavourable comparisons would be made and as a result there is a plan to recast Camilla for the world stage."

There is also another, significant, motive to the Duchess's new majestic style. The Royal couple's four-day trip to Uganda is officially classed as an independent visit but it is effectively a "job application" by Charles to succeed the Queen as head of the Commonwealth.

It coincides with the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and is the first time the Prince has visited the same country as his mother at the same time for more than three decades.

Little wonder, then, that Camilla has undergone a root-and-branch revamp. She has turned to the designers of her wedding dress, Robinson Valentine, and asked them to create an entirely new wardrobe in keeping with her position as Charles's wife.

She has ordered 65 dresses to be worn over the next year, including 12 "special" dresses for the run-up to the Christmas period. Her specific requirements include evening gowns with "room at the neck for jewels".

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The designers have included a lot of "velvets with twists", day dresses and cocktail dresses cut to the knees or mid-calf – along with her bust, the Duchess considers her legs to be one of her best assets.

Although she will make full use of her new wardrobe in private, each dress is normally to be worn only once in public.

Once an obscure designer label, Robinson Valentine – now called Anna Valentine after the eponymous designer bought out her partner Antonia Robinson last year – has now become one of the world's most influential fashion houses, thanks to Camilla's patronage.

In turn, Anna Valentine has become Camilla's most trusted fashion guru, refining her style and bestowing her with an elegance she never before possessed.

The relationship began in 2002 when Robinson Valentine designed a dress for a charity party at Somerset House.

A cream silk column, it redeemed the woman who had unwisely stepped out in a pink Versace gown, allegedly chosen by Prince Charles, two years earlier.

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The source said: "Anna is always on the phone to Camilla. All the fittings are done at Clarence House. Anna is wonderful, especially with women of a certain age who are fuller of figure. She takes a great deal of care and her efforts are the most flattering you could ever possibly get."

Judging by the photographs of the Duchess in Africa last week, the collaboration seems to be working.

Her striking appearance at the Queen's banquet in Kampala on Friday evening was a sign of how much thought has gone on behind the scenes into "packaging" her.

Ms Valentine has created a sophisticated palette of pale blues and forest greens that complement Camilla's colouring and work perfectly in the equatorial heat.

Fashion expert Karen Kay says: "Camilla is learning to find a regal status that is not about fashion but about creating an iconic image as the King's consort.

"The important thing is that she is obviously comfortable. It's very easy to make over a woman, particularly at that age, but all too often they don't look at ease with the changes.

"With Camilla that's clearly not the case. She's very clearly wearing the clothes – they are not wearing her."

Yet, for all her new-found confidence, the rebrand wasn't Camilla's idea. Like the Queen, she has never taken a great interest in fashion.

She may have dug out the family pearls and donned the silk taffeta frock for the season's hunt balls but she is, at heart, an archetypal aristocrat who prefers a sensible wardrobe geared towards a rural lifestyle.

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Instead it was Charles who was the motivating force behind the new makeover. The source said: "Camilla isn't so bothered.

"There were some pictures taken recently of her going to see her new grandchild. She was wearing cashmere and she was worried that she looked a bit like an old granny but on the whole she isn't too fussed.

"Charles, though, takes a great deal of interest in how his wife looks and appreciates it when she looks her best.

"It's partly personal and partly an image thing. Charles, in particular, is very concerned about the Diana comparison."

According to Ms Kay, it is a comparison that is inevitable but also unfair. She says: "Diana would be 45 now but instead she's like Marilyn Monroe, eternally youthful in our memory.

"She's never going to grow old, no matter how gracefully. She has taken on a myth-like status and that's impossible to compete with.

"For Diana, fashion was something different.

"A huge part of her confidence came from her wardrobe. She married at 19 and she wasn't sure if her husband loved her.

"Psychologically, she got a large part of her self-esteem from the public and that relied on her image as the fairy-tale princess.

"If you look back at Diana's style before all the headlines, she didn't have much fashion sense – all those sheep jumpers, velvet jackets and penny loafers.

"It was a typical Sloane Ranger's uniform. She was a gauche teenager who was made over from a very young age.

"Camilla, on the other hand, has had a life – a marriage, children and now grandchildren – and her style should reflect that.

"Diana was an icon but I think Camilla has now developed a look that is not just appropriate but which is a great success."

The Duchess, who turned 60 in July, has also made other subtle changes to her appearance.

She has gradually dyed her once-grey hair a soft Hollywood blonde.

And her bobbed Farrah Fawcett flick and sweeping curls have now become a true signature look.

The new importance that is now placed on Camilla's appearance is evident in the couple's entourage.

A team of 16 – not including the large security staff – are with Charles and Camilla in Uganda. They include two officials dedicated to the Duchess – her private secretary Joy Camm, 51, a former sister at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, and a personal dresser.

Also there is her hairdresser, Hugh Green, 61, who opts for a "simple" style with her, "but in doing so it must be simple and stunning at the same time".

This simple style costs her about £3,000 every month.

And before every public engagement, Camilla has her face attended to by Julia Biddlecombe, a professional make-up artist who charges £500 a session and likes to give her a dewy radiance – using a foundation with "light-reflecting particles" rather than a more severe matt look – which is completed by glossy brown eyeshadow and rose lipgloss.

They may be small, seemingly insignificant details but they are all part of a wider issue. To some it might just be clothes.

But to seasoned Royal watchers, it is clear that Camilla is finally ready to take on a much more stately role.


Queen mum

There was a time when she wouldn't have been seen in anything but a simple string of freshwater pearls. But now the Duchess of Cornwall has suddenly become the Queen of Bling.

On Friday, at the Queen's Banquet for the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Kampala, Camilla, right, wore an opulent diamond necklace loaned to her by the Queen from the Royal Jewellery Collection and said to be worth tens of millions of pounds.

It was last worn by the Queen Mother, above, in one of the final pictures taken of her before her death on March 30, 2002.

Famed for her love of the finer things in life, even she thought three strands of diamonds enough, just as she did when she wore it to a similar state banquet nearly 60 years ago.

Camilla, on the other hand, opted for the full five strands – and wasn't too shy to accompany it with the Queen Mother's Boucheron tiara and a pair of heavy drop diamond earrings.

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