Catherine, Princess of Wales Takes the Spotlight for Launch of Her New Initiative, the “Shaping Us” Campaign
Catherine, Princess of Wales attends a pre-campaign launch event, hosted by The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, at BAFTA headquarters in London, Jan. 30, 2023. Photo: Eddie Mulholland/WPA Pool/Getty Images
The Princess of Wales has stepped into the spotlight to launch what Buckingham Palace sources are dubbing her “life’s work,” a new initiative called the Shaping Us campaign from the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood. In a major speech at BAFTA headquarters last night, Kate, with husband William at her side, outlined the goals for the campaign: “By building a supportive, nurturing world around children and those caring for them, we can make a huge difference to generations to come.”
What Kate wore was also front and centre, as it always is for the noted fashion plate. This was her moment, and she went bold with a sharp-shouldered Alexander McQueen suit done in a power red. The choice drew a sharply divided mix of response online, earning rave reviews from Kate fans for the very modern choice, which is a shift for the usually conservative royal, who has up till now favoured tailored coat dresses in softer hues for official engagements.
Kate’s detractors on Twitter pointed out that the suit was reminiscent of the wardrobe choices sister-in-law Meghan Markle chose for her royal life and for her new life as a philanthropist-content creator in California. That is to say, no one disliked the stunning suit, but this faction felt that the princess was influenced by Meghan.
It has of course been quite a difficult time for Kate and William, as brother Harry has been on a book tour for his runaway bestseller Spare, which exposed the open warfare and wounds between the once-close brothers. Kate in particular came under criticism from the Duke of Sussex for her lack of enthusiasm in welcoming Meagan into the fray. Thus, it was a notable choice for her to wear an American-style power suit. Meghan wore a very similar suit (hers was Proenza Schouler, in white ) for her controversial Cut magazine spread. And Meghan prominently wore the same shade of red to the One Young World summit this past fall.
Is this a tempest in a teacup? Perhaps, but Kate’s wardrobe is used by her and her team as a key means of communication. I’d prefer to look at this incredible, chic red suit as Kate’s way of reflecting her new role in the family business. Yesterday’s pre-launch speech, and today’s series of launch appearances in Leeds — where she appeared at the historic Kirkwood Market to do a walkabout and talk to stall keepers about their own childhood experiences, then on to the University of Leeds to speak with childhood studies students — mark the beginning of this new phase of Kate’s life.
She no longer wants to be known solely as William’s helpmate and the mother of their three children. As Princess of Wales, it is time to make her mark with her own work. At 41, having “paid her dues” within the royal system, watching and learning from senior royals as they carved out their own projects, this is a grown-up wardrobe for a woman stepping up into her own strengths. Meghan is also a woman in her prime, with a confident career behind and ahead of her. So yes, it does look like she is “copying” Meghan in a simplistic way. But the power suit belongs to every woman who wants to claim it.
There are very good reasons to wear a suit. It can be sexy, but it takes the feminine tropes out of the equation. You walk differently in a suit. You certainly sit differently, and Kate will now not be distracted by having to sit with her legs primly angled together off to the side. People listen to what you are saying when you are wearing a suit.
This is what Kate was saying last night, that the period of time between pregnancy and age five was crucial in shaping the whole of one’s life, relationships and work prospects.
“The campaign is fundamentally about shining a spotlight on the critical importance of early childhood and how it shapes the adults we become.” It is essential, she said, “to not only understand the unique importance of our earliest years, but to know what we can all do to help raise future generations of happy, healthy adults.” She pledged that the campaign would help provide information and support in that mission.
The BBC reported that the project was not an outgrowth of Kate’s role as a mother of three, but rather because “she had been struck on visits by how often people’s difficulties in areas such as mental health and addiction had their origins in their early years. As Britain faces a cost of living crisis and poor economic outlook, Kate is no doubt aware of the optics ahead of King Charles’ coronation. The timing of this project launch was certainly planned to show the senior royals are paying attention to the toll economic stress is taking on many in the country now, and how that will affect generations to come.
This has been a rapid transition for Kate, especially, from Duchess of Cambridge to the position of Queen-in-waiting as Princess of Wales. It can’t have been easy, both in the grief of losing the Queen combined with the stress of staying silent as the royal news cycles were dominated by first the Harry & Meghan Netflix docuseries before the holidays, then the shots-fired release of Spare early in the new year. This launch is the biggest royal initiative thus far this year, and Kate is carrying it solo.
Kate, along with William, Charles, have all seen their popularity drop in the wake of the release of Spare. Interestingly, Queen Consort Camilla is the only royal in the Ipsos Mori poll released last week whose rating goes unchanged. Kate dropped seven points, with 60 per cent of Britons reporting a favourable view of the princess. (William was down eight percentage points to 61.)
It should be noted that for her appearances in Leeds this morning, Kate reverted to her tried-and-true fashion formula of long, fitted dark green coat over a cream crew neck jumper.
Today was a working day, and the message was of Kate getting on with things, out in the community, talking to people. But last night’s power suit will live on in Instagram carrousels and Pinterest boards for decades to come. She chose an auspicious outfit for the biggest professional leap of her life, and that will outlive short-term chatter about who is copying whom. Let’s hope also that as both Kate and Meghan move forward with their lives and careers on separate continents in different “industries” and circles, that the comparison game between the two women will take a back seat to the work.