As a Hollywood starlet who became a Princess, Grace Kelly epitomised regal elegance. Her name became a byword for refined glamour and a classic yet sleek spin on femininity. So when Charlene Wittstock, a Zimbabwean-South African Olympic swimmer, agreed to marry Prince Albert of Monaco, Grace’s son, in 2010, the pressure to offer a 21st century take on the era-defining image of her late mother-in-law must have felt immense.
Cleverly and carefully, though, Princess Charlene has carved out her own signature style in the past decade, taking inspiration from Kelly but also finding her own groove with a close coterie of couturiers whom she can now call upon to create looks which chime with her minimalist yet glossy preferences.
This week, she and Albert celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary. Looking back at images from their wedding celebrations, which included civil and religious ceremonies, it is striking how little Her Serene Highness’s look has altered over the years.
Where our own Duchess of Cambridge has evolved over time, experimenting with different brands and styles, Charlene has remained remarkably consistent – in fact, it’s tricky to differentiate between a look from 2012 and another from 2019. The Princess’s sweeping blonde crop has also stayed almost the same, too – a refreshing contrast to the bouncy, long blowdries of most of her royal contemporaries.
So what are the hallmarks of her modern royal look? Her wedding dresses set the benchmark. The civil ceremony came after days of rumours about the state of the couple’s relationship and reports that the Princess-to-be may have attempted to leave. Charlene told Vogue that, “it is a shame that those rumours came at such a bad time, but I think they were timed to sabotage such a happy occasion… I won’t dignify them with any response other than to say that the photographs of me and Albert in love and getting married will speak louder than any vicious gossip and empty rumours.” She donned a pale blue jacket and flowing chiffon dress, designed by Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, for the moment exuding the serenity which her new title suggested.
Giorgio Armani created the pared-back gown which Charlene wore for the religious ceremony, eschewing the lace which famously characterised Grace Kelly’s bridal gown in 1956 in favour of a more plain yet nevertheless exquisite look. “My uncle wanted to make sure the dress was timeless and sophisticated,” Roberta Armani told Vogue of the design. “Charlene is blessed with an amazing body and spectacular shoulders, which is a fantastic base for any dress. The shade of ivory we chose suits her skin so well.”
With the soft colours, cuts which make the most of the Princess’s statuesque silhouette and sparse detailing, these wedding outfits form the template for Charlene’s royal style. Alongside Armani, she loves to wear gowns and tailoring by Ralph Lauren, Dior and, for something a little more daring, Versace – one of Charlene’s most brilliant looks of the past decade was a sequinned silver mini dress with sliced-out abs which she wore on front row of Versace’s spring/summer 2018 show. With a leather biker jacket shrugged over her shoulders and strappy silver sandals, Charlene added a rebel streak to her usual immaculate repertoire.
It is, however, the more under-the-radar Swiss fashion house Akris which she wears the most, its subtle yet precisely-cut creations complementing Charlene’s sharp and sleek preferences – notably, she has swerved the full skirts, delicate blouses and pretty silk scarves which defined Princess Grace’s wardrobe in favour of the cool tailoring and simple colour palette which she knows works best for her. Some of her standout Akris pieces include a 1920s-style pleated white dress with an unusual asymmetric skirt, seen at the Monaco Grand Prix in 2015, and the all-white coat, palazzo trousers and polo neck worn for the Monaco National Day celebrations in 2019.
Over the years, Charlene has embraced the full spectrum of fashion offerings, from Hollywood-worthy looks – like the embellished Oscar de la Renta kaftan-style gown she sported for a gala in 2018 or the Cadbury purple Ralph Lauren gown for a dinner hosted by the designer in 2013 – to experimental trouser suits, like the tuxedo suit worn at the opera last year or a Roberto Cavalli ensemble at Cannes and very occasionally, more vintage-inspired outfits, like the nipped-waist black coat and flower-adorned hat chosen for Monaco’s National Day in 2016.
The lesson which cuts through Charlene’s hundreds of outfits, though, is a resolve to stay true to what she knows looks good and suits her best. Rarely swayed by trends or fads, she may be setting an example of modern Princess dressing, but she does it to the (chic) beat of her own drum. She may not be emulating Grace Kelly in pure style terms, but it’s the same determinedly singular spirit.