Meghan Markle Prince Harry 2018 Smythe coat

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit Reprezent 107.3FM on Jan. 9, 2018 in London. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert)

When Meghan Markle wore a cozy light-camel-coloured coat to an engagement with fiancé Prince Harry, social media went hunting for its maker and found it in the Canadian outerwear firm of Smythe.

This isn’t Smythe’s first brush with royalty. Deb McCain has done public relations for Smythe for 10 years, and she can still recall almost every moment of how the Canadian fashion firm scored a coup that “put them on the international style map”: when Smythe’s iconic blazer was worn by the former Kate Middleton. The jacket, which features a signature cut-out back vent, is so identified with its most famous wearer that it’s been named the Duchess, after the Duchess of Cambridge.

The royal bride wore the blue blazer over a form-fitting Roland Mouret dress as she left Heathrow airport, en route to her post-wedding visit to Canada with new husband, Prince William, in 2011. Then, near the end of the tour, she wore it again, this time with a ruffled blouse and jeans as she visited victims of the devastating forest fires in Slave Lake, Alta. For the firm’s designers and founders, Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner, it was a heady experience. Suddenly their names and fashions were everywhere.

Since that Canadian tour, Kate has turned her Smythe blazer into a wardrobe staple. She’s worn it at least 10 times. And during William and Kate’s second tour of Canada in 2016, she donned a green version. She’s not alone. Women around the world have snapped up versions of the versatile jacket, which now retails for CAD$595. Indeed, Deb McCain wore a plum velvet Duchess during our conversation.


THE INSIDE STORY OF HOW SMYTHE GAINED A ROYAL CLIENT

The saga of how Kate came to wear a Smythe blazer is a tale of persistence and luck. “The perfect storm allowed it to work,” McCain says. “You couldn’t have pulled it off with a different brand,” or a different time.

When Buckingham Palace announced the royal tour of Canada in early 2011, before Kate and William’s wedding, the Smythe team immediately thought of trying to get their designs to Kate, “They were appropriate to her style,” recalls McCain. “We knew Kate Middleton was interested in supporting nascent brands,” including Temperley London and Issa. Given she would be visiting Canada, it was natural that she’d wear brands from the country.

But the Canadian firm had a big problem: how to get their clothes to the future Duchess of Cambridge. So McCain created a Venn diagram on a white board, listing every possible avenue to explore, including Holt Renfrew (the Canadian retail fashion powerhouse is owned by the Weston family, close friends of Prince Charles and the rest of the royal family) and even the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (McCain knew Ciara Hunt, the former editor-in-chief of Hello Canada, who was a royal commentator for the broadcaster.)

Ultimately, she began cold calling Clarence House, where Prince Charles’s household is based, explaining that she represented a Canadian firm that had designs that may interest Kate. With time counting down to the tour, Smythe shipped a whole bunch of jackets, in the industry sample size of four, to the royal household. It was rejected and ended up in a warehouse in London. (As a rule, royalty doesn’t accept such unsolicited gifts.) Looking back on their efforts, McCain just laughs. “I knew nothing,” the PR consultant says.

Then, a few days before the tour began, Smythe got a call out of the blue. Clarence House had looked at the firm’s designs, and wanted them to send four right away. If Kate chose from the selection, then she would purchase it. On that, Clarence House was firm: nothing would be given away. “They were very clear,” McCain remembers, “She only wears what she buys.”

So the team rounded up the four selections, including two from that warehouse in London and shipped them to the new royal bride. A mere 24 hours before the tour began, Smythe was told that Kate wanted to buy their navy blue blazer. Then nothing. They had no idea if she’d wear it on the tour, or indeed, if they’d ever see her wear it in public.

McCain prepared a press release, just in case. Then everyone sat back, and waited. It didn’t take long. The morning of the royals left London for Canada, McCain was getting her kids off to school when her phone exploded with messages, including one from Ciara Hunt: Kate had worn the Smythe jacket at the airport.

MEGHAN MARKLE’S FONDNESS FOR SMYTHE

Christie Smythe and Andrea Lenczner are reticent to reveal much about their most famous clients, Kate and Meghan Markle. “They are very low key,” McCain explains. When Meghan Markle wore that coat on Jan. 9, the designers said simply, “Meghan has shown unwavering commitment to her timeless style—she’s owned this coat for over a year and has worn it previously. We are so proud and flattered that it made it to her new home in London.” (Whether she owns the Duchess jacket is unclear.)


Given how many Smythe items are already in Meghan Markle’s wardrobe, including cozy sweaters and even the salt-and-pepper version of the recently worn coat, it’s only a matter of time before another one pops up on an official engagement.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in London on Jan. 9, 2018 (Photo by Mark Cuthbert)