The Duchess' New Clothes

'Camilla chic?' Not quite, but at least her fashion sense has gone from sorry to safe.


Some in the British press have taken to calling the softer, more stylish look recently adopted by the newlywed Duchess of Cornwall, "Camilla chic." But for her first United States visit since marrying Prince Charles, the Camilla who showed up here this week merely looked appropriate. Fine. Neat.

Maybe "chic" means something else in the United Kingdom, the way "lift" means "elevator" there, not a ride to a particular destination.

"We're in a sorry state of affairs if we're calling that `chic,'" says Dannielle Romano, editor-at-large of, an online guide to new styles and trends. "I think she's lovely, but there's nothing chic about her look. There's grace and poise and confidence. But chic is really stretching it."

Indeed, at a White House dinner last night while Camilla's ensemble - a midnight blue gown with a simple black jacket with a sparkly trim - was elegant, first lady Laura Bush's gown was lovely. Her off-the-shoulder dress was appropriately autumnal in cinnamon, and the flower detail at the hem was dainty.

Earlier at a tree-planting ceremony at a Washington charter school, the poised and graceful first lady and Camilla both arrived in expertly tailored skirt suits and low-heeled shoes.

The first lady's suit was an earthy beige, and her shoes, a darker brown suede. The Duchess of Cornwall's suit was a beautiful, but boring, navy blue. Her handlers called the color "indigo," but the exotic name didn't help much.

Her shoes - black pumps with a prim, flat bow - were the same ones she wore the day before in New York.

"It's all been a bit blah, hasn't it?" says Mandi Norwood, editor-in-chief of SHOP Etc. magazine and herself a Brit. "I would have preferred her to be a bit more out there, for her to sort of have her own sense of style, her own point of view when it comes to fashion. It's been a bit of a letdown."

Much has been made about the image makeover Camilla has undergone since she snubbed her nose at centuries of tradition and married the divorced Prince Charles six months ago.

A once frumpy woman with a matronly figure, Camilla, 58, has slimmed down, cutting out wheat and dairy, lightened her hair and enlisted the help of one of Britain's most popular fashion designers, Robinson Valentine, to spruce up her country-girl equestrian look.

Some have also suggested that she's had dental work done and become acquainted with a dermatologist.

`Dignified style'

A passage in the Daily Mail, one of Britain's largest-circulating publications, had this to say about her:

"She was once voted eighth in a worst-dressed list and regularly mocked for her dowdy image. But since her wedding to Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall has been reborn as the epitome of graceful, dignified style. So complete has been her transformation that the former Mrs. Parker Bowles has even inspired a buzzword - `Camilla chic.'"

But many observers say what we've seen from Camilla isn't any different from any other transformation by a well-heeled woman with access to very expensive tailors, stylists and hair and makeup consultants.

"When you've got money and you've got people to put you together, anybody can look their best," says Diane Clehane, a royal biographer and author of Diana: The Secrets of Her Style who is working on a movie about Camilla for the WE (Women's Entertainment) channel. "And she does look the best she's ever looked. But [I] think what we're seeing is that she has really blossomed in the glow of being with the person that she really loves. She really shows that you really do become your best self when you're with the person you love and who loves you."

At her wedding to the prince, Camilla looked elegant and even sweet. She chose her designers well, and they, in turn, chose outfits and accessories that were appropriately glitzy without being gauche.

Since then, royal-watchers have been waiting to see a new Camilla emerge - one who is fresh and hip and style-setting - the same way Princess Diana, Charles' late first wife, evolved into a style icon after her nuptials.

But Camilla's choice of outfits for her U.S. visit - 20 years after Diana first visited here - was simple and safe.

`Missed the mark'

In New York this week, at a British Memorial Garden, Camilla wore a suit in a raspberry color, with velvet accents on the collar and pockets. She wore pearls and small drop earrings, and carried a plain black clutch.

The suit was pretty, especially the color, but the overall effect was a little predictable.

Yesterday's skirt suit - another Robinson Valentine creation - was feminine and the skirt was soft and flouncy. The top, however, was a thick boucle, a trendy material for fall, but a little too bulky for her figure.

"I don't think her clothes have done anything for her," says Norwood. "Something with a little bit more interest, a little bit more style would have been appropriate. Everyone was really quite excited, and I think she just missed the mark a little bit."

White House guest list

Some of the 130 guests at last night's White House dinner:

Historian Michael Beschloss

Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw

Jenna Bush, President Bush's daughter

Designer Oscar de la Renta

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican

Actor Kelsey Grammer

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican

Charles Leavell, Rolling Stones keyboardist

Azar Nafisi, Johns Hopkins professor and author of Reading Lolita in Tehran

Former first lady Nancy Reagan, escorted by Merv Griffin

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Architect Robert A.M. Stern

Former football player Lynn C. Swann

Pro golfer Tom Watson

Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams

Author Herman Wouk

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