Meghan Markle Makes Surprise Appearance at the Fashion Awards

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Meghan Markle, Rosamund Pike and Clare Waight Keller (from left)

The Duchess of Sussex turned up at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Monday night to present Clare Waight Keller with the trophy for British Womenswear Designer of the Year.

Even Clare Waight Keller was surprised to find her most famous client onstage to present her with a trophy at Monday’s Fashion Awards in London.

“I’m in shock; I just saw you last week,” Waight Keller told Meghan Markle, whose unexpected appearance at this annual ceremony, which honors the best in global fashion, delighted the audience at Royal Albert Hall. Wearing a custom Givenchy one-shoulder, asymmetrically draped black velvet gown — a sleek style that also subtly highlighted her growing baby bump — the Duchess of Sussex was introduced by Rosamund Pike, also in Givenchy, a tuxedo-inspired look from the house’s Fall 2018 haute-couture collection.

Markle’s presence tipped off the audience that it would be Waight Keller who would capture the award for British Designer of the Year – Womenswear. The Givenchy artistic director has vaulted into mainstream prominence since designing the gown seen around the world at the royal wedding in May, and Monday night Markle discussed the deeper meaning not only behind fashion, but also the collaborative relationship between designer and client.

“We have a deep connection to what we wear — sometimes it’s very personal, sometimes it’s emotional,” Markle said. “For me this connection is rooted in being able to understand that it’s about supporting and empowering each other, especially as women. When we choose to wear a certain designer, we’re not just a reflection of their creativity and their vision. We’re also an extension of their values, of something in the fabric, so to speak, that is much more meaningful.”

Waight Keller laughed as she admitted that, without knowing of Markle’s appearance, the duchess was one of two people she’d already been planning to thank in her acceptance speech. “The first is Hubert de Givenchy — one of the most moving and memorable meetings I’ve ever had,” Waight Keller said of her house’s legendary founder, who died in March. “And then there’s this woman, who’s so amazing. I got to know Meghan on such a personal level. To have someone like that trust you in such an incredible moment in their life is just the most unbelievable honor.”

It would have been impossible to celebrate the best of British fashion in 2018 without highlighting that May 19 moment on the steps of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, when Markle, an American, emerged from the car wearing a gown by a British-born designer, crafted in a French atelier. Such a crossover also dovetails nicely with the current Fashion Awards, which three years ago dropped the “British” from its title to focus on a more global approach to its program. That idea was evident in several of the night’s winners, including Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, who was named Accessories Designer of the Year (Carine Roitfeld picked up the trophy in Gvasalia’s absence); Off-White founder Virgil Abloh, who captured the Urban Luxe award; Miuccia Prada, honored with the Outstanding Achievement award; Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, named Designer of the Year; and Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, who accepted the prize for Brand of the Year.

“It means a lot to me because it’s a beautiful job, but it’s a hard job,” Michele said. “I’m happy and lucky because this award tonight doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the company and the people who work with me every day — and night, sometimes.” (The complete winners list is here.)

Aside from Abloh, the only other American picking up a Fashion Awards trophy was another anticipated winner: Kaia Gerber, named Model of the Year. Wearing an Alexander McQueen look from Spring 2019, Gerber thanked parents Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber, who were in the audience. “I didn’t win very many things growing up, so mom and dad, this is for all the times you guys showed up anyway,” she said. 

Gerber was a double winner Monday night, also recognized as one of a group of 100 industry talents dubbed the “New Wave: Creatives,” ranging from models to makeup artists, photographers, stylists and social-media influencers. The new Fashion Awards category is a partnership between the British Fashion Council, which produces the ceremony — also the BFC’s primary fundraiser for the year, to benefit its education programs — and Swarovski, the night’s principal sponsor. In addition to Gerber, honorees included photographer Tyler Mitchell, who vaulted to prominence when he was chosen by Beyonce to shoot her September American Vogue cover, stylist Solange Franklin, and Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler, the duo behind Instagram sensation Diet Prada.

What are the attributes shared by the 100 honorees? “I think it’s a strong sense of self-belief, of individualism and individual creative expression — Kaia, my gosh, look at the footsteps she’s had to follow in, and yet she’s held her own so very well,” said Nadja Swarovski, great-great granddaughter of the founder of the Austrian crystal company and a member of its executive board. “In this over-expanding world, individualism is becoming so much more important, and all of these guys are leading with a very good role model and example.” 

That sentiment was likewise true of another of the night’s major honorees: Dame Vivienne Westwood, presented with the 2018 Swarovski Award for Positive Change. “I see her biking around London all the time,” said Swarovski, who also lives in the British capital. “She really walks the walk and does so much, truly using her platform for communication, pointing out facts and raising awareness, so it’s a well-deserved award.”

Indeed, Westwood didn’t hold back in her acceptance speech — and unlike, say, at the Academy Awards, no one on the production side would consider cueing the orchestra as a sign she should wrap up her thoughts. Westwood spoke for several minutes, passionately discussing climate change, the recent Paris riots over the gas tax hike, and the financial markets. “Everyone believes in this ridiculous mantra that if you squeeze the poor and tax them and give the money to the rich, everybody will benefit from it, and it’s killing us,” Westwood said. Minutes later she ended her rallying cry with, “Know your enemy, and we can fight it.” 

With anti-Brexit sentiment reaching new heights in London this week, actor Jack Whitehall, who co-hosted the event with model Alek Wek, had the perfect comeback to Westwood’s speech: “Move aside Theresa May, we need Vivienne Westwood for [prime minister] in 2020!” “British” may be absent from the Fashion Awards title these days, but the sentiment is still very much on display.