Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge and Sartorial Diplomacy

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, right, at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, right, at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace.
Michelle Obama is not the only first lady who has become adept at using fashion as a form of subtle sartorial outreach to foreign leaders.

On Tuesday night in London at the Palace state dinner in honor of President Xi Jinping of China, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge (the British first lady in waiting), demonstrated her own ability to employ dress as a form of diplomacy, wearing a gown by the British designer Jenny Packham — in a bright shade of red, the Chinese national color. She also wore a tiara lent by the palace and known as the Lotus Flower or Papyrus tiara.

It was a quietly clever country-bridging choice and gave shape to the words of her grandmother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, who noted the dinner was celebrating the “ties between our two countries.”

If it also called to mind the red Alexander McQueen dress Mrs. Obama had worn to her first China state dinner in 2011 — the one that caused an outcry because of her choice of a non-American designer — it avoided the same brand misstep, promoting a British name.

Indeed, the duchess has worn Ms. Packham on numerous occasions; along with Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, she may be Catherine’s most-worn brand.

The duchess wore Jenny Packham, for example, for the public introduction of both of her children, Princess Charlotte and Prince George, when she left the hospital after their births; she wore Jenny Packham (for the third time) to the gala dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art during her New York visit with Prince William last year; and she wore Jenny Packham to the ARK Gala in 2011, the first time she and Prince William appeared as a royal couple. That’s the dress her doppelgänger is also wearing in Madame Tussauds.

Ms. Packham is one of those designers who tend to fly under the fashion radar — she has never won a British Fashion Award for red-carpet designer, for example, or its predecessor category, Glamour — though she is probably one of the most-worn British names on the red carpet, by the likes of Helen Mirren and Taylor Swift.

Her clothes are simply very pretty, and pretty flattering, without being very demanding or statement-making, a trait that often gets them dismissed as boring by the style set, but that makes them ideal for the public figure trying to tread the line between message and mass appeal without making any waves.

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