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When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry made their first public appearance together as a couple at the Invictus Games in Toronto in September, one British company received an unexpected boost. Upstart eyewear brand Finlay & Co sold £20,000 worth of glasses in the 24 hours after the American actress was photographed wearing its tortoise shell frames.
David Lochhead, who co-founded the five-year-old brand with Dane Butler, says that while other US celebrities such as actress Jessica Alba and singer Rihanna have been snapped wearing Finlay’s glasses, “the impact from Meghan wearing them has been significantly greater”.
Analysts say stalwarts of luxury British fashion such as Barbour, Mulberry and Burberry are expected to enjoy similar uplifts especially in the US after Ms Markle had been seen sporting their goods.
The number of searches for the black Hunter boots Ms Markle was seen wearing in February increased globally by 18 per cent; in the US that number rose 30 per cent, according to fashion search engine Lyst.
Americans who searched for “Meghan Markle” and also visited Hunter’s website increased 6,199 per cent between May and November 2017, according to data provider Hitwise.
US shoppers searching online for Ms Markle’s classic waxed cotton Barbour jacket, a well-known favourite of the Queen’s, rose 72 per cent in the two weeks after she was photographed in one.
The US accounts for about 20 per cent of Finlay’s online store traffic, but after Ms Markle’s public appearance, that jumped to 40 per cent. The interest has been sustained, says Mr Lochhead: US revenues are up 2,700 per cent compared with the same period last year and the model Ms Markle wore, the Percy, now accounts for 80 per cent of sales.
As an American future royal Ms Markle has an unusual power to lift brands in the US. “The fact that she’s American makes a lot of difference,” says Fflur Roberts, head of luxury at Euromonitor. “It’s going to open many more doors to brands in the US. The whole world will be following what she’s wearing and will want to have those products.”
UK brands experiencing a “Meghan effect” in the US remember the “Kate effect” in the run-up to Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding to Prince William. The Duchess of Cambridge had the power to sell out clothing she wore publicly within hours, from designer threads to high street fashion brands such as Zara and Topshop. LK Bennett, a favourite British brand often worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, reported 37 per cent rise in earnings in 2012 to £11m, the year after her wedding.
Konrad Jagodzinski, analyst at London brand strategy group Brand Finance, says that while it is impossible to know the exact value of the uplift experienced by brands without public numbers, it can be calculated using product values and frequency of specific products selling out.
He predicts that Ms Markle will quickly match the roughly £150m worth of sales he estimates the Duchess of Cambridge generated in 2015 through informal endorsements, and in time expects Ms Markle to surpass the duchess’s retail influence at home and abroad.
Ajete Bruncaj, who has worked in the New York Barbour shop on Madison Avenue for eight years, remembers the impact of the last royal wedding on sales. “When Kate wore a Barbour jacket, everyone was asking for the specific jacket like Kate’s, the whole season,” says Ms Bruncaj. “It’s more significant when it’s a member of the royal family versus just a regular celebrity. Everyone wants that product.”
Ms Roberts of Euromonitor says “every sector of retail will profit from the royal wedding”.
“Consumers will be able to associate with [Ms Markle] more than they did with Kate,” she adds. “Kate in theory was an ‘every girl’, but in terms of her British heritage, people saw her as being slightly out of reach.”
Ms Markle, who has spent much of the past seven years living in Canada to film the television show Suits, has shown she also has tremendous power to open up new audiences for brands from outside the UK.
The £460 white coat Ms Markle wore for her afternoon engagement photocall on Monday, by Line the Label, a small Canadian designer, crashed the company’s website and sold out within minutes.
Line’s co-founder, John Muscat, who is renaming the coat “Meghan”, told Women’s Wear Daily that he was touched that Ms Markle chose the jacket for the occasion. He said: “She’s bringing a little bit of Canada with her to London.”
There is bad news for one celebrated British brand, though. Ms Markle, when asked which was better, Marmite or the Australian equivalent, Vegemite, replied: “Vegemite. That’s easy.”