Aug. 10, 2011 — -- A fashion icon while single, an ordinary fuddy-duddy after he put a ring on it: How quickly things changed for Kate Middleton.
Oh, sorry, that's Duchess Catherine Middleton. Along with the title, the 29-year-old gained a wealth of responsibility when she wed Prince William in April. Among her duties, according to some in the fashion community: Don't repeat outfits, do something about that hair, and please, for the love of the Queen, ditch that horrid black eyeliner.
"I think she's got a problem with eye make-up," Britain's grand dame of fashion, designer Vivienne Westwood, told the Sunday Times Magazine this week. "The sharp line around her eyes make her look hard. Either she should be smudgy or wear none."
As for Middleton's style: "It seems to me, that her image is 'ordinary woman.' Therefore, High Street shopper. And I just think she should be an extraordinary woman, wherever she gets her clothes from."
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In an interview last month with the British fashion website Grazia Daily, Dutch fashion duo Viktor & Rolf echoed Westwood's sentiments, saying they'd like to see Middleton in "different makeup and hair ... less eyeliner and less hair. It would bring out her natural beauty much better."
And last week, on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show," Kelly Osbourne -- yes, Ozzy Osbourne's daughter now considers herself a fashion authority -- slammed Middleton for deigning to wear the same dress twice, as the duchess did for the July wedding of fellow royal Zara Phillips.
"I'm sorry, but if I had that job I would only wear [a dress] once," Osbourne said. "If I am going to be the future bloody Queen of England I'm going to wear that dress once because I'm giving up the rest of my life, all of my privacy. At least I can get a new dress every day!"
If all of this sounds unreasonable, that's probably because it is.
"Kate Middleton is not Daphne Guinness," said Barney's creative ambassador and style columnist Simon Doonan, referring to the heiress known for her avant-garde style. "She is a public servant. She needs to look frumpy and friendly. That's part of her job description. If she started indulging herself with extreme high fashion, it would be a public relations disaster. People would send her to the guillotine."
Metaphorically speaking, of course. Part of Middleton's appeal has been her reliance on brands commoners can pronounce and actually buy. She readily recycles pieces from Reiss and Whistles, akin to J. Crew and Zara on this side of the pond. She wore the same pair of J Brand jeans for three days straight while canoeing and rodeo-going in Canada. (Apparently, "Sex and the City 2" failed to convince her that exploring the great outdoors in Manolos is so in right now.)
"I guess the Brits participate in the same build-them-up-and-tear-them-down practice that we've perfected here," mused Michael Musto, culture critic for the Village Voice. "It was only to be expected that after the impossible hype surrounding the wedding and the elevation of Kate as a glamour icon that she wouldn't live up to it in critics' eyes. But Kate is just being herself, apart from the demands and pressures and expectations. She's clearly more comfortable wearing what some people think of as 'boring' clothes than in being a role model for what the fashion industry wants to project."
Beyond that, gobbling up gowns while the economy reels from one recession and braces itself for another just seems wrong.
"Her recycling is really smart," said Louise Roe, host of the U.S. and U.K. makeover show "Plain Jane." "It does send out the message that 'I'm one of you, it's perfectly all right to reuse your clothes.' If she were prancing around in $1,000 dresses that she only wore once, I think the criticism would be much louder."
Middleton reportedly does not employ a stylist; she famously did her own makeup for her wedding. The future Queen of England is less of a diva than most D-list reality stars, and it seems her critics will have to come to peace with that. But maybe there is something to that eyeliner complaint, though nothing that a quick trip to Sephora can't fix.
"The thin, little, sharp line is aging," Roe said. "I do agree with that. A bit of a smudge would be quite useful. She doesn't have to go all-out Kardashian smoky, but a little less severe."