Watch out Duchess of Cambridge, there's a new royal on the world fashion stage— soon-to-be Queen Letizia of Spain.
King Juan Carlos, who ruled Spain for 39 years since General Franco's death in 1975, on Monday announced his abdication. He is being succeeded by his son, Prince Felipe de Borbon, 46, and his wife, Princess Letizia, 41, is to become queen of Spain.
Letizia is a leggy brunet, not unlike the former Kate Middleton. But before we dissect her fashion sense, let's give her kudos for her career. A journalist, the former Letizia Ortiz reported from Washington, D.C., on the presidential elections in 2000 -- the same year she received the Madrid Press Assn.'s Larra Award for most accomplished journalist under age 30. In September 2001, she broadcast live from ground zero following the 9/11 attacks in New York. She also filed reports from Iraq on the war, and from Galicia in northern Spain following the ecological disaster when the oil tanker Prestige sank.
In 2004, she married Prince Felipe and they have two daughters.
Not surprisingly, there has been interest in Letizia's wardrobe since the wedding, during which she wore a long-sleeve lace gown with a striking high collar by classical Spanish designer Manuel Pertegaz.
In general, Letizia is fond of the same sort of under-the-radar, anti-flash that made Vogue dub Kate the “Duchess of Normcore.” Also like Kate, she is a repeat-wearer, as documented by the blog mentioned above.
In the early years, Letizia favored Armani suits in pale, business-like colors, a holdover perhaps from her years in the news media. But in recent years, she's been more daring with color. During the day, she chooses sleek sheath dresses and high heels. And at night, she is not afraid to play with Spanish-inspired lace and ruffles.
The biggest beneficiary of her new royal status could be her designer of choice, Felipe Varela, who is based in Madrid and shows at Madrid Fashion Week. Letizia wore a brilliant cerise-colored Felipe Varela bandage dress to welcome then French president Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni Sarkozy to Spain in 2009, and managed to upstage Bruni Sarkozy and French fashion. She also wore a Varela design (a rather unremarkable blush gown with short sleeves and floral embroidery) to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.
On the global fashion stage today, Spanish fashion is not that well-regarded, which presents an opportunity for Letizia.
Cristobal Balenciaga, one of the great couturiers of all time, was Spanish. But Balenciaga the brand is now designed by Alexander Wang and owned by Gucci Group. Mariano Fortuny, remembered for fine pleated gowns, was also Spanish, but that brand has evolved into an Italian-based manufacturer. Even Spanish shoe god Manolo Blahnik is now based in the United Kingdom.
The biggest Spanish fashion brand today is undoubtedly Zara, which can turn around "interpretations" of designer clothing in just two weeks' time. Zara is a booming business with 50% of its production in Spain. Still, it's hard to imagine Letizia flying the fashion flag for her country by wearing cheap-chic brand Zara, which has often been accused of unfair labor practices. Then again, Spain is in the throes of a deep recession, and the royal family has been criticized for its lavish spending. Maybe Zara is what she needs.
At any rate, it will be interesting to see how Letizia will raise the profile of Spanish fashion—or if she will even try.