Paolo Roversi / WPA Pool / Shutterstock
There is something about Kate.
It’s not that she looks unrecognizable in her latest portraits, taken by Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi and released by the Cambridges on the Duchess’s 40th birthday earlier this week – it’s more that they feel kind of revealing. As if audiences catch a glimpse of a softer side of Kate, which usually lurks behind the lacquered shell with a perfect, glossy sheen.
It might be easier to explain why the Duchess looks so different by explaining what these portraits are not: they aren’t the highly saturated and expertly retouched family photographs that we are used to seeing a few times a year from the Cambridge family on birthdays and holidays. . In these pictures, Kate appears flushed with color, her brown curls as bouncy as her full, deliciously contoured cheeks. It’s not the lightly choreographed event photos that trickle down our timelines a few times a week, showing Kate from afar, grinning her incredibly wide smile, usually wearing a jewel-colored coat with crisp corners.
The Kate Middleton we know, the Kate Middleton whose invincible barrel curls are unbeaten against the elements – this Kate whom we would describe as chic, polite, professional; expensive but not flashy; elegant but not necessarily trendy. Since joining the royal family in 2011, meeting Prince William at the altar in a delicate lace Alexander McQueen gown, the image she has created is one of regal elegance, and she cares of this image for 12 years.
In Roversi’s hands, however, Kate is transformed.
A palace source told reporters that the Duchess, who studied art history at Saint Andrews University and is the patron saint of the National Portrait Gallery, where the images will be hung, was inspired photographer Cecil Beaton’s portraits of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret and the Mid-Century Queen Mother. Beaton, who has also photographed some of the most glamorous stars in Hollywood history including Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, has often photographed the Queen in profile to the left – or, as style reporter Elizabeth wrote Holmes, “looking to the past”. The reference is a sign of respect – both for his mother-in-law and for the institution of the monarchy itself.
Cecil Beaton / Getty Images
Unlike the thousands of portraits of royals in European history, however, Kate has given up on a tiara, flashy jewelry, and other showy displays of wealth. The refined chiffon dress, one of three Alexander McQueen models Kate wears in the portraits, is delicately held between Middleton’s fingers in the third portrait, drawing the eye to a single sapphire ring on her left hand – a ring that once belonged to Princess Diana. Middleton’s decision to honor the late princess by wearing her ring as well as teardrop-shaped earrings is just as intentional as her homage to the Beaton portraits of the Queen. The jewelry symbolizes her understanding that the institution she inherits is not without scars and that Diana’s legacy will not be forgotten.
Middleton’s makeup reflects her vintage inspiration, reminiscent of the days when Kim Kardashian taught us all how to draw outlines in 100 easy steps. The effect, along with the subtle sepia tones in the image, make her appear just, almost like Snow White in complexion, shining without flickering as the light finds new planes of her face, those usually in the shade of her face. ‘a sculpted cheekbone.
Even her eyebrows, which are usually brushed and filled in, aren’t as contrasting compared to the rest of her face. Her lips, framing a smile only comparable to Julia Roberts’, lack the overly greasy pout that I have, at least, been conditioned to expect on the faces of the rich and famous. This nudity, the really “natural” appearance, seems by 2022 standards almost new.
RELATED: Kate Middleton Honored Princess Diana in Her 40th Birthday Portraits
The Duchess’s hair is the biggest deviation from her typical beauty routine. The haphazardly placed waves, the subtle flyaways, the almost invisible halo of frizz on the right side of her face – all imply an “I Woke Up Like This” elegance, effortless glamor that defies time and time. space.
A few writers have recognized a reference not only to Beaton, but to the Pre-Raphaelites, especially when it comes to that undone natural beauty look. Kate’s portraits have the flat, perfectly imperfect quality of one of John Everett Millais’ most popular Pre-Raphaelite works, “Ophelia”. Omitting the hyper-realistic details, the Pre-Raphaelite works appear as though through a blurry filter – Instagram, but make it 18th century. This effect is seen most clearly in the close-up photograph of the Duchess, which is also the most intimate of the set, creating a romantic, almost ethereal image. It also almost conjures up a glamorous’ 80s snap, in that she looks like she has fun.
What’s most charming, however, across all of the footage is that Kate seems relatively elated to be photographed alone in evening dresses worth thousands of dollars; as Holmes noted, it looks a bit like “playing dress-up.” Like Diana, who adored a glamorous magazine photoshoot, and to whom the close-up portrait is probably a nod, Kate takes the more playful aspects of the spotlight in stride. And with a million dollar smile.