“Truth To Power”: They Suffered, Severely

With the second package of the six-part docu-series now streaming, it is clear that the Sussexes want sympathy more than understanding. From the comfort of their Montecito hideaway. The end

Six episodes of who did what to them is, frankly, too much even if they expose alleged royal misdeeds. In total, Harry and Meghan is a 6-hour-plus series full of discontentment and fault-finding. The three episodes that make the second half of the docu-series have the enthusiasm of revenge-themed K-dramas, but without the latter’s suspenseful pacing. You wait for the hit-back at the British royal family and you get it. Meghan Markle even said that she was not merely “thrown to the wolves”—she “was being fed to the wolves.” The proverbial kid gloves are off. The Queen is dead. So she and all on her side no longer need to stick to discretion. She may have wanted to escape England for a quiet life, but there is not any kind of hush the minute she left, especially not when she returned to the free-speech familiarity of California. In the private jet, after their escape from Vancouver Island, Canada, on what Prince Harry calls the “freedom flight”, Ms Markle tells her son, Archie, “we’re about to go to where mommy’s from”. Whoever said she had planned to call the UK home?

In this part of the world, this kind of talk or reveal is largely contemptible. However disgraceful a family is, no one from within shames their own kin. The Chinese has an oft-heard expression 家丑不可外扬 (jia chou but ke wai yang) or family scandal is not to be publicised, and that we must never 大义灭亲 (da yi mie qin) or place righteousness before family. In fact, many of us in Asia grew up with the belief that problems within the family—and there always are—need to be solved or resolved internally. If outsiders are told of domestic shame, the family in dispute will be ridiculed or laughed at. As SOTD contributor Mao Shan Wang told us, “my nother would say sia suay (泻衰 or Hokkien for shamefully embarrassing)”. There is another Chinese saying, 隐恶扬善 (yin e yang shan) or extol a person’s (or family’s) virtue, but conceal his faults. That to Westerners might sound like sweeping familial failings and flaws under the carpet, but to the Chinese, it isn’t so. If you speak ill of your family, there is a good chance that others will despise you and laugh at your family. They won’t look up to you for exposing your family’s shortcomings. On the contrary, they will look down on you even more. Is this not what’s happening to the Sussexes?

According to recent news reports, the Netflix special Harry and Meghan enjoyed the most viewing time than any other documentary on the streaming service that week the show came on. And the figures are not unimpressive. Reuters stated that it “recorded 81.55 million viewing hours after its debut” the Thursday before last. Some “28 million household watched at least part of the series”. And in the UK, it was the most-watched series that week. (The final global numbers are yet to be tallied.) That the docu-series is this well-viewed is not surprising. Last year’s Oprah Winfrey interview of the Sussexes, as AP reported, drew about 50 million viewers worldwide. But are people watching H&M because they desire new or additional information to feel sorry for the prince and his wife, both, while desperately desiring privacy, are sharing—and dissing—more than what those wanting freedom or immunity from undue intrusion would reveal. And should they (or their supporters) be surprised that the reactions to the show the titular characters co-produced have been mostly unfavorable, even harsh?

We tried to be sympathetic, to see their side of the story, to appreciate that their first official residence in Kensington Palace grounds, Nottingham Cottage, was “so small” (how tiny could it be, as tight-spaced as a HDB flat? Or is that the best insider gossip they could offer?). But watching the show is no walk in a royal park, especially when what they do as catharsis is contradictory to what they claim they abhor. As much as they do not like their photos used by the media, they have no qualms of sharing more of their own (such as the one of M in despair amid unfinished packing) in the series. Harry and Meghan opens with the two’s own self-taped video footages from back in 2020—the first hint that they likely never really intended to keep their private life from public enjoyment, or derision. The more desperate the rehabilitation of their image is, the more irritating their case becomes. While M decries those who do not know her write about her, she has no objections to pouring her heart out to strangers, such as the billionaire American actor/producer Tyler Perry (Gone Girl, 2014), whom, by her own admission, she “has never met before”. Could it be because he is a fellow celebrity, lives in California, and wealthy to boot?

It was Mr Tyler (top right) who reached out to her and after some time, she called him while she was in Canada. “Finally—after years at that point—first time we ever spoke,” she says. “And I was just a wreck; I was just crying and crying, like sometimes, it’s easier to just open up to someone who knows nothing at all.” Amazingly, he who knew next to naught, was willing to offer the Sussexes abode in the Beverly Hills property that he lived in, reported to worth USD18 million. H&M “hadn’t seen the house, just video of it”, Mr Tyler points out. Yet, with a baby in tow, the Sussexes were willing to move in. H admits that “we only saw you filming from a gate up to your door, and seeing the big fountain there and we were like, that’ll do.” When Mr Tyler asks, “what if I had horrible taste and had big round beds, striper poles and everything?” Shouldn’t the question be, what if the man turned out to be another Harvey Weinstein?! H is unfazed: “it wouldn’t have mattered. We were desperate to find somewhere, desperate to be somewhere… to settle.” Desperate, as it were, to be housed by a stranger, with a fountain (shown in the show!) as epitome of good taste.

Desperation is, of course, central to their message. It is also easy to sense that M is desperately in need of people appearing to care about her, so much so that just three words would suffice: ”Are you okay?” In a 2021 New York Times opinion piece, she wrote that when those three words are uttered, “the path to healing begins”. She recounted, as she does in the series, an interview with the ITV reporter Tom Brady—who is said to be a friend of the couple and had attended their wedding—during a tour in South Africa: he had asked the simple “are you okay?” She was grateful that he put that question to her. “Thank you for asking,” she had said. “Because not many people have asked if I’m okay.” We sensed self-pity or the reluctance to be on a “rigorous tour” and be away from what was then home, shortly after she gave birth to Archie. She added, “it’s a very real thing to go through behind the scenes.” And is it because of her race again—as her American audience likely believes—that people weren’t asking if she was alright? Or, is she practicing what she believes in: that “most people need to find someone to blame, to try to like reconcile how you’re feeling”.

Once again, in all the interviews that are not the “never-before-seen personal archive (as per Netflix)”, M appears in that white blouse or grey sweater again, suggesting that the six-parter is based on just two interview sessions. In her attempt to underscore her pain, she probably thought it best to look worthy of pity. Stylists are not required for that. This is, of course, not a story of how her fashion sense influenced the world. She may, according to her husband, be like the late Princess Diana, but the actress-turned-podcaster is no fashion natural. After avoiding colour for most of her sojourn in England, she decided that she will show the world what sartorial strength she had, prior to leaving. How about an Emilia Wickstead dress the colour of Kermit the Frog, given a jewelled gloss? “Until that last week in the UK, I rarely wore colour,” M says. “And I never want to upstage or ruffle any feathers, so I just try to blend in, but I wore a lot of colour that week. Just felt like, well let’s just look like a rainbow.” Any discerning fashion consumer would say that that could never be a good look.

In episode four (or the first of the second release), former Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller speaks about the surprisingly underwhelming wedding dress she was tasked to come up with for Ms Markle’s 2018 wedding. She says, “it has to be flawless; it has to be perfect”. But, as we noted before, it was not flawless, nor perfect. The fit was lacking—the bodice was roomy enough to conceal a chicken, as nonyas of the past would say of a loose kebaya. American writer Dana Thomas was quick to Tweet after the series was streamed, “The dress didn’t fit MM, and, as you can see in pix, the sleeve seams pucker—absolutely unforgivable for a couture house. One buys couture because it IS flawless.” Perhaps, to Meghan Markle—not a couture customer prior—that didn’t matter because she was to marry a prince. She probably didn’t care about the poor fit, just the wealthy groom. Even back then, during the morning of her wedding, when she felt “calm” and had wanted a “cresohn” (croissant), she could be hoping to hear not the two words, I do, but three: Are you okay?

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

Harry and Meghan is streaming now on Netflix. Screen shots: Harry and Meghan/Netflix

Steady Steps Up

While older houses such as Chanel and Dior are blurring the lines between haute couture and pret-a-porter, Givenchy under Clare Waight Keller is moving its couture in ways that can be considered to be fine form


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The Givenchy couture collection under Clare Waight Keller grabbed few by the collar when it debuted in the spring of 2018, unlike John Galliano’s in 1996 and Alexander McQueen’s a year after that (even when five weeks later he would call it “crap”). Ms Keller’s was mostly described as “confident” or “modern”, with one report claiming that she “nails how women want to dress in 2018”—prompting some to read that as “having a common touch”. Or, not of dramatic gestures. That, perhaps, explained her appeal to the future Duchess of Sussex.

Slightly more than a year later, in her fourth couture season, Ms Waight Keller has transmuted, if not into a far-out rule breaker, at least borderline radical (or, as the collection is called, Noblesse Radicale). The creations delight because they show that the créateur is willing to assert more than just confidence, but also creativity, which we began to notice in the spring show in January. The lightness, the quirkiness, the exaggeration—we had hoped that they were the foretaste of things to come. With head-spinning speed now expected of fashion at every price point, waiting is not a modern love, but this wait, as it turns out, is worth it.

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The spring couture numbered 42 looks. A season later, it’s 48. Although small in comparison to Chanel’s 70, six more is still a significant jump, considering that these clothes typically take 100 to 400 hours or more to complete. The increase in looks could be declaration of Ms Waight Keller’s belief in her ability to enrapture by expounding not only Hubert de Givenchy’s still remembered tailoring and romantic flourishes, but also by pushing her own vision of what is contemporary without traipsing into what-women-want territory, and finally taking advantage of what she once called “the freedom that couture offers”. In so doing, she was able to go big on shapes, and play with the extras that make couture requisitely special.

So many earlier shows failed to impress with the opening look, but Givenchy’s first draws us in with the stark simplicity of the skirt suit: those rounded shoulders and just-as-convex shoulders, under which micro-hound’s tooth fade away into plain white in a sort of pattern gradation. The bottom half of the jacket shows unwoven yarns that lead to fringing at the centre front. The treatment is repeated in the skirt, with the sum effect that’s also textural gradation. And it is Ms Waight Keller’s keen eye for textures—mostly soft and, hence, caressable sumptuousness—that is the cornerstone of this collection.

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On other looks, more textures draw the eye. Ms Waight Keller gathered fabrics, scrunched, layered, and on them she draws on the maison’s petite mains to apply even more exquisite touches, and always judiciously so: lace, beads, and feathers. Of the last, one particular treatment entrances us. The plumes—in white—peaked from under a bell-shaped skirt, drawn at the waist, with its multi-cords allowed to hang past the hem. Could the almost-humble skirt have been worn over a feathered crinoline the way some Arab women are known to cover their couture gowns with their abaya?

All the flou and frou, however do not overwhelm Ms Waight Keller’s flair for tailoring (she did, after all, design men’s suits at Ralph Lauren) and while the tailleur isn’t quite the stuff to make us quiver, Ms Waight Keller does introduce a vestige of surprise, such as the Two Face of a blazer or the skirt suit that would make a certain born-again Bar suit look decidedly fussy. We were discussing with one of our readers, and wondering if couture has taken a different turn now that two of the oldest houses are designed by women. “Givenchy is designed by a woman too,” came the quick rejoinder. “Why is Clare Waight Keller not like the others?” Because, for now, she’s just better?

Photos: (top) Givenchy and (runway) gorunway.com