Kate Middleton, the New Style Icon, Off Limits to Advertisers

Last Updated Jan 11, 2011 11:39 AM EST

Kate Middleton -- future British princess and current reigning queen of fashion -- is becoming a brand in her own right. But don't even think about appropriating her name, image or using even the slightest whiff of suggestion that an item carries her endorsement. The royal's legal hammer will come down hard, even though there are no officially written rules.

It's a serious dilemma for those who've already been gilded by Middleton's Midas touch. Take for example, the shopping frenzy that ensued when she appeared in a sleek navy silk dress on the arm of Prince William for the official engagement announcement. That dress, designed by UK's Issa, with a price tag of £385, sold out in one day.

First Lady Michelle Obama's sartorial selections have generated a similar froth (think the J. Crew sparkly cardigan and Talbot's sheath dress snapped up in mere hours). Her retail impact -- to the tune of $2.7 billion -- was actually measured by Professor David Yermack of the New York University Stern School of Business.

Though it was only one dress, its success was hard won for Issa's designer Daniella Helayel, who'd been peddling her creations in relative obscurity since setting up her studio in 2001. Now Helayel's considering re-opening a frock shop stateside and launching an e-commerce site to cash in on fashionistas everywhere with Anglophile tendencies.

But to her credit, Helayel is not even trying to use Middleton's first name or face to push more dresses out the door, even though this clarification by a royal aide was reported in the Daily Mail:

(It is) highly unlikely that we would have any objection if a company wanted to call a dress "the Kate dress." "Kate" isn't specific to Catherine Middleton. It may, however, be a different scenario if it was called the "Catherine/Kate Middleton" dress that impacts ... on personal copyright. Or indeed if a company was suggesting a dress was officially endorsed by Catherine.

That didn't stop Helayel's dress from being immediately copied and sold (for a fraction of the cost) by other British retailers including Tesco and Peacocks. No word yet on whether Helayel will take legal action herself, however CEO Marc Abegg told WWD, "Issa has in the past shown a strong arm towards copycats."

Indeed, with such loose restrictions, it's the original designers, not the royals, who stand to lose the most. Copycats continue to cast their pseudo-pearls before eager shoppers on both sides of the pond. There's no denying that Kenneth Jay Lane's latest "KJL Princess" sapphire ring for QVC is a direct -- albeit horsey --version of Princess Diana's engagement ring that now resides on Middleton's left hand. The original from Garrard of Mayfair cost £28,500 and at the time, was available in the jeweler's catalog for any commoner to purchase. Lane's version, at just under 40 clams despite its lofty name, is priced right for an aspiring princess in a tough economy. But it's sold out, too.

It will be interesting to measure Middleton's impact at retail after her April nuptials. Her economic stimulus muscle may turn out to be even stronger than Michelle Obama's, even without using her name.

Image via Wikipedia Commons CC 2.0