What happened next for Kate Middleton’s university dress designer

The designer of the Princess’ sheer dress was thrust into the limelight – and could have made millions

Left: Charlotte Todd with the dress, which was sold in 2011 for £78,000. Right: Kate Middleton at the St Andrews University Charity Fashion Show in 2002
Left: Charlotte Todd with the dress, which was sold in 2011 for £78,000. Right: Kate Middleton at the St Andrews University Charity Fashion Show in 2002 Credit: Brad Wakefield/ Malcolm Clarke

In March 2002, Charlotte Todd was a textiles student at the University of the West of England, Bristol. When her tutor asked if she might send a sample from her degree fashion collection, for consideration to be featured in an upcoming charity fashion show at the University of St. Andrews, she could never have known what was about to unravel. 

The tube skirt that she opted to lend had taken her a week to hand-knit using silk yarns. It had cost her £30 to make plus the postage to send it to Scotland. It was added to a rail of outfits lent by students from all over the UK. 

Of all the options available, Kate Middleton, who was back then a first-year St. Andrews student and volunteer model, chose to wear Todd’s creation in the show. The sheer skirt became a dress, styled with a black bandeau bra and knickers, Kate’s hair was curled into tight spirals and braided with strips of fabric.

The pictures made local news at the time. But they were shared globally and seen by millions eight years later when Prince William introduced his new fiancee, the future Princess of Wales.

The Princess of Wales was a first-year St. Andrews student when she volunteered to wear Todd’s creation in the show Credit: Malcolm Clarke

Now, Netflix has released its first image of actress Meg Bellamy recreating the look in The Crown. The second part of series six, released on December 16, will show a university-era Kate and William, including the moment he watched Kate wearing that dress from the front row, and was by all accounts left smitten. 

But what happened next to the original dress, and its designer, Todd?

Initially, the dress was put to the back of Todd’s wardrobe and left there. Todd finished her studies and went on to work in the gift shop at Bristol Aquarium. But when Kate and William announced their engagement on October 20, 2010, reporters began to get in touch with Todd to ask her more about the dress that sparked the royal relationship. 

“The dress is a part of fashion history, the moment William could first have fallen in love with Kate, and that makes me really proud,” she said in November 2010. “That picture has been used so much over the years. I always wonder whether she is embarrassed about it, or likes it. I am reluctant to part with the dress.” 

Todd vowed that she would never sell it. “The only person I’d probably give it to is her [Middleton]” she said. “Maybe in exchange for a wedding invitation.”

Meg Bellamy recreating the famous look in The Crown Credit: Justin Downing

When one newspaper offered her £1,000 for the garment, Todd declined. But ultimately with the engagement, she realised the importance and potential value of the piece that was gathering dust in her wardrobe.

“My office got a call first from Charlotte’s brother, to say we’ve got this dress that Kate Middleton wore at St Andrews University,” Kerry Taylor, the London-based auctioneer, tells The Telegraph. “I realised straight away that the press interest in this item was going to be huge.”

Charlotte, who was working at the aquarium and now married, had asked her brother to make some calls, and sent the dress to Taylor in a small box. “It was this little black knitted filigree column – really if you were hoping to catch a prince’s eye, this was the dress to do it in.”

On the auction day itself in March 2011, Taylor says that the frenzy was unlike anything she has experienced in her 40-plus years as an auctioneer. Taylor has sold pieces owned by Princess Diana, Jerry Hall and Elizabeth Taylor, but the mob of paparazzi and reporters waiting to see who had bought Kate’s dress was even bigger. 

On the Princess, the sheer skirt became a dress, styled with a black bandeau bra and knickers Credit: Brad Wakefield

When Taylor sold the dress for £78,000 to a buyer who was bidding over the phone, she had to sweep his agent into a locked room for safety. 

“Everyone thought it was William on the other end of the phone,” she laughs. “It wasn’t. It was a private collector from Jersey.”

The whole experience was extraordinary, but made special, Taylor says because “Charlotte was such a lovely person”. 

After their initial phone conversations ahead of the auction, they met. “She was a sweet young student and for her this money was life-changing. She was planning to use the money for a house deposit, just as any normal person thrust into the limelight might.”

After the hammer went down, Todd spoke to the press. 

“I am totally speechless, and feel very emotional,” she said. “I really didn’t think it would make that amount. I am planning to put some of the money towards a deposit for a house, but perhaps I may use some to change my career.”

Todd with the dress at the Passion For Fashion Auction in 2011

Sure enough, on April 28, 2011 – the day before the Royal wedding – Todd announced that she was launching a fashion brand. Her debut collection, under the brand name Fashion Babylon, featured 12 updated versions of Middleton’s knitted tube dress in six colour ways, this time using a thicker knit to make the item less sheer. The dresses were to be sold for £49.50 a piece. 

“The bywords for the collection are boho glam with a hint of royal sophistication,” Todd’s press release offered at the time. The dresses, she suggested, would “keep you cool during the summer days and warm through the evenings. It can serve as day or beach wear or be a statement piece for a hot summer’s evening.”

Todd spoke to British Vogue ahead of the Royal wedding, suggesting that she might have liked to design the bridal gown too.

“Obviously I’d love to be doing the dress myself but really I think I’d crack under the pressure,” she told the magazine at the time before conceding. “Sarah Burton of McQueen would do it brilliantly though – I hope it’s her. Kate’s already shown though that she wears what she wants to. More than anything, I hope she wears something she really loves.”

The dress has become a piece of British royal history Credit: Getty

Alas, the commission did ultimately go to the house of McQueen. Todd’s big moment passed and she wrapped up her fashion business. 

The question that might haunt Todd, of course, is if she had held on a decade longer, and waited until the Princess was a “queen-in-waiting”, how much might her £30 dress be worth today?

“It would be in the hundreds of thousands now,” says Taylor. “At least. These days the Royal family is incredibly protective of any clothing pieces or personal possessions coming onto the open market, which means that anything that is out there is rare, and therefore ever more valuable.”

“Let’s not forget that Princess Diana’s woolly jumper [the famous sheep knit] sold for over a million dollars recently.” With Kate mania at the height it is today? “The sky’s the limit.”