From designer dresses to casual chic, Kate leaves imprint of signature style

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TORONTO - Whether stepping out in a sleek dress and heels or going casual with skinny jeans and slingbacks, Kate left a fashionable imprint throughout the Canadian tour with looks from both sides of the Atlantic showcasing her signature style.

While mostly favouring both new and previously-worn items from U.K.-based labels like Issa, Catherine Walker, Jenny Packham and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, the Duchess of Cambridge gave a definitive nod to Canadian fashion by wearing two homegrown labels on the tour's first day.

Kate showcased Canuck talent with a trio of blue-hued designs from Toronto-based label Smythe and Montreal-born designer Erdem Moralioglu.

The duchess was seen wearing a navy One-Button blazer from Smythe as she boarded a Canadian Forces jet for Ottawa. She wore the blazer again on a visit to the fire-ravaged northern Alberta town of Slave Lake.

For her arrival in Ottawa and her tour of Quebec City, she wore two separate, form-fitting lace dresses from the London-based Erdem label.

Susan Kelley, who is behind the blog WhatKateWore.com, said all of Kate's looks were "enormously successful" and that she managed to exhibit a little fashion diplomacy in the process.

"I think they were pieces that showed respect for her host country as well as for showcasing British designers and designers with ties to the U.K.," she said in an interview from Okemos, Mich.

"I think she was also sending a message about frugality in continually wearing the same pumps and using the same handbags and having on the same jewelry I would say almost the entire trip."

Kate's Canada Day ensemble — a cream-coloured Reiss dress accessorized with a red maple leaf fascinator, red heels and the Queen's Maple Leaf diamond brooch — was her defining look, Kelley said.

"I think, again, it was sending the message that 'I respect all of this: I respect this country, I respect the people, I respect the heritage I have married into.'"

Kate sported her share of more laidback, casual attire, but by and large, her wardrobe featured a succession of slim-fitting, conservative dresses in mostly dark or neutral hues with elbow-length or three-quarter length sleeves.

"She definitely has a certain esthetic," said Canadian womenswear designer David Dixon. "It's very clean, it's youthful, but it's very sort of traditional at the same time."

"I don't think she's stepping too far out of the box right now in terms of being avant-garde, but I don't think she's an avant-garde type of woman. I would say she's playing it safe in terms of her dress right now."

Both Dixon and Kelley said they were surprised Kate didn't wear more items from Canadian labels throughout the trip.

"She is such a young woman, and she knows her own style, and you can tell that she follows fashion just by the way she dresses herself," Dixon said. "It would have been nice to have seen more variety other than a cowboy hat that's given to her when she's here."

Meanwhile, Alison Eastwood, editor-in-chief for HELLO! Canada, said nobody criticized Kate's late mother-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales, for not wearing enough Canadian labels, and found it hard to understand why the duchesss would be scrutinized for not doing so.

Kate undoubtedly felt a desire to put British designers in the international spotlight, she added.

"Her 'tour trousseau' contained many items that she already owned, and she is allowed to express her own taste both inside and outside the confines of Canadian-created fashion," Eastwood said in an email to The Canadian Press.

"Let us not forget, in the space of one day the Duchess of Cambridge single-handedly put both Erdem and Smythe on the world stage — you can’t buy that kind of publicity," she continued. "As a result, other Canadian designers can follow in the slipstream."

A Holt Renfrew spokesperson said they are still receiving customer calls for the $550 Smythe blazer.

The Erdem dresses are both available for special order through The Bay's luxury retail space The Room.

A representative for the retailer said a number of associates have been asked about the dresses and whether The Bay will be carrying them. Holt Renfrew will also carry the Erdem dress Kate wore in Ottawa at their Montreal store.

Dixon said he doesn't necessarily see Kate's use of homegrown labels having an impact on Canadian fashion on the whole, but he said Smythe and Erdem may be able to benefit from elevated exposure for their labels.

"If it's one step closer to realizing that Canadian talent isn't Canadian, it's global, it's better for all of us."

Kelley thinks Kate's looks from the Canadian visit cement the impression she is someone who is going to be her own person in terms of what she wears.

"She is not going to kowtow to the hipper fashion crowd that wants her to wear edgier things, trendier things."

Barbara Atkin, vice-president of fashion direction for Holt Renfrew, sees Kate as a modern style icon with long-term staying power.

Her mix of designer fashions with accessibly-priced “high street” clothing is what defines her style, she wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

"Her style reminds us that we don’t have to spend a lot of money to look stylish and what you do purchase today can be recycled," Atkin said.

"There’s nothing wrong with re-shopping your own wardrobe."

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