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What's the deal with Kate Middleton's wedding dress?

By Susannah Palk for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's been reported the Alexander McQueen label will design the royal wedding dress
  • The fashion label has denied the rumors and Prince William's office has remained silent
  • "McQueen is ultimately the best choice," says fashion director of UK society magazine, Tatler
  • Plus, a look at some of the other contenders for the coveted job

London, England (CNN) -- Speculation over Kate Middleton's wedding dress reached fever pitch this weekend after a British newspaper announced Alexander McQueen's fashion house is designing the gown.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported Sarah Burton, protege of the late McQueen and now the fashion labels' creative director, was the chosen designer for Prince Williams' bride-to-be.

Although the news has been hailed by fashion critics as "bold" and "inspired," McQueen's fashion house has flatly denied the rumors.

Prince William's office, Clarence House, has also remained tight-lipped saying: "Catherine Middleton wishes to keep the designer a secret until the wedding day." The couple will marry at Westminster Abbey in London on April 29.

Whether true or not, Hannah Teare, fashion director for UK society style magazine Tatler, says Burton would be the perfect choice.

"McQueen is ultimately the best choice," she said. "Sarah Burton is fantastic and her designs still have an amazing level of creativity, but perhaps without the ferocity that Lee McQueen had."

Media speculation surrounding the gown has been rife ever since the couple's engagement was announced in November.

A woman's wedding dress is the ultimate dress she will choose. This dress will tell us a lot more about Kate the woman.
--Claudia Joseph, author of "Kate: The Making of a Princess"

"It's tradition isn't it," says Judy Wade, royal correspondent for high society magazine, Hello. "Everyone wants to see the dress and every bride wants to keep it a secret. It's something that adds to the excitement of the day."

Claudia Joseph, fashion journalist and author of "Kate: The Making of a Princess," says the dress will help define how the world will perceive Kate Middleton.

"A woman's wedding dress is the ultimate dress she will choose. This dress will tell us a lot more about Kate the woman.

"It's an image of her that will be flashed around the world. People will emulate her and people will refer back to it in years to come."

Even if the dress isn't by McQueen, both Teare and Joseph expect the dress to be made by a British designer. But what style of gown she will choose remains to be seen.

Designers hotly tipped to bag the job apart from Burton include Bruce Oldfield, Amanda Wakeley, Phillipa Lepley and Daniella Issa Helayel -- who designed Middleton's sapphire blue engagement dress.

"The most important thing is that she gets it right for her," said Teare. "People are always going to have opinions either way -- whether it's creative, pretty, fashion forward or more demure."

What they won't see is a repeat of the 1981 dress Prince William's mother, Diana, Princess of Wales wore when she walked down the aisle.

The epitome of a fairytale princess, Diana's puff-sleeved, silk taffeta gown had a 20ft train and was decorated with lace, embroidery, sequins and around 10,000 tiny pearls.

"There was an innocence and a naivety to Diana's style. Fashion wasn't as forward then for people like the royal family," said Teare.

"We're living in very different times now. I expect there may be some traditional elements to it, but I imagine there will be a stronger element of refinement," she continued.

Joseph agrees: "Diana and Kate are very different people. Diana was much younger when she walked down the aisle and her dress reflected that.

"Kate is much older, less fragile and more comfortable in her own skin. I think she will wear something more elegant and sleek and more fitting of her age and the time we live in."

"McQueen is ultimately the best choice.
--Hannah Teare, fashion director for Tatler Magazine.
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The news of a possible McQueen gown, hasn't however softened the sharp focus on Middleton's wardrobe choices. Her dress sense has split critics -- some adding her to their "best dressed" lists while others have judged her style too "traditional" and "conservative."

The latest high profile criticism comes from renowned British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, who remarked at London Fashion Week: "I would have loved to have dressed Kate Middleton but I have to wait until she kind of catches up a bit somewhere with style."

But Wade says Middleton is a "tough cookie" who can handle the media scrutiny.

"I think she's deliberately ignoring all that pressure," she said. "People are writing stuff about how safe or even boring her clothes are, but I don't think they're giving her enough time to settle into her new role."

Teare added: "She dresses herself fairly well, and I think that it's unfair for people to criticize her. She's doing a good job, but, yes, she's also got a long way to go. Like Lady Diana, she will find her feet and shape things more and more over the coming years."

The five front runners

Timeless: Bruce Oldfield

A seasoned couturier, Oldfield is the perfect choice for the timeless and classic bride. A favorite with the royals, including the late Diana, Princess of Wales, his tailoring accentuates the female form, using seams and darts to highlight curves as well as using sumptuous fabrics such as chiffon, crepe, taffeta and velvet. Kate Middleton's mother and sister have been spotted leaving his London store, so he's a firm favorite.

Cool Britannia: Alexander McQueen

It's modern, edgy and avant-garde. A McQueen number was thought too dramatic and adventurous for a royal wedding, but new creative director Sarah Burton could bring a softer and more feminine touch. Newspapers report Middleton was initially drawn to the designer after Burton created a silk strapless gown for Sara Buys when she married Prince William's step brother, Tom Parker Bowles in 2005.

Ethereal: Amanda Wakeley

A fairytale dress fit for a modern-day princess. Wakeley's signature Grecian goddess style would offer simple elegance and avoid the familiar "princess" trappings of meringue-style full skirts and endless tulle. Wakeley's designs are sensual as well as simple. Another favorite of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, Wakeley provided the late princess with many of her most feminine suits.

Luxurious: Phillipa Lepley

A celebrity favorite, the London-based wedding couturier is famous for her luxurious gowns that are designed to flatter each individual bride's figure. Using silk and vintage lace, beading and embellishments, to create a traditional, yet dramatic look, Lepley is a firm favorite with Britain's upper-crust brides.

Offbeat: Issa

One of Middleton's favorite designers, Daniella Helayel has been mooted as a possible for the job. Middleton wore the designer's sapphire blue number for her engagement announcement, but the odds are stacked against Helayel. She's a native of Brazil for one and although her gowns are effortlessly elegant, Issa's dress-up, dress-down ethic could be a little too relaxed for the pomp and circumstance of a royal wedding.

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