EXCLUSIVE: Sartorial Sophie's go-to handbag designer
She's an Archduchess who's related to members of European royal families
Here at the Royal Club we are big fans of the Duchess of Edinburgh – and one of the things we love most about her is her fashion. Seeing as she celebrated her 59th birthday over the weekend, I thought it would only be apt to focus today's newsletter on 'Sartorial Sophie'.
Classic colours, feminine florals, and perfectly coordinated millinery are key staples of the Duchess's wardrobe. But for well over a decade, Prince Edward's wife has been adding a pop of pizazz to her looks thanks to a certain luxury handbag label: Sophie Habsburg.
I had a phone call with the Rome-based designer, and she gave me a fascinating insight into what it's like to work with her royal client, who's reported to have over 70 of her pieces!
Sophie Habsburg – from the historic House of Habsburg and married to Prince Mariano Hugo of Windisch-Graetz – is, herself, well-connected among the British and European royal families.
She's the Archduchess of Austria and moves in well-heeled, high-society circles. She's been helping to style the Duchess since her business launched some 14 years ago. They met at a Luxembourgish royal wedding… Casual.
When the Duchess met the Archduchess
The pair first crossed paths at Prince Guillaume of Luxembourg's royal wedding to his then-bride Stephanie de Lannoy in 2012. Her own royal connections are something the Archduchess – who also counts among her clientele Lady Gabriella Windsor and the "very cool" Queen Maxima of the Netherlands – is quite blasé about.
"Some of the European royal families are relations, and we see each other on different occasions, so the door is more open in that sense. I first met Sophie at a Luxembourgish royal wedding and she saw my bag, adored it, and I said, 'Look, this is my new thing and I'm doing bags' and that's how it all started. I started very slowly, and she started as a slow client. In that sense, we grew together.
"She's a lovely person. She's down to earth, she has a big heart, she's very intelligent, and she's a good soul. What you see is what you get. There's no hidden agenda in any kind of way."
"The Duchess contacts me if she needs to," Sophie adds. "She might send a photo of a dress and we consult on what could match. It's an easy way of communicating. And I send her photos of my new bags, like you would do with any good client. I think she knows what she wants to wear and what she doesn't want to wear."
A classic English Rose
Sartorially speaking, the Duchess is one of the most popular members of the British royal family. Her style is classic and undoubtedly elegant, but the mother-of-two will often add a dose of playfulness with her bohemian Sophie Habsburg accessories.
"I think she always looks very appropriate for her role," says the designer. "She's very elegant and never overdone, which I think is so important. She has a beautiful face, fresh skin, and dresses with lovely colours. I think she does a fabulous job. She always looks lovely and she's clearly very comfortable in her own skin. She's a classic English Rose.
"I think we all have a little creative side in us – and that comes out in the bags. It's a subtle way of expressing ourselves."
Sophie's favourite arm candy
When she's on the royal circuit, Sophie favours the more practical clutches or small handbags, with a favourite being the Moneypenny, the first in her never-ending collection and the bag that caught her eye at the royal wedding all those years ago.
There are reports that Sophie has over 70 of the Archduchess' designs in her wardrobe. But the designer laughs: "I mean, I've never counted how many she's bought or what she has, but yes, she loves wearing them, and I think they look great on her.
"In an official capacity, she likes wearing a certain kind of bag where you can easily have your hands free or nothing hanging off your shoulders. I've never asked her, but there must be a practical side to why she chooses those designs."
Sophie most recently stepped out wearing the tan Belle de Jour clutch last week when visiting the Katherine Low Settlement, a Battersea-based charity. She has also worn the raffia Tahiti clutch on her and Prince Edward's Caribbean tour in 2022, as well as the summery floral Capri mini handbag.
But when it comes to holiday wear, the Duchess has a soft spot for the Salandrina, a larger leather shoulder bag that has embroidered cord detail. "She loves the Salandrina handbag for when she's not doing official things, like when she's on holiday. She always wears those in her free time."
Like mother, like daughter
Sophie and her daughter Lady Louise, 20, also memorably wore matching bags at the National Service of Thanksgiving during the late Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022. But that wasn't the first time Louise took style inspiration from her mum.
"I actually made a bag for Louise with her name on it too when she was much younger. And she probably steals from her mother whenever she needs to. Like my daughter does with me!"
I absolutely loved chatting with the Archduchess and hearing all about her royal clientele.
And since we're on the topic of handbags, I couldn't not spotlight another accessories label that Duchess Sophie is a big fan of – Strathberry. You may have read my previous post about the Scottish brand and how it's so popular with Princess Kate too. But it turns out, Sophie is also a regular client.
The Edinburgh-based business, which celebrated its tenth year in 2023, is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Guy and Leeanne Hundleby.
Leeanne told me: "The Duchess has such an elegant and classic style. I love her use of vibrant colours and sleek prints and textures, which create a playful and romantic chic touch to finish her looks beautifully."
Some of the brand's designs that Sophie has carried include its signature East/West Mini and Box Crescent bag, which she wore at Royal Ascot and at a Buckingham Palace garden party last year. "She looked wonderful," said Leeanne. "Her style always complements our bags perfectly. She's a wonderful brand supporter and it's especially meaningful to us given her connection with our beautiful hometown Edinburgh."
But a real "pinch-me" moment for Leeanne was when she saw the Duchess standing alongside Princess Kate at the Garter Day service at St George's Chapel in Windsor last year. "This was a pinch-me moment to have two members of the royal family carrying our brand, and we feel honoured to have seen them both look so beautiful with our bags."
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