Kate Middleton Wore Catherine Walker Designs in Pakistan as a Tribute to Princess Diana

The duchess is honoring her late mother-in-law and her favorite designer.

The minute Kate Middleton stepped off the plane upon arriving in Pakistan for her five-day tour with Prince William earlier this week, it was clear that her traditional Pakistani dress was more than a gesture of respect to her hosts. The Duchess of Cambridge dazzled in a stunning blue ombre shalwar kameez (a tunic with matching pants) by Catherine Walker that eagle-eyed royal watchers pegged immediately as a tribute to Princess Diana, who wore a similar design when she visited the country in '90s.

But there was more behind the duchess' decision to wear the designer's clothes than meets the eye. "The duchess chose a very tasteful yet modern bespoke shalwar kameez from Catherine Walker as a mark of respect for Pakistani culture in keeping with Diana's tradition of doing the same," according to a royal insider. "She also wanted to pay tribute to the princess. Diana's trips to Pakistan were particularly meaningful to her. The duchess wanted to acknowledge that—and the role Catherine Walker played in her public life."

Kate and William's trip to Pakistan holds special significance as it is the first royal visit to the country in 13 years. Speculation was rife in the British press over whether Kate would be inspired by Diana's wardrobe of traditional clothing for the tour.

On each of her three trips to Pakistan, Diana balanced the requirement for modest clothing with dressing for extreme heat by donning traditional clothing that gained praise from her hosts and made international headlines. The princess made her last trip just months before her death in 1997 and wore a shalwar kameez for a trip to heart surgeon Hasnat Khan's family home in Lahore and later for a visit to then soccer star and her good friend Imran Khan's cancer hospital and research center. (The men are distant cousins.)

On Tuesday, when Kate and William met with the latter Khan, who's now prime minister in Islamabad, the duchess chose a bright green tunic, another stunner by Catherine Walker. She paired it with dangling earrings by Pakistan-based jewelry brand Zeen, and a printed chiffon dupatta (scarf) by Pakistani brand Bonanza Satrangi.

Ever since marrying into the royal family, Kate has worn many different designs by Walker, whose impeccably tailored coats and suits were a favorite of Diana's. She holds the distinction of being the only designer to have dressed Diana throughout the entire period of her public life. The princess was even buried in a black coat dress from Walker.

Diana and the Paris-born designer developed a special friendship that went beyond fashion. Both women were the same height, size, and astrological sign (Cancer, which Diana believed was a "sign"). Together, they designed a formula for Diana's working wardrobe that never failed her. "They were extremely close—completely simpatico with one another. Diana felt very safe with Catherine," said my source.

Equally important to their relationship was the support they offered each other in their personal lives. When Walker learned she had breast cancer in 1995, Diana was there to support her friend, visiting her in the hospital and being in constant contact. While writing my book, Diana: The Secrets of Her Style, the notoriously press-shy Walker, told me through a statement, "I received unfailing support from the Princess of Wales since my diagnosis." It was especially meaningful to the designer when Diana chose to have the Royal Marsden Hospital Cancer Fund be one of two charities to receive the proceeds from the 1997 Christie's auction of her dresses (the other being the AIDS Crisis Trust). "I was deeply moved that my designs, through the princess, were being used to save lives," said Walker. Sadly, the designer passed away from cancer in 2010. Walker's partner and husband, Said Ismail, has run the London-based design house since her death.

"The duchess has always been very much attuned to wearing what's most appropriate and befitting to the occasion," said my source. "By wearing designs from Catherine Walker on this very important royal tour, she paid tribute to two extraordinary women and the special place they hold in the history of the royal family." And for more on the duchess, here are 17 Ways Kate Has Changed Since Marrying Prince William.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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