William & Kate Visit Gdansk

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Image by James Whatling*

After a warm welcome in Warsaw yesterday, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge headed for Gdansk for the second day of the tour. Pictured leaving Belvedere Palace this morning, where the family is staying while in Poland, Kate is wearing floral Erdem separates with what appear to be the same L.K. Bennett nude block heel sandals that she wore to Wimbledon on Sunday and new jewelry.

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She chose amber in a diplomatic nod to Poland.

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This is a new ensemble for the Duchess, but certainly not the first time she has worn the label, which she first debuted during the U.S./Canada tour in the summer of 2011. If you’re surprised to see a Canadian designer featured while Kate is in Poland, you shouldn’t be. Erdem has become such a mainstay in Kate’s closet that she’s worn the label while abroad on a number of occasions, not least of which were in Malaysia in 2012 and during the NZ/Oz tour in 2014.

As for today, we need to separate out how we talk about this look, because there is our style verdict and our “judgment” verdict.

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Purely based on the former, I love today’s look. I love the vintage floral and I love that the separates keep both the print and the cut of this modern and youthful. And once again I’m thrilled to see Kate out of court shoes – if these block-heeled sandals she’s favored over the past two weeks are the new standby then I’m all for it.

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But there are any number of considerations Kate needs to make when she picks out an outfit in the morning, not least of which is how it’s going to be perceived in the context of her setting. Today’s look was for a day chock-full of engagements, the first of which was at Stutthof, the former concentration camp, where William and Kate took a tour and met with former prisoners.

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Her sartorial choice hit a few people the wrong way today, prompting some debate over whether it was appropriate to wear florals to a concentration camp. It’s actually a question that similarly came up when she and William visited NYC in December 2014 and Kate wore a bright fuchsia coat for a trip to Ground Zero, which some viewed as slightly tone deaf.

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And while I didn’t take any issue with the pink coat at the 9/11 memorial (it’s New York, for God’s sake), I have to admit my immediate reaction when I saw the first round of photos hit was, “Florals at a concentration camp? Yikes.” Now, whether that was because it hit me the wrong way or I anticipated the backlash I can’t say for certain.

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I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say it’s worth being offended over, but I do think it was a bit wince-inducing, particularly since you just know how much outrage there is going to be. And it’s one of those things that’s a bit difficult to comprehend how no one thought of this beforehand. These outfits are selected weeks and months out and every detail of an ensemble is considered – hence why we see such subtle touches like Kate wearing amber or her color coordination with the flag yesterday.

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All she had to do was throw a coat on this morning and, yes, she probably should have. Some people might disagree with that assessment and that’s completely fine, but there are enough people out there who at least raised their eyebrows that Kate and her team should have come better-prepared. Better safe than sorry and all that.

Is this a huge deal? No. This was a small blip in another otherwise hugely successful day, but the fact of the matter is that open-toed shoes and florals at a concentration camp are going to appear jarring to some.

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Luckily, the vast majority of coverage from today gave this engagement its due and honored not only William and Kate, but the survivors they met and the site they were touring. At various times both Cambridges looked emotional, which isn’t surprising given the harrowing stories and history they were hearing, including that of two of the survivors they spent the most time with were returning to the camp for the first time since their internment.

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Two of the Holocaust survivors who met William and Kate today are Zigi Shipper and Manfred Goldberg who were sent to the camp during World War II when they were both just 14. Goldberg stated:

“For me it is quite a seismic event because, since I was permitted to come to England in September 1946, I have not set foot in either Germany or Poland. I decided that I really had to face the past and hence my consent to come.”

During his time at the camp, Goldberg described being forced to watch public executions:

“Jewish lives just did not count. We had to assemble in a square. They had erected an enormous gallows with eight nooses hanging down, then one by one we had to watch these innocent men being hanged.”

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While Shipper said:

“The weather I thought was going to kill me because it was like well below zero and you know we were wearing striped pyjamas because that’s what we got in Auschwitz. I never ever – except in Stutthof – thought that I was going to die. You saw people in front of you dying but I never thought I was going to die except in Stutthof […] I said to my friends I can’t walk, they said they’ll help me, that was him and other people like that. Had it not been for them, I would not have been here today. I wouldn’t have survived. They said: ‘You know what will happen to you if you don’t walk – they will shoot you’. I said: ‘But I can’t walk’, they said: ‘We’ll help you.’”

Nearly 110,000 people from 28 different countries were held at Stutthof during World War II, with 65,000 dying, 28,000 of whom were Jewish.

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As for meeting William and Kate, Shipper described it as an honor and noted, “You could see their faces. They were in pain.” Further, he noted that two members of the Royal Family visiting raises awareness:

“‘When a royal goes and it’s put on the television or in the paper, people say “why don’t we go?’ And that’s what we want. People should know that it wasn’t just Auschwitch-Birkenau, it wasn’t just Bergen-Belsen, look at all the other camps.’”

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William and Kate both signed the camp’s guest book – their inscription can be viewed below:

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From there, the Cambridges moved to the Gdansk central market square where they were met with a decidedly different vibe – a street party featuring Goldwasser, pierogi, local jewelry makers (hint: amber), musicians and artists.

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William’s verdict on the Polish liquor was, “It is very good, very sweet.” Kate, meanwhile, noted that it was also, “Very strong.” The images of Kate sipping that shot should at least put to bed any inkling that she is currently pregnant following yesterday’s joke about more children.

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You can get a taste for the scene from this short video clip Kensington Palace posted to Twitter:

Per the Daily Mail:

“William and Kate were welcomed in the Arthus Court in the very heart of Gdansk. Amid cheering and classical music the Duke and Duchess wandered through the Long Market with the Fountain of Neptune, a symbol of Gdansk. They chatted to local tradesmen including amber expert Zbligniew Strzelczyk, owner of the Styl Gallery Gdansk, a city famed for the stone since Medieval times.”

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Eyeing that amber

After the market, the two stopped over at the Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre of which William’s father, the Prince of Wales, is patron. A Shakespeare theatre is actually not as random as it may seem – a large English-speaking population ended up in Poland during the 16th and 17th centuries prompting the playwright’s influence to move east.

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The images of Kate up on stage surrounded by the elaborate costumes are giving me flashbacks to her engagement earlier this year at the Theatre Royal in London.

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And in case there was a question of whether or not it was a big deal William and Kate were in Poland:

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Here you can better see the security measures to control the crowds:

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The final engagement today was a visit to Gdansk’s European Solidary Centre in honor of the movement that helped break the power of the Communist party. William and Kate toured the center’s museum and met with founding members of the movement.

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They also walked through the Gdansk shipyard gates and laid roses in a wreath laying ceremony at the foot of the Solidarity Monument.

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With that, the Cambridges have finished their engagements in Poland. Tomorrow will see their departure, which may offer another glimpse of Prince George and Princess Charlotte before the family lands in Berlin for the German leg of the tour.

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All in all, I think this first portion of the trip has been a huge success for the couple, solidifying their ability to draw crowds and play diplomat on behalf of the Queen – a not inconsiderable skill given the landscape the Royal Family will need to navigate over the next few years.

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*Whatling’s website can be viewed here.

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