Storm rises over royal wardrobe

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Just weeks before Norway’s crown couple celebrates their 40th birthdays, criticism is flying over gifts of exclusive and luxurious designer apparel that Crown Princess Mette-Marit has received for years. The gifts have never been disclosed, and the lack of openness over what can amount to veiled promotion by a member of the royal family has raised strong objections even from supporters of the monarchy.

Crown Princess Mette-Marit posing in one of her many designer gowns that now have caused controversy in Norway. PHOTO: Sølve Sundsbø/ Det kongelige hoff

Crown Princess Mette-Marit posing in one of her many designer gowns that now have caused controversy in Norway. PHOTO: Sølve Sundsbø/ Det Kongelige Hoff

The crown princess set off the debate after telling “Dagbladet Magasinet” over the weekend that  something was “terribly wrong” when “folks only care about what shoes or clothes I’m wearing.” Her habit of using exclusive designer apparel, even when visiting impoverished areas on humanitarian missions, has long raised eyebrows in her egalitarian-minded country. Revelations that she’s also received much of the luxury goods as gifts or at a “royal discount” have now set off a barrage of criticism against the Royal Palace, because its officials have failed to disclose the gifts or reveal their source.

Any gifts of clothing, shoes, purses or jewelry that are accepted and used in public, for example, “in reality amounts to sponsorship,” Dag Jørgen Hveen, a legal expert and lecturer at the Norwegian Business School BI, told newspaper Dagbladet. “The designers do this to have an effect. The answer is that there should be openness around the gifts. If not, they become a form of sneak advertising.”

Mette-Marit was being referred to in social and conventional media this week as both a “living advertisement” for the fashion industry, a “commercial princess” and a “willing fool” for the fashion houses. She’s often promoted Norwegian design over the years, and worn apparel from Norwegian designers, but also has worn gowns and accessories from some of Europe’s most exclusive designers including Valentino and Prada on official and highly public occasions. It remained unclear which dresses, shoes and purses she has received for free or at discounted prices.

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit will be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary next month. PHOTO: Det Kongelige Hoff

Both Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit are being criticized for failing to disclose their gifts. This gown was designed by a Norwegian but Mette-Marit also is known for wearing clothing from such fashion houses as Valentino and Prada, “some” of which may have been gifts or bought at a royal discount. PHOTO: Det Kongelige Hoff

Palace spokeswoman Marianne Hagen confirmed to newspaper Dagbladet that “some” of the crown princess’ clothes “are bought at full price, some are gifts, some have been acquired at discount and a lot is bought on sale.” As of Wednesday morning, however, Hagen was still refusing to answer questions regarding how much of Crown Princess Mette-Marit’s state-supplied private income was being used for clothing, what sort of guidelines the palace has for accepting gifts, whether any conditions are attached to the gifts, whether other members of the royal family also accepted gifts of clothing or whether Mette-Marit was being exploited by the fashion industry. The crown couple receives just over NOK 8 million a year in state income, with around NOK 2.25 million available for private purchases, according to the latest palace accounts that have been revealed.

Norway’s monarchy, as a matter of principle, has never had “royal purveyors” of various goods like those found in other countries with monarchies. Hagen also refused to answer whether that principle had been relaxed, or changed.

Strict rules for other leaders
Political leaders in Norway are required to disclose and register any gifts received. “It would have been appalling if a politician received a gift without any openness around it,” Gunnar Bodahl-Johansen, an expert on legal demands for public information at Norway’s journalism institure, told Dagbladet. “The gift register exists so that any corruption can be controlled and so that politicians can retain public confidence. This is also important for the royal family.”

Per Edgar Kokkvold, secretary general of Norway’s press foundation (Presseforbundet), agreed. “The fact that the crown princess has been accepting such gifts is so sensational that the Royal Palace should be completely open about it,” Kokkvold told newspaper Dagsavisen on Wednesday. He was most concerned with the royals’ public role, and how it can be exploited.

“They (the crown princess and her husband, Crown Prince Haakon) present themselves in the media as being quite interested in the welfare of the weak, and Mette-Marit herself is often out talking about slanted division of resources and discrimination in society,” Kokkvold said. “Then it’s strange that they, as members of one of the country’s absolutely most privileged families, accept such luxurious gifts without offering insight into what sorts of things they receive.”

He added that “accepting luxurious gifts is such a controversial theme that the royals should volunteer information about it.” He also said that it’s “problematic” when the royals try to control “which sides of themselves they want to be public.” In connection with receipt of expensive gifts, “they definitely should have laid all their cards on the table from the very start. Either they should refuse all gifts or be completely open about what they accept.”

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) editorialized on Wednesday that the royals “are expected to live a life in luxury … on the other hand, there are limits to how many and how expensive dresses are before someone reacts.” Mette-Marit’s “majestic sponsorship” leads to concern, DN wrote, especially when Norway’s royal family has won popularity over the years by being “common in small and visible doses.”

Several Members of Parliament from parties that generally defend the monarchy were calling for quick establishment of a gift register for the royals similar to that for political leaders. Others told various media outlets that the crown princess, whose tastes have risen from jogging shoes to designer high-heels since marrying the crown prince, simply has shown poor judgment on the issue, as have royal palace officials.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  • Observer2796

    That’s right Mette Marit! Wear your potato sack and flip flops, while you rush to catch the bus from your appartment to the palace.

  • withaclue

    Hi Truls.
    It won’t change anything if you have a republic. Whoever is the head of state will come to expect all the pomp and circumstance in the world anyway. They’ll still have to host state dinners and official functions and come to regard all the glitz and glamour as required necessities. Every appointed or elected head of state (either way it’s still a political office), will come to think of themselves as somehow deserving of all their special privileges. They too will demad a 56 car motorcade even when going only two blocks up the street.
    You may as well keep what you’ve got; at least you know who you’re dealing with.

    • Robert Neve

      In most cases, such as the UK, the monarch is actually cheaper and better than a president.

      • Robert Neve

        French President cost the tax payer £95 million in 2010. The entire royal family cost the tax payer cost £32 million. Then you factor in the good will and attention these diplomats bring to the UK where an elected head would not. Not to mention the fact the royals allow the state to use the Crown Estate. Funding rules now say the Monarch will get no funding from the tax payer but just 15% of the profits from their own estates. That currently earns the British public £240.2 million a year.

    • inquisitorX

      Just look at how much the royal Obama has paid for his vacations.

      • Observer2796

        Wait a minute… are you sure it wasn’t 200 million a day like that idiot teabagger Bachmann said about the trip to India? Did your hero Bush sleep in his SUV on trips? I’m not even sure you’re an American but you keep blathering secondhand teabagger nonsense. Get lost bagger.

        • inquisitorX

          What is a bagger?

  • Birgit Johansen

    What is the poor gal supposed to do; dress in sackcloth and ashes? Get over yourselves. She has to represent the country and as such needs to present a dignified image.

    • Robert Cumming

      It’s hard to be dignified when you’re a former junkie with an illegitimate child, the woman should never have been allowed to marry the crown prince.

      • Robert Neve

        I think she has been a model example of how someone can reform and rebuild their lives. An inspiration for those in similar situations

  • Observer2796

    I don’t get the hate for MM at all. These critics seem jealous. She and her husband represent a country that has the largest sovereign wealth fund on the planet by far – $780 Billion yes that’s with a B. Why can’t they have some nice things?

  • Joyce

    I think the Norwegian people are being unfair to Crown Princess Mette-Marit. She is very much in the public eye and should appear well dressed. To my mind and many others, just because she receives some of her designer clothes as gifts from designers does not indicate advertising for them. The media, unfortunately like the media in the US, see what they want to see and wreak havock for no reason other than to cause trouble. I very much admire Mette-Marit and Haakon.