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.
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.
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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