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‘She Asked Me Right From the Start to Do the White Shirt.’ Designer Misha Nonoo on Working with Meghan Markle for Her New Fashion Collection

4 minute read

On Thursday, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, unveiled a new capsule collection she helped put together as the patron of Smart Works, a U.K. charity that helps women prepare for employment opportunities with free clothes and job training. The collection is five pieces: a blazer, slacks, résumé-friendly tote bag, work dress and crisp white collared shirt, each designed with different brand partners and intended to help women create a fail-safe working wardrobe. The collection is available in inclusive sizing options, and for every item purchased, another is donated to Smart Works, giving someone access to new apparel for a fresh start.

That white shirt in particular — a fashion item frequently worn by Meghan Markle herself — happens to be made in partnership with Misha Nonoo, a fashion designer with a documented friendship with Markle. Nonoo, whose white shirts are a longtime staple of her brand and what she calls a wardrobe “lynchpin,” told TIME that the Duchess approached her early in the year after she was named patron of the charity in January. Markle has a special relationship with Nonoo’s popular “Husband” shirt: it was the top she wore on her first official photographed outing with Prince Harry back in 2017.

The Duchess Of Sussex Launches Smart Works Capsule Collection
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex poses for a photograph with women dressed in clothes from the Smart Works capsule collection during the collection's launch on September 12, 2019 in London, England.WPA Pool—Getty Images

“She asked me right from the start to do the white shirt, as that’s kind of our signature,” Nonoo explained, “and I said I’d be delighted to. She was incredible, the consummate professional in allowing me to really design the piece and giving me guidelines and guidance about the women, the clients and what the piece had to fulfill in terms of day-to-day life.”

Nonoo says she wanted to produce something that was “tailored, but modern,” without a traditional French dart or other details that would make it “a little too classic,” and would function for both work and weekend wear. A new challenge was developing a shirt that would fit well for the inclusive size range; it goes up to a size 22 U.S. (This is one more example of a contemporary push for more inclusive sizing options in fashion, an initiative that celebrities like Serena Williams, another friend of Markle’s, have also championed this week.) After getting to work, Nonoo’s finished product was a hit: “Luckily, she was very happy with it,” Nonoo says of Markle’s response.

CFDA Incubator Show And Cocktail Party At W South Beach For SWIMMIAMI 2016
Misha Nonoo prepares backstage at the CFDA Incubator show and cocktail party at W South Beach For SWIMMIAMI 2016 on July 18, 2015.Dylan Rives—2015 Getty Images

For Markle, launching this capsule collection is the latest chapter in her charitable work with U.K. women’s organizations. Last fall, she released a community cookbook with the women of the Hubb Kitchen, who were impacted by the 2017 Grenfell fire. “Since moving to the U.K., it has been deeply important to me to meet with communities and organizations on the ground doing meaningful work and to try to do whatever I can to help them amplify their impact,” the Duchess shared in a statement. “In convening several companies rather than one, we’ve demonstrated how we can work collectively to empower each other — another layer to this communal success story, that I am so proud to be a part of.”

Nonoo agrees: “The more that people can use their businesses as platforms for change, the better,” she says. For her part, she’s happy to be involved. “It’s really extraordinary how the Duchess is using her platform to support causes like this,” she says. “I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I’m so honored to be a part of that and to see these women’s lives changed for the better as a result.”

For the launch event in London on Thursday, Markle’s first official engagement since giving birth to her first child with Prince Harry in May, Markle wore the new shirt from the collection, and Nonoo wore the “Husband” shirt.

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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com