- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

LONDON (AP) - Fashion Week has come and gone, the carnival is moving on to Paris and Milan, and still there has been no clarity on the pressing issue of the day: Who, exactly, is designing Kate Middleton’s wedding gown?

Some of the people who are not designing the dress stepped forward after their London catwalk shows to say so _ including punk priestess Vivienne Westwood and Christopher Bailey of Burberry _ but no one has come forward to say they are the one.

More surprisingly, perhaps, the word has not leaked out, even in the gossipy fashion world. A few hundred journalists, several dozen designers and legions of overdressed fashion types have just spent six days together drinking free buckets of free champagne and icy vodka cocktails at various parties and receptions, but no one seems to have spilled the beans.

Bob Woodward and the brass at the Washington Post protected Deep Throat’s identity for decades, but Buckingham Palace only has to protect this secret for another 70 days or so to allow Middleton to achieve her stated goal of surprising Prince William, and the rest of the world, when she walks down the aisle in her mystery gown.

She just might pull it off _ if the chosen one can resist the natural impulse to boast a bit to his or her closest friend, with the whispered admonition not to tell a soul, a tactic that would likely lead to worldwide disclosure within days.

Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council that stages Fashion Week, said it is not surprising that the information has been tightly held.

“Whoever has the honor will be sure not to leak it, that’s the agreement,” she said. “It’s the one thing everyone is asking in London and in New York. Who’s dressing Kate? Who’s it going to be? I really don’t know who it is; I just hope it’s British. Who knows? Who knows?”

Rush is confident that Middleton will look fantastic when the moment finally arrives.

“There’s no doubt she’ll look spectacular on the day,” Rush said. “They eyes of the world are going to be on her and it’s a key date in our country’s history. I’m sure she’ll make the effort to have the most beautiful dress.”

The only catty comments on the matter came from Westwood, who told reporters that Middleton didn’t quite come up to snuff, style-wise.

Other star designers chose total discretion at Fashion Week. Daniella Issa Helayel refused to talk about Middleton at all, except to gratefully acknowledge the obvious _ that Middleton’s public embrace of Issa’s designs has led to an “amazing” growth in sales for her rising brand.

There was an earlier boomlet of support for Bruce Oldfield, a prominent designer who was favored by the late Princess Diana. His stock rose after Carole and Pippa Middleton _ Kate’s mother and sister _ were photographed leaving Oldfield’s tony shop, but he seemed to take himself out of the running by making several TV appearances in the United States.

The thinking is that he would not have spoken publicly about the wedding if in fact he had gotten _ or expected to receive _ the big assignment, because to do so would have violated the palace’s quest for privacy.

The official palace position _ repeated to any journalist who cares to call _ is that the choice of designer is a “private matter” for Middleton, not an official matter to be discussed by the monarchy’s representatives.

Press officials working for Prince Charles _ father of the groom, Prince William _ point out that the wedding is not a state affair; they maintain Middleton deserves the same right to privacy as any bride. They say she wants to be able to surprise her husband at the ceremony itself _ which would mean keeping the press guessing until late in the morning of April 29.

In lieu of hard information, some maintain the final choice has not actually been made but that a “short list” of prospective designers has been asked by the Palace to submit sketches of what they designs they think would work for the big event.

Others believe Middleton may pull off a shocker by choosing an unknown designer now flying well below the radar of the fashion pack.

Could she go even further and show a practical, frugal side by picking an off-the-rack gown at a department store?

Now that would truly be a surprise.