Home News Did Meghan Markle get more than ‘inspiration’ from luxury L.A. brand?

Did Meghan Markle get more than ‘inspiration’ from luxury L.A. brand?

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When Meghan Markle announced the launch of her American Riviera Orchard lifestyle brand nearly two weeks ago, her Sussex Squad fans were delighted and her reported new pal Kris Jenner signed up to follow the company on Instagram.

But fashion and branding experts noted the mouthful of a brand name and questioned whether the TV actor-turned-Duchess of Sussex wants to start the next Goop or be the next Martha Stewart. Others remarked that the brand’s gold logo seems designed to exploit Meghan’s royal connections, while her company’s possible line of products — jams, tableware, linens — seem similar to what tourists can find at gift shops at British royal palaces.

But a new report suggests another “inspiration” for American Riviera Orchard: It is the “decadent lifestyle accouterments company” Flamingo Estate, which is based out of a lavish Spanish-style estate in the hills above Los Angeles, according to the newsletter Puck.

TOPSHOT - Britain's Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, attends the "Keynote: Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On and Off the Screen," during the SXSW 2024 Conference and Festivals at the Austin Convention Center on March 8, 2024, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP) (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT – Britain’s Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, attends the “Keynote: Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On and Off the Screen,” during the SXSW 2024 Conference and Festivals at the Austin Convention Center on March 8, 2024, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP) (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images) 

But “‘inspiration’ is perhaps a generous term,” Puck writer and influencer industry expert Rachel Strugatz reported last week. That’s because Meghan “appears to be all but trying to re-create Flamingo Estate herself after a potential partnership fell through,” Strugatz said.

“It was a business she was trying to be a part of,” a source told Puck about Meghan. Strugatz also reported that Meghan was in talks about becoming an “active partner” in Flamingo Estate, which means she likely would have been privy to “relevant company information.”

Meghan relocated to her own lavish estate in Montecito with Prince Harry in 2020 after the couple fled royal life. She supposedly visited Flamingo Estate after being introduced to the property by a famous new neighbor — who was not Oprah Winfrey, Strugatz said.

Flamingo Estate is run by fashion and retail industry expert Richard Christiansen and his partner, Aaron Harvey. Their pink 1940s home once was a porn studio but the duo have transformed it into “an Instagram playground” and a purveyor of the California good life, the New York Times reported. They started the company during the COVID-19 pandemic, initially as an enterprise to sell beautifully packaged food boxes, containing produce from local farmers, to their wealthy friends, the Times also said.

With millions in funding raised, the business expanded. But it continues to be centered around their hilltop estate, which is surrounded by an orchard and gardens — not unlike Meghan and Harry’s property in Montecito. The Flamingo Estate website described it as “a pleasure-obsessed home of sun-worship, folk mythologies, and psychedelic remedies grown only by farmers we know and trust.”

Flamingo Estate’s home and beauty products have become “the status symbol du jour for a certain kind of California in-crowd,” Strugatz reported. Winfrey named Flamingo Estate candles, which smell like tomatoes and rosemary, among her favorite things, the New York Times reported. The brand also has sold a nine-pound bag of manure for $75 and a 6.5-ounce jar of dried strawberries for $80. Other famous fans include Stewart, Jenner and Chrissy Teigen, while Flamingo Estate also markets such extravagantly priced, celebrity-branded products as $250 honey; its products bearing the names of such stars as Julianne Moore, LeBron James and Tiffany Haddish.

TOPSHOT - Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Britain's Meghan, Duchess of Sussex return in a horse-drawn carriage after attending the Queen's Birthday Parade, 'Trooping the Colour' on Horseguards parade in London on June 9, 2018.The ceremony of Trooping the Colour is believed to have first been performed during the reign of King Charles II. In 1748, it was decided that the parade would be used to mark the official birthday of the Sovereign. More than 600 guardsmen and cavalry make up the parade, a celebration of the Sovereign's official birthday, although the Queen's actual birthday is on 21 April. / AFP PHOTO / Niklas HALLENNIKLAS HALLEN/AFP/Getty Images
Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Britain’s Meghan, Duchess of Sussex return in a horse-drawn carriage after attending the Queen’s Birthday Parade, ‘Trooping the Colour’ on Horseguards parade in London on June 9, 2018. ( / AFP PHOTO / Niklas HALLENNIKLAS HALLEN/AFP/Getty Images) 

Meghan and Harry also became big fans of Flamingo Estate and have displayed the company’s products in their Mediterranean-style home, Strugatz reported. Indeed, several books from a special $360 Flamingo Estate collection, which include life-improvement tomes by Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and Jane Goodall, appear in the background of a 2022 clip of Harry promoting a New Zealand eco-travel project from his study.

Meghan held multiple in-person meetings with the Flamingo Estate team in 2022, and she expressed a desire to come on as an “active partner” in the business, Strugatz reported. By the time the deal fell through, Meghan would have had access to company information “that any potential investor would be privy to,” Strugatz reported. That means she could have gained “intimate knowledge” of the business, Strugatz also said.

Christiansen declined to comment to Puck, and a spokesperson for the Duchess of Sussex didn’t respond to a request for a statement.

Now, Meghan has launched American Riviera Orchard. An Instagram page for the company shared a short video, set to Nancy Wilson’s “I Love You.” It showed the duchess arranging flowers, baking in a kitchen and posing in a ballgown in the doorway of what appears to be her Montecito home, The Telegraph reported.

The trademark applications for American Riviera Orchard say that potential products could include candles, nut butters, dried fruits, cook books, cosmetic brushes, yoga mats and a number of other wellness-related items, Puck and other outlets reported. Last week, an observer told Strugatz that Meghan’s company thus far looks like “what happens when you go to a dinner at Flamingo Estate and aren’t invited back.”

To whatever extent Meghan has borrowed from Flamingo Estate, it still will be challenging for her to launch a successful lifestyle brand, even if she is globally famous and has a hard-core fan base, Strugatz said.

Meghan apparently enjoyed some success with The Tig, the lifestyle site she launched while starring in “Suits” but shuttered after she began dating Harry. Meanwhile, the celebrity lifestyle industry already has become a crowded field, with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop the best known of the pack, according to Strugatz. Following in the footsteps of Winfrey and Stewart and building “a multi-category product empire” — if that’s what Meghan wants to do — is on a whole other level, industry experts have said.

When Meghan and Harry left the U.K. in 2020, settled in California and signed multimillion deals with Spotify and Netflix, they signaled their intent to become media moguls and global thought leaders. In the process, they’ve undergone several attempts to rebrand themselves. But when it comes to Hollywood, some in the industry believe they have worn “out their welcome,” exhausting a long list of agents, producers and other industry veterans with their “iron-fisted desire for control, combined with a lack of experience,” the industry site The Wrap reported earlier this month.

Thus far, Strugatz starkly said, Meghan and Harry’s “business endeavors haven’t been revolutionary, and their prowess as content creators has been unexpectedly shallow, even given the low expectations.” When it comes to Meghan’s ambitions to become a lifestyle entrepreneur, Strugatz said, she “has her work cut out for her.” But, “for better or worse, everyone will be paying attention.”



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