A royal joke. In the end, that’s all Kate Middleton's appearance on the cover of Marie Claire SA turned out to be.

At first, however, glossy magazine editors the world over must have been left dumbstruck as a South African magazine appeared to pull off one of the biggest fashion industry coups ever. The August cover of Marie Claire SA features the Duchess of Cambridge posing in a dress made by local designer Clive Rundle.

"Kate Middleton: Fashion's New Royal Icon Wears SA’s Best Local Designs" screams the headline, but closer inspection reveals that it was all just a photoshop fake.

An asterisk and some tongue-in-cheek small print at the bottom of the page confirms that you’ve been fooled.

"Of course she doesn’t," it reads. "But she should."

Middleton’s slim frame was provided by the magazine's chief copy editor Nicci Collier, who modelled the dress for the cover and for four other images with different dresses which are included inside the magazine.

Each image was then edited by different illustrators, who created the final product.

The magazine's editor, Aspasia Karras, said the pictures were not simply a Photoshopping exercise, but were a "fan art" tribute to Middleton, who she said had become an incredible public figure.

"Apparently she has this instant effect on anything she wears and it sells out. Wouldn't it be nice if she would sell out Clive Rundle," Karras said with a laugh.

She said the magazine had wanted the choice of fashion, which is quite opposite to Middleton’s usual stiff-upper-lip British style, to be something that was very South African.

But online critics have been scathing of the offbeat creation.

"It seems like an easy way to sell a magazine without having the real person posing (Tatler did the same with KM in the UK)," said @frazbelina in reply to Marie Claire US’s question about how people felt about the use of the Photoshopped image.

"Quite an achievement by Marie Claire SA to make Kate look this awful!" said Tom Sykes, a British Royalty blogger who also commented on the controversial cover on Twitter.

The images are the latest faux editorial imagery Kate has starred in.

American magazine The New Republic caused a stir using a picture of Kate showing off what appeared to be rotten teeth to depict the dismal state of the UK economy.

And last week British publication the Daily Mail Photoshopped a variety of different make-up styles on to the royal. - The Star