the in­sider

The National - News - Luxury - - CONTENTS - by libby banks

Emilia Wick­stead’s royal con­nec­tions; and the top three hair trends of the sea­son

When Kate Mid­dle­ton first started step­ping out in Emilia Wick­stead’s la­dy­like pas­tel con­coc­tions, it’s fair to say that most of the fash­ion world’s re­ac­tion was: “Emilia … who?” It didn’t take long for Wick­stead’s cre­ations to catch on; the de­signer has in­jected the made-to-mea­sure world’s rar­efied con­fines with a fresh and mod­ern en­ergy, aided along the way by her pho­to­genic fans.

A New Zealan­der, Wick­stead spent her for­ma­tive years in Mi­lan be­fore putting down roots in Lon­don, where she launched her epony­mous la­bel in 2009. She de­vel­oped her skills from an early age; her mother ran a be­spoke dress­mak­ing ser­vice in Auck­land.

“My mother re­mains my men­tor and will al­ways be a key in­spi­ra­tion to me,” she says. “I have mem­o­ries from ev­ery as­pect of her grow­ing busi­ness – the happy and the hard times.”

Wick­stead is tight-lipped about her clients, es­pe­cially when quizzed about her most fa­mous fan. “I’m just so thrilled when­ever I see my cloth­ing When the Duchess of Cam­bridge gets dressed, her out­fit needs to be spot on. As one of the most pho­tographed women in the world, the scru­tiny re­ceived by ev­ery de­tail, from the an­gle of her hat to the pre­cise di­am­e­ter of her bounc­ing curls, means that style fail­ures are not an op­tion. Given these high stakes, when she deigns to pa­tro­n­ise a new de­signer, such as Emilia Wick­stead, it’s worth pay­ing at­ten­tion. on clients and friends,” she shrugs. The duchess isn’t her only high-pro­file client; Diane Kruger is a fully paid-up mem­ber of the Wick­stead fan club, and, at this year’s Golden Globes, Caitlin Fitzger­ald wore a corn­flower blue, high-low hem Emilia Wick­stead gown, a dress that earned Fitzger­ald a place on just about ev­ery best- dressed list.

Wick­stead is clear on the kind of woman her de­signs at­tract: “She’s in­de­pen­dent, has a big per­son­al­ity, is in­tel­li­gently in­ter­est­ing – and fun”.

Like her royal pa­tron, Wick­stead has taken the odd fash­ion risk. A er study­ing at Cen­tral Saint Martins Col­lege of Art and De­sign, she chose to take her tal­ents in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion from the rest of her class. In­stead of the Lon­don- de­signer route to the run­way, she fo­cused her busi­ness on cre­at­ing made-to-mea­sure cloth­ing for women. It’s a sim­ple enough con­cept; but one that largely faded from fash­ion’s main­stream in the mid-1950s.

“When I started, I was in­ter­ested in old-world glam­our and how women used to dress up, so I started my madeto-mea­sure busi­ness to cater to that,” she says. “That’s some­thing that’s ex­cit­ing and re­fresh­ing. I wanted to de­sign cloth­ing for women that they would keep in their wardrobes for­ever.”

In an in­dus­try that adores the shock of the new, a young de­signer’s con­scious de­ci­sion to turn away from trend-led fash­ion to fo­cus on time­less style seems, well, rather shock­ing. Wick­stead’s old­world ate­lier ap­proach is com­pa­ra­ble to haute cou­ture – ex­cept when it comes to price. “I wanted to make it af­ford­able for clients,” she says, “but the pieces should be de­signed in a way that they want to wear them again and again.”

An haute-cou­ture dress can cost up­wards of US$150,000 (Dh560,000) while Wick­stead’s made-to- or­der dresses start from $1,500 (Dh5,500). “I think there is a trend to­ward con­sumers seek­ing out be­spoke cra sman­ship,” she says. “They want a well-fit­ted, unique gar­ment, in their colour and fab­ric choice, to fit their body and taste.”

Clients who opt for Wick­stead’s made-to-or­der ser­vice can choose from se­lect styles of blouses, dresses, skirts and trousers that are both mod­ern and clas­sic. The flair is in the de­tail and a de , but un­ex­pected, use of colour – ab­stract pearl bead­ing on a clas­sic darted, pow­der-pink pen­cil skirt or an im­pec­ca­bly cut tuxedo over­coat in daz­zling chartreuse – quirks that give her de­signs a mod­ern, one- off twist.

Clients choose their pre­ferred ma­te­rial and colour with the help of an in­house team, and can al­ter a neck­line, sleeve and hem length at will. Those want­ing to take it up a notch can opt for the made-to-mea­sure ser­vice, where be­spoke gar­ments are cre­ated to pre­cise mea­sure­ments. The turn­around is quicker than tra­di­tional be­spoke ser­vices: “We have quite a fresh and mod­ern ap­proach to cou­ture and a first fit­ting would take place a er 20 days.”

Busi­ness is boom­ing, and Wick­stead has ex­panded her reper­toire to in­clude sea­sonal ready-to-wear col­lec­tions, stocked every­where from AlOth­man and The Art Of Liv­ing to Sel­f­ridges and Net-a-porter. But de­spite earn­ing the pa­tron­age of fash­ion’s up­per ech­e­lons, Wick­stead has no plans to de­vi­ate from the per­sonal ap­proach that is at the root of her la­bel. “The made-tomea­sure and be­spoke is the heart and soul of my busi­ness – with­out this first chap­ter, how would I know what my clien­tele truly wants?”

FIT­TING TOUCH Emilia Wick­stead of­fers madeto-mea­sure ser­vices to cre­ate

be­spoke dresses within a rea­son­able time and price range.

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