FAN­TASY MADE REAL The Lon­don cou­ture la­bel Ralph & Russo is set to con­quer the ready-to-wear world

The story of Ralph & Russo is a fash­ion fairy tale come true. In just 10 years, Ta­mara Ralph and Michael Russo have turned their small cou­ture ate­lier into a global pow­er­house, with a client list that in­cludes in­ter­na­tional celebri­ties, bil­lion­aires and r

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By AVRIL MAIR Pho­to­graphs by SO­PHIE CARRÉ Sit­tings ed­i­tor: ANNA ROSA VITIELLO

Should Meghan Markle ever find her­self in need of a spe­cial gown – some­thing floor-sweep­ing, exquisitely em­bel­lished and suit­able for mar­ry­ing a real-life prince, say – then she could do no bet­ter than turn to Ralph & Russo. Though its ate­lier is con­ve­niently sit­u­ated a stone’s throw from her prospec­tive grand­mother-in-law’s Lon­don res­i­dence, there are more com­pelling rea­sons as to why this Bri­tish house should be the choice of our next royal bride.

Haute cou­ture is about fan­tasy: an ex­tra­or­di­nary world of hand­stitched dresses, mil­lion-dol­lar jew­els and un­in­hib­ited, al­most unimag­in­able lux­ury. And at the cen­tre of it all, un­ex­pect­edly, are Ta­mara Ralph and Michael Russo, a thir­tysome­thing Aus­tralian cou­ple, part­ners in both life and love, who started out a decade ago with just a sewing ma­chine and a few hun­dred pounds but who now boast 1,000 clients and em­ploy more skilled ar­ti­sans than Chanel or Dior. It’s as close to a fash­ion fairy tale as it gets. ‘We’re still as­tounded ev­ery day,’ they say, with so­phis­ti­cated un­der­state­ment.

If you could wear any­thing… well, why wouldn’t you wear Ralph & Russo? Sheikha Mozah (the wife of the for­mer Qatari emir and owner of what is pur­port­edly Lon­don’s most ex­pen­sive home) is a loyal client and her fam­ily owns Valentino. Princess Ameerah al-Taweel of Saudi Ara­bia, An­gelina Jolie, Bey­oncé and J-Lo are also cus­tomers. These are the world’s most ex­clu­sive dresses – should you need to en­quire about the cost, you al­most cer­tainly can’t af­ford them – but they’re also among the most beau­ti­ful. Con­structed en­tirely by hand over thou­sands of hours, us­ing tech­niques that are cen­turies old, with sub­limely fem­i­nine sil­hou­ettes crafted around corsetry and then em­broi­dered or oth­er­wise ex­trav­a­gantly dec­o­rated, this is truly the best that money can buy; beyond price, beyond fash­ion, beyond all rea­son.

Ralph & Russo’s mas­ter­stroke, how­ever, was to launch in Lon­don. The city used to be known for cou­ture crafts­man­ship, through the golden era of Hardy Amies, and Nor­man Hart­nell, who cre­ated the Queen’s wed­ding dress and Coro­na­tion gown, as well as dress­ing swathes of high so­ci­ety, but the great tra­di­tion had de­clined and then all but died out. Now, Ralph & Russo’s client list is a snap­shot of the new so­cial land­scape, en­com­pass­ing as it does an im­pres­sive se­lec­tion of the global rich: from the daugh­ters of Chi­nese bil­lion­aires to Mid­dle East­ern sheikhas, all of whom have houses here and need glo­ri­ous gowns for the Sea­son. ‘It’s a place to set­tle, as op­posed to some of the other des­ti­na­tions for lux­ury,’ says Russo. ‘It’s where our clients buy prop­erty and send their chil­dren to school. It feels like the cen­tre of the uni­verse.’ As Ralph adds: ‘Iron­i­cally, ac­ces­si­bil­ity is key. Peo­ple want the ex­clu­siv­ity and the crafts­man­ship of cou­ture – but they want it to be able to fit into their life­style.’ You don’t have to sit on a gilt chair, or even board a pri­vate jet to Paris, in or­der to buy these clothes: as well as its ate­lier, which takes up three enor­mous floors of a shiny of­fice block op­po­site Ad­mi­ralty Arch on Hyde Park Cor­ner, Ralph & Russo keeps a May­fair town­house, a seven-storey 19th­cen­tury man­sion painted a flat­ter­ing dove grey, where fit­tings take place in lushly car­peted sa­lons un­der the light of glit­ter­ing 1920s chan­de­liers.

Ralph is calm and com­posed, the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of el­e­gance in wide cream trousers and a thin cash­mere sweater, both of which are Ralph & Russo cou­ture (‘A perk of the job – I just tell the ate­lier what I want to wear’). She’s a fine-boned blonde with per­fect skin and sur­pris­ingly dry wit; skinny di­a­mond bands scat­ter her fin­gers, and her nails are cov­ered in a shiny metal­lic foil, but she’s pos­sessed of an old-world courtesy that any client would find ap­peal­ing. Russo is the more im­petu­ous, gar­ru­lous one, a for­mer fi­nancier who is dressed in form-fit­ting black Dior Homme, his iPhone clutched in one hand, ping­ing con­stantly. They met when Ralph, who was de­sign­ing dresses for Syd­ney so­cialites at the age of 15, lit­er­ally bumped into Russo on the King’s Road dur­ing a short trip to Lon­don (‘She was lost and I was look­ing,’ he says, laugh­ing) and moved over a year later when Russo, some­what pre­sump­tively, sent her a one-way plane ticket. To­gether, they are de­light­fully well-man­nered and grace­fully un­der­stated, clearly sup­port­ive of each other while ap­pear­ing an in­trigu­ing study in con­trasts.

Their rise has been fast and fu­ri­ous; noth­ing short of rev­o­lu­tion­ary in this rather old-fash­ioned in­dus­try. In 2013, the duo ap­peared on For­tune mag­a­zine’s list of the 40 most suc­cess­ful busi­ness peo­ple un­der 40 – the only rep­re­sen­ta­tives from fash­ion – along­side Face­book’s Mark Zucker­berg. When the Phones 4U

These are the world’s most ex­clu­sive dresses, con­structed en­tirely by hand over thou­sands of hours

bil­lion­aire John Cauld­well bought seven per cent of the brand in 2014 – the same year it be­came the first Bri­tish house in a cen­tury to be in­vited by the pres­ti­gious Cham­bre Syn­di­cale de la Haute Cou­ture to show its col­lec­tions on the of­fi­cial Paris sched­ule – Ralph & Russo was given a nine-fig­ure val­u­a­tion. Now, in 2017, the pair plan to open more than 17 stand-alone bou­tiques across the world; Russo, who spends nearly all his time trav­el­ling, rolls off a list so long that he can barely re­mem­ber it: ‘Mi­ami, New York, LA, Hong Kong, Ja­pan, China, Malaysia, Doha, Dubai…’ Their am­bi­tion is al­most off the scale. ‘We’re not just a cou­ture house now,’ he says. ‘We are a lux­ury brand. It’s an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion.’

In fact, most of what you see on these pages is not cou­ture. In­stead, this is an ex­clu­sive look at Ralph & Russo’s ready-to-wear de­but – the first col­lec­tion will be avail­able this sum­mer in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the of­fi­cial global launch, which will be on the cat­walk dur­ing Septem­ber’s RTW S/S 18 col­lec­tions. It has all the glam­our ex­pected from the la­bel – a de­mure grace­ful­ness that some­how has the evoca­tive drama of a Richard Ave­don im­age – but it comes at a rather more ac­ces­si­ble price point. ‘Not ev­ery­body can af­ford our dresses,’ says Ralph, gen­tly. ‘But we still re­ceive a huge num­ber of en­quiries through so­cial me­dia and word-of-mouth rec­om­men­da­tions ev­ery week. When these re­quests be­came over­whelm­ing, we knew it was time to take note and lis­ten to what our au­di­ence wanted.’ Russo is more em­phatic. ‘We’ve achieved ev­ery­thing we want with cou­ture,’ he says, ‘so this is the next chal­lenge for us. It’s about cre­at­ing the Ralph & Russo uni­verse.’

A re­fresh­ingly mod­ern mix of style and ac­ces­si­bil­ity – Ralph & Russo has 1.4 mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram and uses so­cial me­dia to com­mu­ni­cate with prospec­tive buy­ers (‘My phone will start buzzing dur­ing a show as clients claim their looks,’ says Ralph) – com­bined with a pro­found re­spect for tra­di­tion and legacy has helped shape the brand into the phe­nom­e­non it is today. A part of their strat­egy has been to shake up the process of cou­ture. ‘Our women have such busy lifestyles that we’ve tried to make things re­ally easy for them,’ says Ralph, who likes to see clients per­son­ally. The aim is to do the same with ready-to-wear.

‘It’s about keep­ing our core val­ues – the fem­i­nin­ity, the moder­nity, the cre­ativ­ity – and trans­lat­ing it into an ac­ces­si­ble prod­uct,’ says Russo. ‘It’s also about tak­ing away… I don’t want to use the phrase “ar­ro­gant lux­ury” but we are all about be­ing ap­proach­able. A lot of brands seem to en­joy putting a wall up be­tween them and clients, but we want to be seen as avail­able. Cou­ture will al­ways be at the heart of Ralph & Russo – but now we are ready to reach a wider au­di­ence. Our am­bi­tions re­ally have no lim­its.’ A star­ring role at West­min­ster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathe­dral seems an in­evitabil­ity. Meghan, if you’re read­ing, we’ve got their num­ber.

‘We’ve achieved ev­ery­thing we want with cou­ture. This is the next chal­lenge

for us. It’s about cre­at­ing the Ralph & Russo uni­verse’

Ta­mara Ralph and Michael Russo in the la­bel’s Lon­don maison

Cou­ture dresses in the ate­lier. Be­low: de­tail on a cou­ture gown

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.