Architect of the open plan dress
Roksanda Ilincic, the beautiful Serbian designer, usually the picture of calm, is slapping foundation on her arms and looking concerned. “I just got back from holiday and I got a tan,” she says in her inflected English as she tries to restore her skin to its usual blanched hue. It’s a stifling day in August, and we are standing among the bustle of Ilincic’s studio in east London.
Another problem, Ilincic tells us, is that she can’t get the zipper up on the dress she plans to wear for the photograph, so will have to be pinned in. She rushes off to find her assistant while the photographer gloomily scans the sky: advancing cloud is about to plunge the studio into shadow.
But then, in a cinematic moment worthy of the “Think Pink” montage in Funny Face, Ilincic bursts back into the room in floor-length, geraniumpink satin from her spring/summer 2012 collection. ‘‘Oh yes,’’ roars the photographer, grabbing his camera. Ilincic smiles and poses with the self-assurance that befits a former model.
Ilincic, 38, is London’s undisputed queen of gowns. Her debut collection, presented two years after she graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2002, comprised 13 cocktail dresses in paintbox-bright colours. Dresses are still a perennial in her shows, though she insists that more than half her sales are now separates. The Margot dress confirmed her ascent in March 2012 – it sold out 80 times at Matches retail emporium, despite costing around £1,000 – and everyone from the Duchess of Cambridge to Lady Gaga has upholstered themselves in her garments since.
Drinking tea post-portrait, her composure restored, Ilincic laments her exhausting schedule with the aplomb of someone who has mastered a healthy work-life balance. Her husband, Philip Bueno de Mesquita, the founder of the trainer brand Acupuncture, and their daughter, three-year-old Mia, are always a priority.
She is matter-of-fact about her success. “I always wanted my customers to feel comfortable and free in my dresses,” she says. “There are three-dimensional sculptural elements to my work – pleats, big sleeves, dramatic shapes – but you don’t have corsets or linings supporting the structure. It’s like open-plan architecture. No walls, no constraints.”
The architecture analogy is deliberate – she studied a combined fashion and architecture course at university – but Ilincic wasn’t always this refined. As a rebellious teenager in Belgrade, she went through a phase of customising her mother’s clothes,