Toasting a decade in business, acclaimed couture house, Ralph & Russo, highlight the emotional foundations of their 10th anniversary collection, celebrated in fashion’s most unforgettable year.
Spring 2020 is a particularly significant season for London-based, Australian-born couturiers, Ralph & Russo. Marking their 10th anniversary with an homage to a decade of design, Tamara Ralph and partner, Michael Russo, took inspiration from their couture archive, creating ten special looks featuring classic house elements of previous collections, beautifully reinterpreted for what has turned out to be a landmark year.
“Compared to previous seasons, designing this collection was a deeply nostalgic process,” reveals Tamara of the SS20 couture line. “We went back through the Ralph & Russo archive and pulled out many years of sketches to rediscover the elements we wanted to take forward and reimagine for the season. It was actually something I’d wanted to do for some time, but as you can imagine, the sheer volume of sketches we’ve produced in the last decade was pretty extensive,” she laughs.
With signature draping, silk crêpe tailleurs, structured orals, hand-painted organza trains and oversized bows coupled with newfound elements created in both sugary pastels and vibrant bolts of colour, the in-collection couture capsule is a nod to the history of the brand, whilst embracing contemporary design concepts.
“Every single piece from this collection is particularly meaningful to me, given the fact that it’s inspiration came from our archive,” explains Tamara. “Every look has a story behind it – be it the technique used, a particular embellishment featured which went on to become signature to the brand, or the person that chose to wear it on the red carpet, or any other iconic moment.”
In that same decade celebrated in this anniversary collection, Ralph & Russo have become the contemporary haute couture label of choice, worn by some of the world’s most admired and stylish women. From award-winning actresses, models and rock stars to first ladies, politicians and royalty, the house’s take on what couture means to the woman of today has seen their success snowball at an exponential rate – with Ralph & Russo the only London- based couture label to be recognised by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode in almost a century.
“I think it’s important as a designer to have a muse, because having a set of qualities that you consistently channel ensures that there is a natural consistency in terms of spirit of every piece you create,” says Tamara, who was born into a family of four generations of couturiers, and has been designing “ever since she can remember.”
“The Ralph & Russo muse is a woman who celebrates her own femininity, enjoys elegance and is confident and empowered. She’s a leader in her field, and we want each piece to exemplify those qualities,” says Tamara. “When you’re designing for a client, you balance the qualities intrinsic to the house with those qualities that make the client unique – taking inspiration from their own individual style and character.”
With the celebration of femininity and savoir faire a foundation to the Ralph & Russo ethos, as the brand has grown, naturally their aesthetic has evolved. “Our first couture collection in 2014 was inherently feminine and elegant – it was in fact the oversized bows in gazar and taffeta that inspired the pieces prominent in this season’s retrospective looks,” reveals Tamara, adding “It was the perfect foundation from which to work, but as we’ve grown, we wanted to experiment more with our designs and materialization, and ultimately take the definition of femininity to a contemporary level.”
Indeed, the evolution of the house lies in the expansion of the styles and silhouettes founded within the label’s wildly-successful couture offering. “Couture was once largely limited to eveningwear – which of course is still integral to the brand – but we’ve grown beyond this to include and become known for more daywear pieces, specifically tailoring,” says Tamara’s partner in both life and business, Michael.
“This was in response not only to the industry changing, but also to adapt to consumer demand. Our clients wanted to be able to come to us for a full couture wardrobe, not just for eveningwear. We launched our business as a brand that opened up the world of couture to a new audience, but also one that listened to our clients, and was personal in it’s response.”
Seen on as many international red carpets as it has been admired behind closed doors at the world’s most exclusive parties since it’s Paris debut, the SS20 couture collection boasts an array of looks impossible not to daydream over. From shimmering sequined trouser suits and feather-light chiffon blouses to dramatic, hand-painted ballgowns and elaborately embroidered sheath dresses, each exquisite piece is a labour of love, created by countless pairs of hands.
“Our couture pieces feature some pretty complicated techniques,” says Michael. “You’ll see a lot of draping, hand-applied crystals and hand-painting among other disciplines, which require hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work, as well as incredible focus and attention to detail.” Look 47 in particular, a vast, ocean blue strapless gown created entirely from hand-made silk blooms, is a dazzling example of that intricate workmanship created by the house.
“We wanted the floral arrangement on this look to appear very organic and for the flowers to look as real as possible,” explains Tamara. “Ahead of even attempting this design in fabric, our team will always mock-up a digital artwork of the design and determine how best to lay out the motifs for optimal effect. To create the rosettes themselves, we used up to five different sized petals, some of which are then pleated and edged, before being manipulated to form three-dimensional petals.”
Each of those petals is then placed onto the fabric panels of the gown, and stitched in interlocking patterns. Once all panels are covered, the look is seamlessly stitched together, with motifs overlaid over all of the seams to ensure that none of them are visible. “In other words – it truly takes a village!” Tamara laughs.