If the skill of extravagant flourishes of drapery can be pulled off anywhere in fashion, it ought to be in haute couture – the highest order of dress making. The haute couture season is always wanting someone to let loose with feather, wildly clashing colours and an unbridled sense of fantasia, though without going down any tiresomely stereotypical princess route. While such extravagant satin bows, taffetas and silhouettes flowing down to form a perfectly tailored ensemble with floor-sweeping trains are a fantasy, tossing it around and convincing modern women to accept it is a totally different business.
Ralph & Russo solved the contradictions as it opened its doors for the first time in London in 2010 as the only extant British couture house. With Tamara Ralph as the creative director and Michael Russo chairman and CEO, Ralph & Russo can whip chiffon around the body and into flying panels, shuddering ruffles, jacquard textures and dramatic, flippy hemlines and structures like no one else.
Ralph & Russo has expanded over the decade, and their ready-to-wear collection, accessories and leather goods are for fashion-savvy women who understand fashion statements. The year has only just begun, but for Tamara and Michael it’s already one for the books.
Many reasons may have influenced fashion, but today the aesthetic has gone to a whole new stylish place, turning the heads of millennials and social media-savvy consumers. “A lot has changed in the fashion industry and for us. We have transitioned as a brand. We started with the very niche segment of haute couture and established our name by creating the DNA for our house and products. Over these eight years we have always tried to stay true and consistent to that,” Michael Russo told Gulf Times in an exclusive interview during the launch of the world’s biggest boutique of Ralph & Russo at Lagoona Mall, in partnership with Fifty One East.
In the competitive, exclusive world of high fashion, it can take brands ages to join the elite group of haute couturiers, but Ralph & Russo is already there in less than a decade. “Always being relevant and staying true to what we believe in is the key. As a brand, if you want to be on the top of your game, you have to evolve with the market and change with what’s happening. We should  evolve in line with how a woman evolves and how her style changes. She’s looking for more than just one piece from one brand now. She’s looking for a complete lifestyle and you have to cater to that,” Michael said.
Paris is traditionally thought of as the couture fashion capital but Tamara and Michael, the Australian-born couple, set up their operations in London instead of getting into the centre of the fashion hub. This proved to be a masterstroke.
“I don’t think there’s a fashion capital any more. London is a home for many other people and I guess that is an advantage for us to be there,” according to Michael. “When we were starting out, we really looked up to the houses that inspired us. And when you dissect them, you know they all started from couture. Maybe they started 60 years ago, but they started with a similar background. We wanted to create a similar house and needed to follow the same kind of strategy. It took us years to create that trust with our customers and establish what Ralph & Russo really is – the femininity, quality, craftsmanship and design behind it.”
What is the link between Angelina Jolie’s fierce red-carpet looks, Beyoncé’s concert tour appearances making headlines, the official engagement photographs of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry and Blake Lively in a white pant suit during her film promotions? They were all seen pulling off Ralph & Russo.
So, what makes the brand a celebrity favourite? “There’s no secret or trick. We create beautiful clothes that make women feel empowered. I think that is why they do it. When they step onto the red carpet, they want to make a statement and feel better than any other celebrity there,” he added.
When a brand opens its “biggest boutique in the world”, one can’t but sit up and take notice. “We’ve been close to Qatar for years. We are so well looked after by everybody here. To us, it was a natural fit to associate our brand with the leading retailer in town. We love Fifty One East and the Darwish family. We’re a family and a company and that runs in our DNA.
“The Qatari woman knows and is aware of what she wants. It’s about catering to those needs and lifestyles and fitting into them.”