Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Rise and Rise of Ralph & Russo in the World of Haute Couture

A lavish evening gown at Ralph & Russo's Paris Autumn/Winter 2016-17 collection. Cover picture and all photographs by Elli Ioannou 
Two years ago, London-based Australian duo Ralph & Russo became the first British-based couturiers in a century to show collections on the official schedule of Paris haute couture week. Our special correspondent Elli Ioannou looks at Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo's meteoric rise in the world of global high fashion

A finely embroidered dress looking stately in Paris
FANTASY worlds, make believe and daydreams are not realms for children only. Behavioural psychologists from Freud to Jung encourage adults to tap into their inner child, feeding their imagination with play and creativity. Like a modern day Hans Christian Andersen fable, Ralph & Russo's new collection was romantic and full of mystery. A Utopian fantasy, their world of blossoms, butterflies, flora and fauna flourish in harmony. As guests were seated at their latest Paris show, including Lil Kim, Jordan Dunn, Petra Nemcova, Sonam Kapoor and Adriana Lima in the front row, visual hints of what was to come in the collection could be seen in the design of the runway entrance itself. Framed by an Art Deco arch with panels of Midnight Blue floral panels it was completed by an angled mirror ceiling that added a surrealist effect with reflections of the models on the catwalk.
 

Creative director Tamara Ralph & CEO Michael Russo
Based in London, Ralph & Russo is the only British fashion house to be elected by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to show its collection on the official schedule at Paris Haute Couture Week. Didier Grumbarch, the Chambre Syndicale’s former president, said they have a ‘savoire faire’ which many more established couture houses have lost. It was in January 2014 that Ralph & Russo became the first British-based couture company in 100 years to show its collections on the Paris Couture Week schedule.

One half of the label is Australian-born Creative Director Tamara Ralph while the other is her partner CEO, Michael Russo. Ralph says she always knew that she wanted to be part of the world of haute couture as her mother and grandmother were both couturiers for society ladies in Sydney. When Ralph was 10 years old they began to teach her about sewing, two years later she was making clothes for herself and friends. By the time she was 15 years old, Ralph was selling her designs to private clients and independent boutiques in Australia. She then went on to study at the Whitehouse Institute of Design in Sydney before moving to London and establishing the house of Ralph & Russo. It all started when Tamara Ralph first met Michael Russo by chance in London in 2003 when she was on holiday and he was working as a financial consultant. They fell in love and after a long distance relationship for a year, he bought her a ticket back to London and she began designing and making clothes on a small scale in the British capital.

Jaunty hats are a key part of the A/W16-17 collection
Three years later the pair created Ralph & Russo and in less than 10 years it has grown into a global high fashion brand. Today, their London atelier has a hundred skilled artisans including embroiderers, tailors and designers who work in toile, chiffon, velvet and silk. The size of the atelier is remarkable in Britain and is even larger than one of the world's top haute couture houses: Chanel has an atelier of around seventy artisans. Ralph & Russo have built up a client list with more than 600 London-made haute couture garments that can cost up to $500,000. A large percentage of their work is bridal and Tamara Ralph says many of the gowns are made for royal weddings. Other high profile clients include film stars and famous entertainers: Angelina Jolie met Queen Elizabeth and received her honorary damehood in a custom-made grey Ralph & Russo suit, Beyoncé has worn costumes designed by them on tour and Gwyneth Paltrow wore a slim pink, one-shouldered dress finished with a large rosette for the Oscars.


A fluid Seventies aesthetic ran through the Paris show
Ralph & Russo have presented six shows on the official Paris couture schedule over three years and now could receive an official ­appellation from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. This would make them Australia's first haute couturiers. Known for their dedication to true couture, Ralph & Russo are gently pushing boundaries in their design direction with innovative new techniques, including a new fabric made by fusing silk and tulle. For their latest collection in Paris, styles, forms and hues are inspired by a distinctly Seventies, British aesthetic but with references to Ralph's favourite1950s silhouette. This was further accentuated by over sized hats from the same period and presented alongside soft, sexy and feline layers of flowing floor-length evening gowns and skirts. A variety of the other dresses also had delicate embroidery on sheer fabric and feathers and lace.

Blossoms & flower motifs on a 70s style coat
One of Tamara Ralph's key inspirations are gardens and the Autumn-Winter 2016-17 collection included peonies, tulips, and roses plus hand-painted blooms, embroidered crystals, glass beads, pearls and appliqués of petal-shaped feathers and mink pompoms. The wilderness part of the garden aesthetic included laser-cut butterflies and metallic embroidered dragonflies. The flower-power theme continued with blossoms and other floral motifs that were rendered via silk 3-D cut outs and beading. The volumes vary from billowing silk chiffon gowns and capes to sheer tulle bodysuits and silk flared skirts to shift dresses. There was an old world Hollywood glamour to it as well with pink tulle gowns with plunging necklines, silk organza skirts and tops embroidered with golden thread. “In general, we wanted a more modern ’70s feel, so we made everything lighter with more of a relaxed vibe, with all of those elements we love from the 70s but done in a very chic way,” Ralph said after the Paris show.

Thigh high slits exposed Ralph & Russo's signature luxe shoes and boots with their fine and intricate detailing. Accessories have become an increasingly important part of the collections and are more accessible than the custom-designed dresses. This season they created hats, including wide-brimmed styles and helmet styles that clung close to the head. The hats along with the collection of shoes and handbag gives everyone the chance to have a piece of Ralph & Russo, Michael Russo said after the runway collection.


Shanina Shaik closes the Paris show
The Paris show ended with the haute-couture tradition of the spectacular wedding gown. A long visual pause of darkness with just a shaft of icy blue light was the precursor to the finale. Some guests even stood up to leave, thinking the show was over. Then a dramatic silhouette showing an exquisite bridal gown appeared and Australian model Shanina Shaik closed the show in a dress embroidered with thousands of tiny beads in a floral pattern with a sweetheart neckline. The wedding dress was finished by a flowing cape, also embroidered with organza flowers, and a white floral headpiece. Shaik slowly walked down the runway, pausing and posing.With one last seductive turn, she exited to a cacophony of enthusiastic clapping and shouts of  'Bravo!' ~ an endorsement of Ralph & Russo's graceful aesthetic celebrating beauty and femininity.

Tap photographs for full-screen slideshow
Australian designer Tamara Walsh and Michael Russo after the presentation of their collection in Paris 
 
 Australian model Shanina Shaik wears the lacy bridal gown at the finale of the Ralph & Russo show
 
Body-hugging lace and embroidered dresses and capes featured in the collection
 
Silvery embroidery and hats added a glamourous vibe to the Seventies ethos

 Brilliant floral designs and finely detailed handbags created a feminine collection
Dramatic hats add to Ralph & Russo collection of accessories line
 
Wide-brimmed hats and full sleeves with cut-outs continued the 1970s theme
 
 Silvery butterflies add another layer of refined decoration to this flowery dress
 
Flowers, butterflies, leaves and feathers all show how Tamara Ralph was inspired by a lush garden 
 
 Hand-painted blooms, crystals and pearls created the richness of the collection
 
Pith-shaped hats recall Tamara Ralph's signature 1950s silhouettes
Ralph & Russo's London atelier has a hundred artisans that work on their embroidered creations 
 A model leaves the Paris runway framed by lustrous flowers and mirrors above that the reflect the runway
 
 

The Cosmos & Nature in Haute Couture: Yuima Nakazato's Extraordinary Creations

Shimmering, holographic origami with transparent, faux arms at Yuima Nakazato's innovative presentation in Paris. Cover picture and all photographs by Elli Ioannou
Inspired by the cosmos and nature, neo-futurist Japanese designer Yuima Nakazato showed for the first time as a guest at Paris Haute Couture this year. The designer's shimmering, otherworldly collection of holographic origami gleamed from the darkness in the depths of the Palais De Tokyo, creating kinetic architectural sculptures, writes our special Paris correspondent Elli Ioannou

Glimmering, kinetic architectural designs
EXISTENTIALISM, altruism, mysticism, science and philosophy are not subjects often tackled in works of fashion. But recent collections by innovative designers are expressing a new approach to the creative process, exploring new and deeper meanings in their work. Often the clothes are not separate from the human form but rather an extension of the body, like a second skin. Many of these ideas are at the heart of Japanese designer Yuima Nakazato’s work presented at his AW16/17 haute couture show in Paris. The designer says the cosmos, future, and nature are all key to his exploration of fashion.


 Iridescent, shimmering colours inspired by Iceland
Descending three flights of stairs into the belly of Paris' Palais de Tokyo for Nakazato's first haute couture show, there is art graffiti covering the walls and it feels like entering the dim internal sanctum of a modern-day pyramid. A trianglular shaped motif runs through Yuima Nakazato's presentation, beginning with the fluid runway's shape: two yellow-taped lines converging into an incomplete 'V' marking the areas where guests stand. Dramatic blue lighting in the industrial space of polished concrete, frames stairs at either end. Adjusting to the dark surroundings, guests can just make out the photographers' pit already overflowing and looking more like a human installation under the azure lights. The avant-garde crowd slowly funnels in, some standing behind the yellow lines, while others choose a higher perspective from the stairs and balcony.


 Glassy, vivid make-up created an otherworldly look
The pre-show backdrop feels and looks a lot more like a Berlin club than a Paris haute couture show. The designer's AW16/17 collection is inspired by a recent trip to Iceland and Nakazato creates a powerful otherworldly sense that captures the country's snowy landscape. The holographic textiles are woven origami-like, shimmering under the light, to create kinetic architectural sculptures.The choice of colour palette, including iridescent ice blues, greens and purples and the shape of the garments in an A-line  using 3D technology all add up to a shimmering strangeness. Elongated body proportions reflecting ancient Japanese deities also seem imbued with Avatar–like characteristics.


 Long, faux arms enhanced Nakazato's futuristic collection
The models’ arms were made to appear extra long using blue prosthetic finger extensions while others actually had knee-length glass arms. The seemingly air-brushed make-up suggesting David Bowie's Major Tom, along with the dramatic lighting and the models' robotic motion with glassy-eyed expressions all reinforce Nakazato’s sci-fi inspired world. The models' final stance ends in a symbolic triangle shape.

The future of human existence is a theme explored by both Issey Miyake and Yuima Nakazato, bound by their common thread of Japanese culture. Like Miyake before him, Nakazato is experimenting with the construction of materials using new technology which is at the core of his design process. He wants the couture collection with it's methods and materials to be made available immediately in stores. Nakazato is planning a new system of combining of couture and ready-to-wear which he believes is the future of fashion.



Nakazato has been called a neo-futurist in fashion design, one of the artists and architects who believe in the future of cities, their capacity to offer emotional experiences, experiments with new materials and new technologies to provide a better quality of life. Nakazato's presentation is the first by a Japanese designer at Paris Haute Couture since 2004, as a guest of the Fédération Française de la Couture. A Japanese designer has not been on the event’s official calendar since fashion pioneer Hanae Mori retired 12 years ago. Nakazato is a guest member at the haute couture, an honour only bestowed on up-and-coming artists who have passed a rigorous screening process.


 Designer Yuima Nakazato backstage at his show in Paris
The designer was born in Tokyo 30 years ago and says he learned much about the freedom of expressive art from from his sculptor father and mother, a metal carver. His family home is filled with giant art objects and made a strong contrast to strict Japanese schooling. With artists as parents, Nakazato was surrounded by art from early childhood and he says that the years of seeing and watching his parents' work, performing arts, stage design, and costumes all have influenced his work. Nakazato was the youngest Japanese to graduate from the Fashion Department Master’s Course at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp.

 Avant-garde boots finished the collection
So avant-garde were his shoe designs during his degree show that they were acquired by the Antwerp Mode Museum (MoMu) for their permanent collection. He was also awarded the Innovation Award by Ann Demeulemeester for his graduation collection and won the International Talent Support (ITS) Fashion Competition held in Italy, one of the two largest fashion contests in the world, in 2008 and 2009. The following year, Lady Gaga wore his Black Fire Dress in Japan. After graduating, Nakazato launched his own brand in 2009 and three years later was opening Tokyo Fashion Week.

French Haute Couture is evolving and expanding by acknowledging designers such as Yuima Nakazato who push boundaries in technology, design and culture. The Fédération Française de la Couture is recognizing and fostering emerging talent which offers a new perspective compared to couture collections of the past and provides a thought-provoking antidote to some of the bigger commercial brands more anodyne collections.

Edited by Jeanne-Marie Cilento

Nakazato's teeteringly high boots were one of the highlights of his Paris show 


 Detail of the origami-like construction of one of the shimmering, holographic pieces at the Palais de Tokyo



Yuima Nakazato says his designs are based on three elements: the cosmos, the future and nature. 




The designer won awards for his early work even as a student and has designed a costume for Lady Gaga and other singers


 Nakazato uses new technology and traditional Japanese craftsmanship to create his work


The designers shoes are already in the permanent collection of Antwerp's Museum of Modern Art



French haute couture is evolving and expanding by acknowledging designers such as Yuima Nakazato who push boundaries in technology, design and culture.


The designer was born in Tokyo 30 years ago and says he learned much about the freedom art offered from his sculptor father and metal carver mother. 


Backstage in Paris dressing a model for the AW16/17 presentation


In the belly of the Palais de Tokyo, guests wait for the show to begin 


The guests at the show in Paris all had their own colourful style




 

The Rise of Ralph & Russo in the World of Couture

A lavish evening gown at Ralph & Russo's Paris Autumn/Winter 2016-17 collection. Cover picture and all photographs by Elli Ioannou 
Two years ago, London-based Australian duo Ralph & Russo became the first British-based couturiers in a century to show collections on the official schedule of Paris haute couture week. Our special correspondent Elli Ioannou looks at Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo's meteoric rise in the world of global high fashion

A finely embroidered dress looking stately in Paris
FANTASY worlds, make believe and daydreams are not realms for children only. Behavioural psychologists from Freud to Jung encourage adults to tap into their inner child, feeding their imagination with play and creativity. Like a modern day Hans Christian Andersen fable, Ralph & Russo's new collection was romantic and full of mystery. A Utopian fantasy, their world of blossoms, butterflies, flora and fauna flourish in harmony. As guests were seated at their latest Paris show, including Lil Kim, Jordan Dunn, Petra Nemcova, Sonam Kapoor and Adriana Lima in the front row, visual hints of what was to come in the collection could be seen in the design of the runway entrance itself. Framed by an Art Deco arch with panels of Midnight Blue floral panels it was completed by an angled mirror ceiling that added a surrealist effect with reflections of the models on the catwalk.
 

Creative director Tamara Ralph & CEO Michael Russo
Based in London, Ralph & Russo is the only British fashion house to be elected by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to show its collection on the official schedule at Paris Haute Couture Week. Didier Grumbarch, the Chambre Syndicale’s former president, said they have a ‘savoire faire’ which many more established couture houses have lost. It was in January 2014 that Ralph & Russo became the first British-based couture company in 100 years to show its collections on the Paris Couture Week schedule.

One half of the label is Australian-born Creative Director Tamara Ralph while the other is her partner CEO, Michael Russo. Ralph says she always knew that she wanted to be part of the world of haute couture as her mother and grandmother were both couturiers for society ladies in Sydney. When Ralph was 10 years old they began to teach her about sewing, two years later she was making clothes for herself and friends. By the time she was 15 years old, Ralph was selling her designs to private clients and independent boutiques in Australia. She then went on to study at the Whitehouse Institute of Design in Sydney before moving to London and establishing the house of Ralph & Russo. It all started when Tamara Ralph first met Michael Russo by chance in London in 2003 when she was on holiday and he was working as a financial consultant. They fell in love and after a long distance relationship for a year, he bought her a ticket back to London and she began designing and making clothes on a small scale in the British capital.

Jaunty hats are a key part of the A/W16-17 collection
Three years later the pair created Ralph & Russo and in less than 10 years it has grown into a global high fashion brand. Today, their London atelier has a hundred skilled artisans including embroiderers, tailors and designers who work in toile, chiffon, velvet and silk. The size of the atelier is remarkable in Britain and is even larger than one of the world's top haute couture houses: Chanel has an atelier of around seventy artisans. Ralph & Russo have built up a client list with more than 600 London-made haute couture garments that can cost up to $500,000. A large percentage of their work is bridal and Tamara Ralph says many of the gowns are made for royal weddings. Other high profile clients include film stars and famous entertainers: Angelina Jolie met Queen Elizabeth and received her honorary damehood in a custom-made grey Ralph & Russo suit, Beyoncé has worn costumes designed by them on tour and Gwyneth Paltrow wore a slim pink, one-shouldered dress finished with a large rosette for the Oscars.


A fluid Seventies aesthetic ran through the Paris show
Ralph & Russo have presented six shows on the official Paris couture schedule over three years and now could receive an official ­appellation from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. This would make them Australia's first haute couturiers. Known for their dedication to true couture, Ralph & Russo are gently pushing boundaries in their design direction with innovative new techniques, including a new fabric made by fusing silk and tulle. For their latest collection in Paris, styles, forms and hues are inspired by a distinctly Seventies, British aesthetic but with references to Ralph's favourite1950s silhouette. This was further accentuated by over sized hats from the same period and presented alongside soft, sexy and feline layers of flowing floor-length evening gowns and skirts. A variety of the other dresses also had delicate embroidery on sheer fabric and feathers and lace.

Blossoms & flower motifs on a 70s style coat
One of Tamara Ralph's key inspirations are gardens and the Autumn-Winter 2016-17 collection included peonies, tulips, and roses plus hand-painted blooms, embroidered crystals, glass beads, pearls and appliqués of petal-shaped feathers and mink pompoms. The wilderness part of the garden aesthetic included laser-cut butterflies and metallic embroidered dragonflies. The flower-power theme continued with blossoms and other floral motifs that were rendered via silk 3-D cut outs and beading. The volumes vary from billowing silk chiffon gowns and capes to sheer tulle bodysuits and silk flared skirts to shift dresses. There was an old world Hollywood glamour to it as well with pink tulle gowns with plunging necklines, silk organza skirts and tops embroidered with golden thread. “In general, we wanted a more modern ’70s feel, so we made everything lighter with more of a relaxed vibe, with all of those elements we love from the 70s but done in a very chic way,” Ralph said after the Paris show.

Thigh high slits exposed Ralph & Russo's signature luxe shoes and boots with their fine and intricate detailing. Accessories have become an increasingly important part of the collections and are more accessible than the custom-designed dresses. This season they created hats, including wide-brimmed styles and helmet styles that clung close to the head. The hats along with the collection of shoes and handbag gives everyone the chance to have a piece of Ralph & Russo, Michael Russo said after the runway collection.


Shanina Shaik closes the Paris show
The Paris show ended with the haute-couture tradition of the spectacular wedding gown. A long visual pause of darkness with just a shaft of icy blue light was the precursor to the finale. Some guests even stood up to leave, thinking the show was over. Then a dramatic silhouette showing an exquisite bridal gown appeared and Australian model Shanina Shaik closed the show in a dress embroidered with thousands of tiny beads in a floral pattern with a sweetheart neckline. The wedding dress was finished by a flowing cape, also embroidered with organza flowers, and a white floral headpiece. Shaik slowly walked down the runway, pausing and posing.With one last seductive turn, she exited to a cacophony of enthusiastic clapping and shouts of  'Bravo!' ~ an endorsement of Ralph & Russo's graceful aesthetic celebrating beauty and femininity.

Tap photographs for full-screen slideshow
Australian designer Tamara Walsh and Michael Russo after the presentation of their collection in Paris 
 
 Australian model Shanina Shaik wears the lacy bridal gown at the finale of the Ralph & Russo show
 
Body-hugging lace and embroidered dresses and capes featured in the collection
 
Silvery embroidery and hats added a glamourous vibe to the Seventies ethos

 Brilliant floral designs and finely detailed handbags created a feminine collection
Dramatic hats add to Ralph & Russo collection of accessories line
 
Wide-brimmed hats and full sleeves with cut-outs continued the 1970s theme
 
 Silvery butterflies add another layer of refined decoration to this flowery dress
 
Flowers, butterflies, leaves and feathers all show how Tamara Ralph was inspired by a lush garden 
 
 Hand-painted blooms, crystals and pearls created the richness of the collection
 
Pith-shaped hats recall Tamara Ralph's signature 1950s silhouettes
Ralph & Russo's London atelier has a hundred artisans that work on their embroidered creations 
 A model leaves the Paris runway framed by lustrous flowers and mirrors above that the reflect the runway
 
 
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