Friday 17 February 2017

The New Femininity: Diaphanous Fluidity at Ralph & Russo

A cascade of lavender ruffles at Ralph & Russo on the runway in Paris. The tulle ball gown is embellished with 3D pleated silk organza and tulle flowers. Cover picture and main image by Elli Ioannour for Design & Art Magazine
Australian design duo Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo saw a gap in the luxury fashion market, starting out in London with one sewing machine and a dream to create a haute couture house. This season they were back in Paris, showing a sophisticated and highly-polished collection that had clients ordering pieces before the models had even left the runway, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photography by Elli Ioannou

Voluminous red silk, organza ball gown
TEN years ago Australian designer Tamara Ralph had the dream of creating couture in London with business partner and fiance Michael Russo. In that short decade, the pair have had an extraordinarily rapid rise to the top of the luxury brand market. Since 2007, Ralph & Russo has gone from a single sewing machine in a tiny office to a Victorian mansion in Mayfair. Three years ago, they began showing their new collections in the rarefied atmopshere of Paris Couture Week, the only British company in more than a century to be considered skilled enough to be on the official schedule. Their growing list of global clients includes the super rich, royalty and some of the world's most famous actors and singers, such as Beyonce, Kyle Minogue, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.

Silk chiffon from the runway to Jennifer Lopez
Actress Hailee Steinfeld wore a silken, ruffled gown at this year's Academy Awards where she presented an Oscar, Jennifer Lopez appeared at the 2017 Grammy Awards in a pale pink Ralph & Russo confection while Kirsten Dunst sat in the front row at their latest couture show in Paris wearing a creamy dress with 3D pleating, next to model Arizona Muse in quietly gleaming pale, grey lace. Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo have built a strong team of several hundred at their atelier in Hyde Park with 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 Chanel's couture atelier of around seventy seamstresses. Today they have two showrooms in London and Paris, and ten international boutique openings are planned to open this year from Miami to Macau. Last November, they won the Outstanding Achievement Award for their fashion house at the Walpole British Luxury Awards. Tamara Ralph has said she believes their success is due to their personal interaction with their clients alongside the house's outstandingly high level of quality and craftsmanship. Their accessories collection sold out when it was first launched in 2015 and they have since expanded it again recently.

Silk, scallop-edged suits
Ralph & Russo's Sping/Summer 2017 collection in Paris included fifty-five new pieces, most of them dresses, except one ~ a cropped top with wide trousers finished with pearl and glass beads. Overall this season, the Australian pair presented a more contemporary collection with daywear looks mixed with their signature red-carpet gowns. Opening the show were elegant, silk crepe dresses decorated with topaz, pearl, and glass embroidery and neat suits with scalloped edges. The more practical looks included dresses with checks, knee-length belted suits and a tweed minidress with silk organza ruffled sleeves. The glamorous gowns included a black tulle strapless gown appliquéd with silk organza, a white tulle ballgown with ruffled skirt, black tulle cocktail dress with silk petals, glass beads and ostrich feathers, and a silvery, fringed and feathered dress.

The billowing evening gowns were the key to the show, finished with pearls, flowers, crystals and jewelled buttons, white feathers and pleated tulle flowers. The voluminous tiered silk skirts, some encrusted with hundreds and thousands of pearls, sequins and glass beads, shivered delicately with cascading bouquets of pleated organza that looked three dimensional.

 Alessandra Ambrosio in lace & a feathered cape
One of the most striking creations on display included a strapless red chiffon gown with a ruffled bodice and a dashingly high side slit. Another dramatic gown in lilac was made up of swathes of delicate tulle flowers. Other ballgowns featured  multi-tiered ruffled skirts with lace racerback tops. Closing the finale of the Paris Spring/Summer 2017 show was willowy supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio as the Ralph & Russo bride. The Brazilian model wore a luxurious white tulle and pale grey organza layered bridal gown, adorned with crystals, glass bead hand embroidery and appliquéd with tiny metallic flowers. Covering her shoulders was a silk organza cape adorned with ostrich feathers This creation captured the new collection's mixture of diaphanous femininity with a powerful silhouette.

Tap on photographs for full-screen slideshow
Black tulle ball gown with an off-the-shoulder bodice and voluminous skirt, hand appliquéd with silk organza frills and embellished with glass beads, sequins, crystals and duchess satin flowers

Periwinkle silk chiffon and Chantilly lace gown with a flowing cape and cascading ruffles

Metallic pink and grey tweed tailleur with structured collar and tiered pencil skirt embellished with silver rhinestones and plastic fringing

Photographers gather around the front row to shoot Kirsten Dunst and model Amazon Muse
Actress Kirsten Dunst in creamy silk with model Amazon Muse
Pale blue silk organza gown, hand embroidered with silk thread, crystals and glass beads
Petrol blue tulle kaftan embroidered with floral metallic thread-work and tulle under-layer with glass bead embellishment
 Phones raised on the runway to capture the new looks at Ralph & Russo
Pale blue ball gown with square deep-split corset, embellished with metallic crystals in tessellated design, and contrast with a silk organza skirt with geometric ruffles
Pale blue tulle gown embroidered with metallic gold thread in floral design and hand appliquéd with satin and leather flowers

Cream silk faille tailored dress with off-the-shoulder collar and wide belt, hand embroidered with black pleated organza flowers, crystals, glass beads and jewelled buttons
 A surprising split at the back of the dress gives the cream silk dress a frisson of drama
Blush tulle gown with sheer pleated neckline and tiered bodice, hand embroidered with clusters of sequins and crystals
Blush sheer tulle gown with racer neckline and overskirt, hand embroidered with sequin clusters and lines of glass beads
Amethyst silk organza robe embroidered with metallic threadwork, scallop edging and a floral Sangallo cut-out design
White silk crêpe gown with crystal pleated tiered skirt, hand embroidered with sapphire crystals and sequins in a geometric design.

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