Monday 15 January 2018

New Directions For British Couture House Ralph & Russo

Creative director Tamara Ralph and CEO Michael Russo pictured after their debut ready-to-wear collection in London. Photograph by Elli Ioannou. Cover picture of the Stephane Rolland haute couture SS18 show in Paris.
Australians Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo are expanding their London-based couture house Ralph & Russo into a global luxury brand. Their fluid, elegant gowns are standouts on the red-carpet but their star reached an apotheosis when Meghan Markle wore a diaphanous dress for engagement portraits with Prince Harry. Another first for Ralph & Russo, was the launch of their debut prêt-à-porter range. Jeanne-Marie Cilento looks back at the highlights of the Spring/summer 2018 show. Photographed exclusively for DAM by Elli Ioannou and Kseniya Segina

 The silk organza couture gown AW16
worn by Meghan Markle.
Photo: Elli Ioannou
Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo launched their the ready-to-wear collection in London last September and it was another landmark for this remarkable Australian pair. Ralph & Russo couture dresses are worn by a roster of high-profile, international clients and are often seen on the red carpet from Los Angeles to Cannes, worn by actors such as Jennifer Lawrence, Blake Lively, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Singers Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kylie Minogue have all dazzled in their filmy, gossamer gowns too.

However, American actor Meghan Markle choosing a Ralph & Russo creation for her official engagement pictures with Prince Harry has brought a new spotlight to their work and launched them on to the world's stage beyond the fashion arena. The floor-length dress is from their autumn/winter 2016 collection shown in Paris and has a sheer bodice decorated with glimmering golden embroidered leaves with a black, silk organza skirt, hand appliqued with silk tulle ruffles. It is estimated to have cost £47k while the ready-to-wear prices start at around £2,800 and go up to £15k.

Meghan Markle choosing a Ralph & Russo creation has launched the label on to the world's stage beyond the fashion arena

White silk crêpe chiffon bodysuit,
slashed balloon sleeves & chiffon culottes.
Photo: Elli Ioannou 
Remarkably, Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo have built their couture atelier into a luxury label in less than a decade. Ralph & Russo now have several hundred skilled artisans (more than Chanel or Dior) working on their collections. All of the designs are made by hand, and can take up to 3000 hours to make and, despite the cost, are said to sell 250 couture creations a month. There is a strong team at their atelier in Hyde Park including embroiderers, tailors and designers who work in toile, chiffon, velvet and silk. The brand has now expanded to include accessories ranges and is opening boutiques around the world where the ready-to-wear collections will retail. Michael Russo has also mooted that fragrance, cosmetics and eye wear are planned for the future.

Last September, British Fashion Council CEO Caroline Rush said she was pleased to welcome Ralph & Russo to the London Fashion Week schedule: "The craftsmanship behind their couture collection is a shining example of Britain’s artisan heritage, and I’m excited to see their debut ready to wear collection." Dressing Meghan Markle for her engagement pictures is not the first time, the designers have been linked to royal occasions. Both British Fashion Council chairman Natalie Massenet and actor Angleina Jolie wore Ralph & Russo suits for their investitures at Buckingham Palace. 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. Actress Hailee Steinfeld wore a silken, ruffled gown at last year's Academy Awards where she presented an Oscar and Jennifer Lopez appeared at the 2017 Grammy Awards in a pale pink Ralph & Russo confection while Kirsten Dunst has sat in the front row of their couture show in Paris.

Remarkably, Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo have built their couture atelier into a luxury label and global powerhouse in a decade

Royal blue silk chiffon evening
dress with cascading pleated frills.
Photo: Elli Ioannou 
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 guest member in more than a century.

While designer Tamara Ralph is the creative director of the brand, Michael Russo ~ her partner in business and life ~ is CEO. Ms Ralph says she always knew that she wanted to be part of the world of fashion as she is the fourth generation in her family to work in couture and fashion design. Her mother, grandmother and great-grand mother all created gowns 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, Tamara 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 before moving to London. 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.

Metallic plissé floral print evening gown,
featuring asymmetric twist strap.
Photo: Elli Ioannou 

Three years later, the pair created Ralph & Russo and in the following 10 years it has grown into an high fashion label with clients around the world. Today, Ralph & Russo have shown on the official Paris haute couture schedule for four years making them one of only a handful of Australians recognised as couturiers by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Known for their dedication to true couture, Ralph & Russo are gently pushing boundaries in new design directions with innovative techniques, including a new fabric made by fusing silk and tulle. Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo have also been included in Fortune’s 40 under 40, the magazine’s annual ranking of influential young businesspeople and Ralph & Russo was the first fashion house to be on the list. While the company has showrooms in London and Paris, there are international boutiques planned to open around the world. As a designer, Tamara Ralph believes their success is due to their personal interaction with their clients alongside the house's outstandingly high level of quality and craftsmanship.

For their debut Ralph & Russo Spring/Summer 2018 prêt-à-porter collection, Ms Ralph wanted to mix both the traditional and contemporary, reinterpreting signature styles such as the little black dress and the classic tuxedo jacket. New techniques and fabric innovation include gold brocade transposed onto jet-black laminated tweed. Utilitarian jackets are juxtaposed with tightly-waisted feminine silhouettes and oversized outerwear such as the denim jacket reimagined in silk. The colour palette includes whites which contrast with dashes of red, electric metallic blues and blush while florals are offset with icy silver details.

For their debut Spring/Summer 2018 prêt-à-porter collection, Tamara Ralph mixed both the traditional and contemporary, reinterpreting signature styles

Metallic rose gold bonded silk crêpe trench coat.
Photo: Kseniya Segina
The clothes may be ready-to-wear but are beautifully made like the Ralph & Russo couture pieces. The collection of 45 looks is meant to take women from day to evening, so the range includes shimmering, metallic jackets, coats and skirts that could be dressed up or down depending on occasion. The gold trench and slim, pencil skirts in silver or laminated gold tweed add a dash of glamour to day wear along with embroidered dresses finished with ostrich feathers. However, Ralph & Russo's signature gowns came to the fore for the evening wear with flowing, sheer confections that were romantic and modern mixed with flowered, pleated cocktail outfits and ruffled dresses in celestial blues. 
Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo, chose the vast Old Billingsgate market that overlooks the Thames, as the venue for their first ready-to-wear show. The 480-foot circular runway had long perspectives created by white lampposts imprinted with their R&R logo. The set design enhanced the luxury brand's new aesthetic from the dream of couture to the more urbane ready-to-wear collection that managed to be practical but not pragmatic. At the show’s finale, models posed by the lamposts and handsome waiters took to the runway carrying trays of cocktails and delicate canapes to serve guests. This stylish and wearable debut ready-to-wear collection will be stocked in the rapidly expanding Ralph & Russo international retail network.

Tap on photographs for full-screen slideshow
The glamorous catwalk of Ralph & Russo's spring/summer 2018 ready-to-wear collection in London. Mustard satin-silk asymmetric dress, at left, and, right, blue chiffon evening dress with Swarovski details. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
Cocktails after the celebratory debut ready-to-wear show at Old Billingsgate in London. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
Flowers and tattoos: ice blue lamé shirt dress in floral print, featuring bespoke crested buttons. Photograph: Kseniya Segina
Waiters carrying cocktails on the gleaming 200 metre curving runway after Ralph & Russo's show in London. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
  Khaki double satin parachute jumpsuit with military details and tie belt. Photograph: Kseniya Segina
Detail of gold-embossed calf leather handbag with gold hardware. Photograph: Kseniya Segina
The canapes after Ralph & Russo's show were as elegant and creative as the collection. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
Metallic midnight blue plissé evening gown, featuring plunge neckline embellished with cascading frills and crystal blue denim spheres. Photograph: Elli Ioannou

Artistic canapes reflected Tamara Ralph's refined design ethos at the ready-to-wear show at Old billingsgate in London. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
Ice blue laminate silk chiffon multi frill plissé gown with printed lamé belt. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
Silk chiffon frill plissé gown with printed lamé belt on the runway in London. Photograph: Kseniya Segina
Dusky rose asymmetric cashmere blouse with draped scarf detail and metallic rose gold silk crêpe pencil skirt. Photograph: Kseniya Segina

On the runway, rose asymmetric cashmere blouse with draped scarf detail and metallic rose gold bonded silk crêpe pencil skirt. Photograph: Kseniya Segina
Oversized black double sided jacquard floral printed cocktail coat, featuring frill sleeves and worn with a black silk crêpe bra and pencil skirt. Photograph: Kseniya Segina

 Snow White embossed cotton belted trench. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
  Dusky rose silk organzino V-neck jumper and metallic rose gold silk jacquard parka coat, featuring reversible lavender silk jacquard interior. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
Metallic rose gold silk jacquard parka coat, featuring reversible lavender silk jacquard interior and marching shiny boots. Photograph: Elli Ioannou

Snow white tulle evening gown and bodysuit, featuring gold bugle chevron embroidered borders. Photograph: Kseniya Segina

Sand-coloured silk jacquard utilitarian dress, featuring crested buttons and floral designs in sunflower yellow, metallic lavender and gunmetal shades. Photograph: Kseniya Segina

Metallic silver bonded silk crêpe and white cashmere parka coat, featuring detachable sleeves and hood. Photograph: Kseniya Segina

Cornflower blue draped silk chiffon evening gown, featured layered degradé frills. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
Cloudy blue silk knitwear crop top and high-waisted skirt, featuring tiered frills and crystal embellishment. Photograph: Kseniya Segina
Black hexagon lace tiered mini dress embroidered with black, rose gold and gunmetal degradé crystals. Photograph: Elli Ioannou

Black embroidered mini dress with laminated tweed edging, double organza square cut-out embroidery on a glitter base, vinyl belt and asymmetric neckline. Photograph: Elli Ioannou
Detail of black leather bag with rose gold feather design. Photograph: Kseniya Segina

Black monogrammed silk crisp faille parka with detachable hood and sleeves, adorned with organza cut maitte lasse and chain embroidery. Photograph: Elli Ioannou

Black laminated tweed aviator jacket with laminate edging and double organza square cut-out embroidery on a glitter base. Paired with black, bonded lace and vinyl crosshatch embroidery crop top and pencil skirt. Photograph: Elli Ioannou

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