Roksanda Ilincic (above)
At the London Showrooms event in Hong Kong earlier this month we welcomed Britain’s top designers. Interestingly, most of them were men with the exception of the very beautiful Roksanda Ilincic. I have been a fan of Roksanda’s since she showed her first collection of dreamy cocktail dresses in 2005. Over the years the brand has grown along with her, morphing into a collection of easy-to-wear pieces that are not only sexy and feminine but above all wearable. Like Alber Elbaz, she knows how to design to suit a woman’s body, making her a unique addition to the British design scene.
I hope you enjoy reading my interview below and learning more about her…
Roksanda Ilincic Spring/Summer 2013
DESIGNER Roksanda Ilincic definitely stands out in a crowd and it’s not just because of her chic clothes. The 6 foot tall Serbian designer could easily be a model with her long limbs, picture-perfect features and Rapunzel hair. The fact that she looks equally stylish in her prim 1970s-style orange dress- her own design naturally – is just an added bonus for a woman who already counts celebrities like Ginnifer Goodwin, the Duchess of Cambridge, Tilda Swinton and Gwyneth Paltrow as fans.
“Honestly, when I started my clothes were all about what I wanted to wear. Now it’s evolved to appeal to all ages, and variety of shapes and sizes. You have women ranging from Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga to Courtney Love wearing our designs. What links them is not the way they dress but the fact that they are strong women with their own mind,” she says.
Ilincic was in town recently to showcase her work the London Showrooms Hong Kong, along with several other British designers. While the offerings at the event ranged from hourglass beaded dresses to everyday sequins, her designs were among the most popular thanks to their simple architectural lines, bright colours, playful touches and old fashioned elegance. As a clotheshorse and mother herself, Ilincic’s styles aren’t just about looking beautiful –they are easy-to-wear and comfortable making them all the more covetable to women.
“Fashion doesn’t stand on its own. You cannot create something that’s just for a museum – it’s about living in it. It’s important to understand the time and culture you live and combine that in your work together with emotion and personal beliefs. It’s different when you design from your own experience,” she says.
Ilincic’s own life experiences have played a big part in shaping her career and design philosophy. Born in Belgrade to a businessman and pharmacist, her mother was passionate about fashion and would often take her on trips to the seamstress as a young girl. In the early 1990s, during the Bosnian-Serbian War, she studied architecture and applied arts at two different universities. During this time she also started reading magazines like The Face and i-D which inspired her to apply for a masters degree at Central Saint Martin’s in London even before completing her Bachelors. When she was accepted she jumped on the first plane to the British capital.
Her two years at the institution were challenging thanks to her professor, the very opinionated Louise Wilson, who has been credited for nurturing design greats Alexander McQueen and Phoebe Philo.
“I had no idea what my style was because you are young and there’s so many things you love. In Belgrade it was all about classic things and naturally I rebelled against this. Louise was great because she makes you go through this process of hell in discovering yourself and making the mark of who you are. It’s very stressful but very worthwhile,” she says.
By the time Ilincic debuted her small collection of 13 brightly coloured cocktail dresses at London Fashion Week in 2005 she seemed to have found her niche. Inspired by classic couturiers like Yves Saint Laurent (she has an extensive personal collection of vintage pieces), Coco Chanel, Madame Gres and Vionnet, her designs referenced classic 1950s couture but reenvisaged in a modern yet glamorous way.
“It was very brave in London at that time because it’s not a society that dresses up but I thought it was good to make my own rules and define my own universe. To me it was about this special attention to detail, about making dresses that elevated women to new levels of elegance,” she says.
While her beautiful dresses garnered plenty of buzz for several years, things changed during the recession in 2008 when women demanded clothes that they could easily take from work to cocktails. When Ilincic welcomed her first daughter in 2011, she added even more daywear to her offerings.
“I understand that modern women have very busy lives – the boundaries are so blurred, even between couture, ready-to-wear and high street. Now you need a dress that carries itself in any environment. So as our customers grew, I followed their demands. They wanted more day dresses so I moved with the times,” she says.
This new approach is best expressed in her spring/summer 2013 collection, which is inspired by the work of modernist painter Josef Albers and French artist Niki de Saint Phalle. The silhouette is long and lean with colour block sheaths, retro style maxi dresses with tiered skirts and details such as voluminous sleeves, bow ties at the neck and contrasting collars and cuffs. Separates include elegant crochet knits, jersey tops, high waisted skirts and flared trousers. Everything comes in her signature bold colour palette with bright shades of electric blue, yellow, red, orange and white.
“It’s a combination of opposites – femininity and masculinity but done in a modern way. Before I loved designing dresses that made a statement from all angles – they made a big entrance but even bigger departure. This time the dresses had curvy panels and cutouts at the front while the backs are pure black,” she says.
Clearly her new vision is working. The brand now churns out four collections a year along with swimwear, which is stocked at high end retailers like I.T in Hong Kong and Joyce in China. Earlier this year she launched Blossom, a children’s wear line inspired by her daughter, Efimia. She hopes to open her first freestanding store in London next year while launching an accessories line (her current shows feature shoes made by mass retailer Aldo).
“When I started I would be inspired by things I love. Now after so many seasons I like to reference things I don’t like or don’t have a clue about because it’s challenging. So now when shops want to re-order particular garments I offer to bring them back for certain periods and that’s it. Even if the market is hungry for them I try to stop and move onto something else. Fashion is so quick, and there’s this hunger for something new, but at the same time you need to take the lead and tell customers where you want to go,” she says.
As published in the South China Morning Post November 16, 2012