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In the past few months, which fashion brand has made 56 red carpet appearances, dressing Emmy nominees Sandra Oh and Jessica Biel, VMA Awards presenters Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick, leading ladies Lady Gaga and Constance Wu and 10 stars at Cannes in its hyper-feminine, feather and stone-encrusted gowns? Not decades-old Dior or French couturier Chanel — it’s 8-years-young Ralph & Russo.
The London brand founded in 2010 by Australian designer Tamara Ralph and business partner/boyfriend Michael Russo is part of a new red carpet vanguard of houses built from the ground up, along with fresh names renovating old stalwarts.
“Couture was so Parisian-concentrated, we saw a niche in the market,” says Ralph, who used word-of-mouth to build her customer base for hand-crafted gowns that can top $500,000. Her first Hollywood client was Angelina Jolie, who chose to wear a demure dove-gray dress to meet the queen. Meghan Markle went with Ralph & Russo for her engagement photos. “Every other house has 100 years of heritage. We wanted to be a modern-day global luxury brand,” Ralph explains.
With 300 seamstresses working in its Sloane Street atelier, Ralph & Russo was the first British label in 100 years to be invited to show on the official Paris haute couture schedule in 2014. It expanded into ready-to-wear in 2017 and also sells accessories, such as the Eden shoes with metal vine leaves on the heels. “Their work is impeccable, every stitch, the fabrics, every design, it’s modern and fresh and beautifully made, everything a woman could want,” says Jolie’s stylist Jen Rade, who met the founders in L.A. in 2010 when all they had was a box of sketches. “I knew I was seeing something really special.”
Net-a-porter launched the RTW collection exclusively the first season, and it continues to resonate with customers “looking for those pieces that they can’t find everywhere,” says the luxury site’s Global Buying Director Elizabeth von der Goltz, praising Ralph’s “attention to detail,” and noting that the collection is not widely available beyond its London atelier and the NAP luxury site.
Today’s social media-driven fashion world has certainly accelerated consumers’ appetite for the new, opening up opportunities for nascent brands like Ralph & Russo, Thom Browne, Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, Christian Siriano and Prabal Gurung to redefine the red carpet. At the same time, traditional brands are racing to stay relevant by tapping into new Hollywood talent.
Designers Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim are honing their younger vision at ladylike Oscar de la Renta, dressing Emmy-winning Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star Rachel Brosnahan in the ultimate red, one-shoulder red carpet dress. At New York Fashion Week in September, Wes Gordon debuted his first runway collection for the classic American house of Carolina Herrera, with his first red carpet design appearing days later on Michelle Dockery at the Emmys: a cornflower-blue tulle confection embroidered with whimsical orange flowers. “I love the fresh, playful and colorful perspective,” says Dockery’s stylist Micaela Erlanger of Gordon’s approach.
Riccardo Tisci showed his first collection for Burberry during London Fashion Week, including the brand’s first red carpet gowns in all black jersey, draped, cape-backed or trimmed in gold fringe. Although no Hollywood star has worn one yet, some of Tisci’s other designs have already been seeded to Beyonce, Rihanna and others.
Clare Waight Keller is on a winning streak, repositioning Givenchy as a female-led brand by creating Markle’s simply elegant wedding dress in May (and garnering $2.9 million in media value from it), dressing Lady Gaga in a silver lace and velvet cape-back gown for the Sept. 24 L.A. premiere of A Star Is Born, and Emma Stone for Netflix’s Sept. 21 Maniac premiere in a bronze metallic pleated gown that her stylist Petra Flannery says exemplifies the designer’s “feminine yet modern approach.”
And there is no sign of the designer musical chairs and acquisitions stopping any time soon. Michael Kors is buying Versace for $2.12 billion; Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy announced plans to relaunch the 1930s-era couture house Jean Patou under the direction of designer Guillaume Henry; and L.A.-based Hedi Slimane, late of Saint Laurent, chartered a new vision for Celine, all opening up new possibilities for Hollywood collaboration.
Meanwhile, Ralph & Russo is gearing up for its own rapid expansion, with 10 stores opening by the end of 2019, while continuing to be a go-to for Hollywood stylists. “If we need to drop wedding dresses onto yachts, we make it happen,” says Ralph. “Celebs and stylists know we will not let them down.”
This story first appeared in the Oct. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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