Thursday 19 September 2019

A dress fit for a princess?

Tipped to design Meghan Markle's bridal gown, Roksanda Ilincic talks royal weddings, Melania Trump and ageless style with Meadhbh McGrath

In demand: Roksanda, pictured here at Brown Thomas, has seen her dresses worn by Kate
Middleton and Michelle Obama. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
In demand: Roksanda, pictured here at Brown Thomas, has seen her dresses worn by Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Meadhbh McGrath

As soon as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement, fashion fans began to speculate about what - and who - the bride will wear on her big day.

British couture house Ralph & Russo, who designed the £56,000 embellished gown Meghan wore in her engagement photos, is the current favourite, but among the other names rumoured to be in the running are Erdem, Emilia Wickstead and Roksanda. The latter brand, founded by Serbian-born, London-based designer Roksanda Ilincic, is known for a distinctive approach to colour and shape, along with an effortless modern elegance embodied by women like Meghan, who prefers clean, contemporary lines to Hollywood glitz.

Ilincic's aesthetic chimes with Meghan's, but given the closely-guarded secrecy under which royal wedding dresses are made (Sarah Burton, who designed Kate Middleton's Alexander McQueen dress in 2011, has said her own parents were kept in the dark), it's no surprise that Ilincic won't be drawn on the topic when we meet in Dublin.

"I am looking forward to the wedding - I particularly love spring weddings and I think this one is going to be really nice. I think it's a really exciting time for the royal family, so let's wait and see with anticipation how the wedding turns out," she says, a coy smile playing on her signature red lips. When pressed about whether her team has worked with Meghan on other upcoming engagements, she teases: "It's early days, we were not in touch yet, but let's see!"

While she may have ruled herself out, the 48-year-old would still be considered an apt choice for the gig of a lifetime thanks to her work with Kate, who has worn Roksanda dresses on several occasions. On top of that, Meghan wouldn't be her first princess bride - last October, Ilincic designed the bridal gown for Danica Marinkovic at her wedding to Prince Philip of Serbia.

"Danica is obviously from the same country (as me), and she's the daughter of Cile Marinkovic, a very famous artist back home who I respect so much, who is also known for his incredible use of colour," she explains.

Suits you: Meghan dons a wedding dress in Suits
Suits you: Meghan dons a wedding dress in Suits

"Danica is one of those modern brides who wanted to look really beautiful in something grand that would stand for the occasion - marrying a prince in a church - but she didn't want to let go of this modernity and what she represents. She didn't want any embellishments; she wanted to keep it really minimal, which was music to my ears. We ended up with this beautiful sculptural wedding dress that drew influence from our Serbian folk costumes in the sleeves and the bow, but at the same time it looked really unique and modern. It was a really fun project to work on."

Ilincic is here on a flying visit - it's her first time in Ireland, but she's spent most of the day holed up doing interviews in Brown Thomas' personal shopping suite, before jetting home to see her daughter Efimia presented with an art award.

The eight-year-old is following in her mother's footsteps: Ilincic studied architecture in her native Serbia before earning her degree in womenswear at Central Saint Martins in London. Since setting up her own label in 2003, it has grown to be a favourite of women of all ages, including Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain and Lady Gaga, along with political figures like Michelle Obama, Samantha Cameron and Melania Trump. Roksanda was an unexpected choice for that last name in particular: eschewing her trademark bodycon, Melania wore a structured white Roksanda dress with statement ruched cuffs for her speech at the Republican convention in 2016, which she reportedly bought herself - and which subsequently sold out.

"She's from Slovenia and I'm from Serbia. Slovenia and Serbia used to be the same country, so she's kind of from the same region as I am. I kind of feel… can we skip this question?" she laughs, shifting in her seat.

"You know what? She's incredible, I think she's incredible in her own way. She's a First Lady and it's great to appeal to such different women.

"I've had people say, 'I'd never think to put Michelle Obama and Courtney Love in the same sentence', but that is what makes me really proud: they're so different but they're all very strong and they dress for their own sake because they love the clothes."

Of course, it's not just the big names that give Ilincic pride. "Any time I see a woman wearing my dress, even a person walking on the street that I don't know, I almost have this urge to go and say: 'Hi, it's me, we know each other! We've been communicating through clothes.' That is something that really gives me a big buzz, and gives me extra strength and encouragement to do what I do," she says.

Ilincic has also made moves to incorporate more diversity in her branding, and championed ageless style in her pre-fall lookbook, starring 54-year-old Austrian model Cordula Reyer.

"My collection was always talking to women of many different ages and cultural backgrounds. But I felt that, although I know who my customers are, that needed to be said in black and white. I think we are now living in a time where this diversity is really welcomed and, sadly, say 10 years ago, it would be completely unheard of to do a lookbook this way," she says. "We're living in quite difficult times in terms of politics etc, but I also think there are some great things coming out of it, and one of those is diversity... I wanted to communicate to my customer that you are that woman, you are that person that I'm talking to, not just some beautiful model."

While we may not have an invite to the royal wedding, the rest of us will be kept busy over the coming months with myriad other occasions that require a bit of dressing up. Occasionwear has long been one of Ilincic's strong suits and she welcomes the recent move toward more modest shapes, a look she has advocated for years. "I think there is a certain sophistication and elegance when you present this more covered-up silhouette, and that's something I've always been drawn to. I personally always like, and thought, it was much more intriguing and attractive to hide certain things than to expose them."

Highlights from her spring collection included fluid gowns, a super-saturated palette and colour-blocked dresses over trousers. As an alternative to the staid clutch, Ilincic offered chic bracelet bags and ring-handle styles that blended vibrant hues, architectural shapes and contrasting wood and acrylic textures.

When approaching event dressing this summer, Ilincic recommends not to shy away from bold colours, and to experiment with layering a dress over trousers. For older women in particular, she says: "My main advice is they need to follow their personality. They need to wear the outfit, rather than the other way around."

Roksanda's spring-summer, pre-fall and handbag collections are available now in Brown Thomas (

Royal wedding dress contenders

The favourite: Ralph and Russo - Australian duo Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo designed Meghan's opulent gown for her official engagement photos. The team were recently spotted viewing embroidery portfolios from the Royal School of Needlework, who helped make Kate Middleton's wedding dress.

The safe bet: Erdem - In her Vanity Fair interview, Meghan cited Erdem as "a designer I've been wearing for years". She also selected a dress by the designer for a wedding with Harry in Jamaica last year.

The woke option: Stella McCartney - Sustainability has proven to be a priority in Meghan's choice of brands and she has worn the ethical label before for the Queen's birthday and on a visit to Wales.

The diplomat's choice: Burberry - What better way to appease British conservatives? It would be a show-stopping final bow for Christopher Bailey after 17 years, or a spectacular introduction for his replacement, Riccardo Tisci.

The American: Oscar de la Renta - If Meghan wishes to honour her US roots, creative directors Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, who made Amal Clooney's sensational bridal gown, would be a surprising yet reliable pick.

Irish Independent

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