Combining old-school glamour with modern swag, Ralph & Russo reigns supreme. The British couture house dresses Hollywood royalty — as well as the tiara-wearing kind — for life’s biggest events, IRL or virtual.
Runway princess Hailey Bieber danced in its thigh-baring ivory silk slither at her wedding reception last year. Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle wore the label’s black bespoke gown with a sheer beaded bodice for her 2017 engagement photo shoot with Prince Harry. And to crown it all, Queen B (aka Beyoncé) opened her 2013 “Mrs. Carter Show World Tour” in the brand’s pearl-studded bodysuit.
In just 10 years, the maison has built a global business based on friendships with celebrities and flattering fairytale gowns. “It’s very encouraging to have achieved what we’ve done in such a short period of time, so we’re looking forward to the future,” co-founder and creative director Tamara Ralph tells Alexa over tea at her airy London atelier.
With a loyal American clientele — Kylie Jenner, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are repeat customers — it was only a matter of time before R&R expanded stateside. Next year will see the opening of a boutique in NYC, with Miami to follow.
Ralph, who earned a fashion degree at the Whitehouse Institute of Design in Melbourne, launched the label in 2010 with former banker Michael Russo, her business and then-romantic partner (the couple recently separated). In 2014, the house became the first British firm in almost a century to be accredited by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, and has shown on the official Paris couture calendar ever since.
“It was quite momentous at the time,” says Ralph, who like Russo is Australian. “We had a brand and a very big clientele base, but we hadn’t done a collection or shows before.”
Each couture piece is handmade with the finest fabrics, fitted to a client’s measurements and often adorned with opulent embellishments like beading, embroidery and feathers. The custom dress that British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding wore to last weekend’s digital Green Carpet Fashion Awards in London was festooned with more than 150 Zambian emeralds from Gemfields. Since the pandemic began, Ralph has been conducting e-fittings and, whenever possible, meeting with her billionaire customers one-on-one at a 19th-century townhouse in London’s Mayfair district (while following strict Covid protocol). A gleaming new workshop in London’s White City district operates with a very reduced and socially distanced staff, as most of her artisans have been working from home.
While Ralph says that couture remains “the heart and soul of the house,” it has now expanded into ready-to-wear, shoes and accessories, three categories that will be sold at the new stores.
The spring 2021 digital ready-to-wear show, unveiled on Oct. 2, was filmed on a set with live models but no audience. Called La Futura, the brilliantly colored line features lots of zig-zag, jungle and abstract tile prints, along with laser-cut leather pieces and double-satin cocktail dresses.
Ralph sent several new collabs down her virtual runway: a sunglass capsule with Linda Farrow (out in November); a co-designed La Perla beachwear and swimwear collection (the first drop hits stores in April); and a watch partnership with Audemars Piguet.
The designer says none of the success would be possible without the help of her creative family. “My grandmother was a couturière, and she worked for several different designers over her lifetime. I used to create a lot of things in my bedroom, just for fun, and she would critique them, take them apart, check the quality and make me do them again if they weren’t correct.
“That was really integral to the development of the brand and my career,” continues Ralph. “Now I’m so happy that she was hard on me.”