Fashion designer Ana Teixeira de Sousa likes to joke that she was born ‘in the middle of needles and fabrics.’ Her grandmother owned a textile factory in Portugal and she spent her childhood making good use of the endless spools of material around her. ‘I loved creating little dresses for my dolls and playing with the fabrics,’ she says. ‘It was my favourite playground.’
This grounding ultimately led to the creation of Sophia Kah — the sought-after womenswear label founded by the designer in 2011 and named after her grandmother. In a relatively short space of time, the brand has gone global. Luxury department stores, including Harrods in London and Barneys New York, now stock Teixeira de Sousa’s range of immaculately crafted pieces, from floor-sweeping organza gowns to sheer cocktail dresses. ‘My dresses are light and easy to wear, always highlighting the woman’s figure at its best,’ she says. ‘Kah girls can travel the world and arrive at their destination always looking brand new.’
To capture that feeling of newness, the Porto-born, London-based designer looks to the past, building her clothes around the centuries-old art of corsetry, with her gowns typically nipped in at the waist. Rather than using traditional corset boning, however, she creates the structured look through waist-defining seams, thoughtful lacing or strategic grosgrain trim. The universally flattering silhouette works across a variety of styles — from sleeveless, knee-length midi dresses to lace gowns with billowing trains or eye-catching silk-print daywear.
The Sophia Kah shape embodies strength, but Teixeira de Sousa renders it ‘in a light and comfortable way’ to keep it feminine and soft. She does this primarily through her choice of fabrics, which includes tulle, brocade and the brand’s signature lace. She explains that ‘lace is magical: sexy but not vulgar, dramatic but fun, all at the same time.’
For every occasion
Teixeira de Sousa applies this aesthetic to the majority of her dresses, without compromising on the versatility or range of her collections. Her pieces, which could be worn for weddings, red carpets or chic nights out, include a signature dress with a daring sheer bodice, created from lace and tulle layered over organza and embellished with golden thread. The line also features an off-the-shoulder gown with bandeau neck and a train crafted from black lace with ivory lace overlay.
Remarkably, Teixeira de Sousa does not have any formal fashion training; instead she draws on the methods and techniques passed down to her from her grandmother. Many of these skills are considered trade secrets, which partly explains why she works exclusively with artisans in her homeland. ‘Portugal has a fabulous manufacturing heritage,’ she says. ‘It’s an honour to me to create a made-in-Portugal luxury product.’
The past may inform her design process, but her cosmopolitan life in London keeps her vision contemporary and on-trend. The result is an attention-grabbing mix of modern and traditional. ‘My inspiration comes from all over the place but I always think “would X or Y wear this in London?”,’ she explains.
Today, the Xs and Ys the designer has in mind include celebrity names such as singer Florence Welch, author and journalist Plum Sykes and actress Keira Knightley, all of whom have worn her creations on the red carpet and at high-profile social events. Global superstar Beyoncé also famously wore a Sophia Kah lace corset gown, with plunging neckline, to her mother’s wedding. The label is known to the glitterati yet still off the general public’s radar – the very definition of stealth wealth.
Despite the growing attention surrounding her creations, Teixeira de Sousa doesn’t measure success by achieving a buzz or hype, nor does she define the Sophia Kah woman as a celebrity. ‘She is a free spirit who loves to celebrate life,’ she says. With that in mind, she designs for convenience, giving her globetrotting customer statement pieces that can easily fold up and fit into a suitcase.
Blending the fashionable with the practical is second nature to Teixeira de Sousa, as is an understanding that great design cannot be realised without an equally great manufacturing process. ‘I was born into a family of textile manufacturers,’ she says. ‘Since I’ve been alive I’ve had contact with the fashion world through production.’ Her designs surely prove the maxim that form should follow function – and neither form nor function can be faulted at Sophia Kah.