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Exclusive interview: Roksanda Ilincic

As designer Roksanda Ilincic prepares to open her debut Mayfair store, she tells Frances Wasem about her inspirations and her London career

Frances Wasem portrait
Frances Wasem,

If a fashion designer’s success can be gauged by their gowns being worn by those women making world history, or lighting up the flashbulbs on the red carpet, it’s fair to assume that Roksanda Ilincic’s place in the firmament of British style talent is firmly sealed.

Ilincic’s feminine, intelligent designs have become the first choice for the A-list elite, from Michelle Obama to Samantha Cameron, Kate Middleton to Keira Knightley, Gwyneth Paltrow to Lady Gaga. That Ilincic was awarded the Red Carpet Award at 2012’s British Fashion Awards is no surprise. On the eve of the launch of her first flagship store, the self-effacing Ilincic is still as enthusiastic as ever about her mission statement.

Feminine allure
‘I want the dress to appeal to a woman’s sense of femininity, but also her sense of mystery and imagination. I enjoy experimenting with shape, form and colour. Each season, I try and create new challenges for myself and that’s why I love it,’ says the willowy brunette in her lilting Serbian accent.

Ilincic possesses both charm and talent. She has come a long way since she moved to London in 1999, going on to graduate from Central St Martins College of Arts and Design in 2000 with an MA in womenswear. She launched her eponymous collection in 2002 and first showed her collection at London Fashion Week in 2005, with the support of the Topshop New Generation scheme.

In 2006 she was nominated for the British Fashion Council’s New Designer award – and she held her own formal catwalk show in spring/summer 2009. And, with a contingent of red-carpet stars turning to the designer for her brand of nuanced elegance, it is remarkable that they are all powerful women, who would never allow the dress to ‘wear’ them.

‘When a woman wears my clothing, I want her to feel confident and comfortable,’ says Ilincic. Collaborations and diffusion lines with Whistles and Debenhams have served to bring her architectural designs to a wider market.

London rising
Ilincic has become a key member of an increasingly respected British pool of talent, from Erdem and Roland Mouret to Mary Katrantzou. None of these designers was born in Britain, but their design aesthetic – elegant, contemporary and just a little edgy – is uniquely British. They also all have international reputations.

Why does Ilincic think London is such a unique design hub? ‘The culture in London allows so much freedom, which I think is key to creativity. You come across people from different walks of life every day and I think that makes it exciting. It enables London-based designers to explore their ideas and aesthetics without feeling any constraints,’ she says.

Further afield
This isn’t to say she doesn’t apply her magpie eye to foreign climes; her work has brought her from the Balkans to the UK and her design aesthetic benefits from her myriad travels too. ‘I constantly pull inspiration from where I have travelled; the last year has been fantastic as it’s included trips to Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Dubai.’ For her spring/summer collection, she says she looked to the work of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica for his ‘uncompromising use of colour.’

New ventures
Life isn’t slowing down for Ilincic and 2014 looks set to be another stellar year. As well as juggling family life (she has a husband, Philip, and a small daughter Efimia, who inspired the 2012 launch of the children’s line Blossom) she continually strives to keep a fresh outlook on her collection ‘I love experimenting with shape, form and colour – each season I create new challenges for myself and it’s why I love designing.’

This year the designer opens her first flagship store on London’s Mount Street, a sign that she is also a formidable businesswoman: owning a flagship on one of London’s most prestigious streets is a serious achievement, and all the more remarkable given that her label isn’t owned by any parent company – the move was made possible through grit and hard work. ‘We are thrilled to have found a home for the brand in Mayfair and can’t wait to unveil the concept,’ says the designer.

Well of inspiration
Ilincic showed her autumn/winter 2014/15 collections as part of London Fashion Week in February. The city is clearly a source of endless fascination for her. ‘We have an amazing dynamic here in London with such talent across music, fashion and art. When I have time, I love wandering around the city and shopping in Columbia Road market and Camden Passage in Islington. I absolutely love London. It’s a busy, creative and warm city,’ says the designer.

A landmark year
Her interest in fashion was sparked by her mother, a statuesque beauty who travelled a great deal and would pick up opulent pieces from Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. ‘As a child I adored watching her get dressed, her sense of polish. I once cut up one of her Yves Saint Laurent skirts to make it shorter – I can’t believe it now. I’m not sure how she ever forgave me.’

Next year, Ilincic will have been in the fashion industry, and, indeed, London, for a landmark 15 years. What advice would she offer a design ingénue starting out today? ‘It seems obvious, but just keep trying and most importantly, believe in yourself.’ It seems that a great many people believe in Ilincic’s own vision.



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