Celebrity-loved Roksanda Ilincic talks dressing Rajwa Al-Saif and design inspiration
DUBAI: London-based designer Roksanda Ilincic has quite the clientele. From British royalty like the princess of Wales to Hollywood A-listers Anne Hathaway and Blake Lively, her technicolored dresses are a go-to for many celebrities.
Closer to home, the Saudi national and the fiancee of Crown Prince Hussein of Jordan, Rajwa Al-Saif, was in the news for the elegant bright yellow cape dress by Ilincic that she wore to Princess Iman of Jordan’s recent wedding.
Arab News caught up with the designer to learn more.
Al-Saif wearing her Neolitsea dress to the royal wedding came as a big surprise to the designer. “It was an absolute joy and such a privilege to see! I love the dress for its cape and the drama happening at the back,” said Ilincic.
Royalty aside, the designer is also very popular with the regional style set in the Middle East. Last year, she spoke at Riyadh’s Fashion Futures and visited Kuwait for a lunch hosted by Harvey Nichols. “Riyadh was a wonderful experience — I love meeting my customers in person and discovering new ways of wearing my designs. Arab women are very educated in fashion — they know what luxury fabrics are and are open to experimenting,” said Ilincic.
In addition, she believes women in the region love and understand her aesthetic, featuring bright colors and unusual shapes.
The Serbian-born designer studied architecture and applied arts at the University of Belgrade before moving to London for further studies. Ilincic graduated with her master’s degree in womenswear from Central Saint Martins in 1999, where she trained under the late professor Louise Wilson OBE. “When I interviewed at the institute, Louise Wilson asked me, ‘what do you want to do with your life once you graduate?’ So I said I want to start my own label, and I remember she was laughing at the time and thinking, ‘wow, those are very ambitious plans,’” she recalled.
For Ilincic, expressing herself and communicating through clothing was always an inner calling, and in 2005, she presented her first collection at London Fashion Week. Then, in 2014, she took the plunge and opened her flagship store on London’s Mount Street, designed by legendary architect Sir David Adjaye.
Ilincic’s designs have become a celebrity staple through her eclectic color combinations and architectural silhouettes. Her inclination towards bold colors stems from her home country and is also reminiscent of the past works of the remarkable Christian Lacroix, who she considers an icon.
“He’s definitely an inspiration, and so is home where there’s lots of sun, and everything surrounding me was in color. Even a trip to the food market would result in incredible color combinations,” she explained.
Her love for fluid wearability, too, lends itself to her designs. For example, she tries to avoid corsets as much as possible — for ease of movement and comfort for the wearer. “I use corsets when necessary, but I experiment to find alternatives. Sometimes I’ll use grosgrain ribbons or dresses with support on side seams. That element of comfort is really important and something that I never take for granted,” she said.
Elsewhere, it is art that often inspires her. Case in point: Her Fall/Winter 2023 collection that referenced the works of Japanese artist Atsuko Tanaka. The grandiose closing gowns consisted of dresses reminiscent of Tanaka’s “Electric Dress” — a creation made from colorful lights and electrical cords. “I took elements of the electric tubes from her art piece, and transformed them into soft, curvilinear tubes and draped them like curves around the body,” Ilincic noted. Despite their sculptural appeal, she believes they are dresses that women can still wear on the red carpet or on stage while performing.
So how does a bonafide dressmaker dressing royalty end up collaborating with athletic wear brands like Lululemon and Fila? “I wanted to challenge myself — what I do is so radically different from what was becoming a norm — leggings worn as trousers or puffer jackets alongside red carpet skirts. I was lucky enough to partner with Lululemon and Fila to create sporty, couture-like pieces, and both collaborations have proved to be very successful,” she explained.
Last December, Michelle Obama wore a Roksanda X Fila jacket on her book tour. Couture-esque pieces or glamorous sportswear – it is clear Ilincic has mastered both — and that explains her ever-expanding celebrity fanbase.