On her visit to New Zealand, Auckland-born London-based designer Emilia Wickstead confessed to a love of hair scrunchies and fluoro cropped tops when she talked about a fondness for fashion that emerged during her childhood.
The designer who has famously dressed the Duchess of Cambridge is now a favourite to A-list celebrities including Alexa Chung, Kate Bosworth, Diane Krueger, and recent Oscar winner, Brie Larsen.
But while we celebrate Wickstead’s connection to New Zealand, she spent her formative years with her family in Milan before going on to study fashion at Central Saint Martins in London.
Of her time spent there: “They really pushed the creative side but there wasn’t any focus on business.” That she says, was a skill she was urged by her mother to pursue alongside her fashion studies, and today, Wickstead claims that the balance of the two has contributed towards the development of her brand and a commercial sensibility, setting her apart from many other designers.
Wickstead has a close relationship with her mother who sat in the audience during her talk at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. It was her mother, she says, who also taught her from a young age to inspect the inside of garments for any faults before purchasing them.
“Nobody teaches you these things and if no-one had told me then I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” she says.
The designer had always dreamed of selling her clothing, and that focus still remains.
She established her made-to-measure business eight years ago and has since expanded into ready-to-wear collections fit for a modern-day princess, socialite, or even, ambitious career girl.
“The Emilia Wickstead woman is someone who isn’t afraid to be the best dressed woman in the room…she is effortlessly chic, she doesn’t wear too much makeup and speaks through her clothing.”
Before launching her eponymous label, Wickstead honed her craft on the cutting room floors of Giorgio Armani, Luella and Narciso Rodriguez. It was the latter, she says, where she learned how a fashion house can operate on a highly commercial level.
Garments from Emilia Wickstead’s RTW collections can be adapted for the needs of her clients in what she refers to as ‘a modern take on bespoke.’
When Wickstead’s collection of full-length mixed floral tapestry prints, soft apricots and delicate sorbet silks walked down the runway at iD Fashion Week it was clear that this woman knows how to produce polished, modern garments that women want to wear. Flattering soft empire waists and balloon sleeves balanced feminine proportions that exuded a subtle sexiness.
“Sexy can be all covered up,” said the designer in reference to her fondness for full-length pieces.
The down-to-earth designer with a mixed accent—part Kiwi with a hint of Irish/ English lilt— made no bones about the challenges of making tracks in the fashion industry and was impressed by the thirty-eight young designers and their level of confidence during their presentations for the iD International Emerging Designer Awards, for which she was a guest judge.
She confessed to having had little confidence herself during her early years, where sometimes she failed to believe in herself.
“London is very unique and young designers are very supportive of one another, but I had to learn to fake confidence in the beginning and once people see you have confidence then they take you under their wing.”
Now a mother to two children under the age of four, Wickstead’s life is busy and she confessed to the struggle of finding a balance between career and family life.
“It’s about quality over quantity and being present when I’m with my children. In the weekends I might be sitting at my laptop with my children around me and I feel guilty every single day,” she says of the investment of time spent focused on her work.
She does, however, have a Nanny but as the sole designer for the label with a very small team behind her—she even attends to her own social media, which makes for a full schedule.
The designer spoke openly and candidly about the challenges that women are faced with today, but hopes to become an inspiration to her children. Growing up with two full-time working parents she recalls a wonderful childhood and said watching her mother was immensely empowering.
The personable designer talked about a love of the past and has even sourced inspiration for a print from a dirty old bedspread she once found at a market. She laughed nervously on admitting to not having found the inspiration to her next collection.
Emilia Wickstead showed selected garments from her SS16 collection inspired by eccentric female characters from George Cukor’s film, The Women. She had already flown to Auckland on the night of her iD Fashion Week runway show at the Dunedin Railway Station.
Photography © Sonia Sly