Simply clad in gingham-printed, high-waisted trousers and a robin-egg-blue sweater, designer Emilia Wickstead greets HELLO! with a warm smile and an affectionate hug. Having offered us a cup of tea (she takes hers with a splash of cream), Emilia settles into a plush red velvet chair in the living room of her friend and Power of Privé founder Vanessa Mulroney. "Vanessa and I have been friends for years – she was even a bridesmaid in my wedding," Emilia tells us of her Canadian bestie.
In town to host an exclusive trunk show, Emilia, who's based in London, has become a go-to designer for celebrities and royalty alike, and it's easy to see why: she exudes charm, refinement and accessible elegance.
The New Zealand native started her eponymous label as a made-to-measure atelier, crafting pieces for London's high society – the Duchess of Cambridge being one of her most celebrated clients. After Kate stepped out in Emilia's emerald-green coat dress on St. Patrick's Day, the "Kate Effect" shone a spotlight on her lady-of-the-manor designs and made the Victorian trend a must-have look for seasons to come.
The one outfit that Kate and other royals always have to pack on tour
Here, we sit down with the acclaimed designer to find out more about her fashion philosophy, the art of dressing like a royal and what it's really like working with a celebrity clientele.
Your dresses straddle the line between modernity and classic femininity – can you share your design philosophy?
The inspiration [for the brand] is definitely old-world couture. As for design, I gravitate to traditional styles but mix it with an element of surprise. Whether it's a big sash bow in the back or an unexpected fabric, it all needs to work together. I love seeing a woman in a beautiful dress and pairing it with a light shoe that shows skin – I really believe in toe cleavage. The styling is what keeps a look fresh, youthful and fashion-forward.
Thanks to the Duchess of Cambridge, there is a spotlight on British designers. How would you define British fashion?
[Kate] is a great brand ambassador for British designers, and it’s such an honour and privilege to think she would like to wear your clothing. There is so much talent in British fashion, a real cookie jar of different aesthetics with designers like Mary Katrantzou, Erdem, Christopher Kane, J.W Anderson and Simone Rocha. It’s a great time to be a part of London Fashion Week.
How does your design approach change when you’re dressing someone in the public eye?
The most wonderful thing about having a small business is that every person we dress gets a really intimate process. When you are dressing someone who is in the limelight, often you're working with their stylist, who has chosen you because your tastes are on par with their client. You're working together to create something that is very beautiful for a particular event or occasion.
Of all the celebrities who’ve worn your pieces, is there one who stands out as really identifying with your brand?
There are so many, but I would say, most recently, Emma Watson. [I admire] everything she stands for as a woman – she's intelligent, sensitive and really funny. It was really wonderful collaborating with her, and she's also eco-conscious, which, as a business, made us look more closely at fabric mills and our production process. Diane Kruger is another celebrity I love dressing. We've worked together several times and she was one of my first [celebrity clients].
Whether it’s celebrities or royalty, is it better to be overdressed or underdressed at an event?
It's best to strive for something in between. I still feel very passionate about dressing for an occasion, it's part of my DNA, and I think what is important is not to forget to dress up. Dress codes can be confusing, especially around events like the races, but as a designer, I try to build my collections around events like that and help educate my customers to dress in a chic way.
What is something you wish women would keep in mind when getting dressed?
I want women to feel naturally beautiful and confident without too much fuss. Let's face it, doing something simple is so beautiful, but it's the hardest thing to achieve these days. I want my clients to look at a photograph 20 years later and think, "That was such a key piece." I believe in shopping for investment pieces that are fashion-forward but have a classic element. I really think that's the ideal balance and what defines really chic personal style.