Tamara Ralph on the past, present and future of London-based couture and ready-to-wear label Ralph & Russo
A fashion fairytale
While not a household name for many — well, not until Meghan Markle wore a Ralph & Russo gown in her engagement photos — the brand has a well-established following amongst fashion insiders, celebrities, and royals, including Beyoncé, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie.
Tamara Ralph serves as creative director for the brand, while her partner Michael Russo is the company's CEO and handles the business side of things. The Australian couple's London-based label filled a gap in the market for haute couture, and by 2013 they landed on Fortune's 40 Under 40 List. Since the launch of its ready-to-wear line with a spring/summer 18 collection, the brand has its sights on expanding the Ralph & Russo universe with more standalone boutiques across the globe. We talk to Ralph on her plans for world domination.
Since the Duchess of Sussex wore your dress for the engagement photos, what has been the "Meghan Markle effect" on the brand?
We were incredibly honoured to have had the opportunity to work with Meghan Markle on such a momentous occasion and it was a real pleasure to design for such an inspirational woman. We've received so many positive comments from the industry and beyond.
Who inspires your designs?
My muse, the Ralph & Russo woman, is always at the centre of my designs and so when it comes to couture, the client remains my core inspiration. For collections, it really depends. I'm continually exploring and discovering new ideas, and the inspiration behind every season is always different. It often relates to what I've been exposed to and excited by at the time, whether it's a travel destination or book I'm reading. That's the beauty of design; there's so much scope.
How do you balance the exclusivity of couture while you expand the business with ready-to-wear and accessories?
Couture is exclusive by nature because each look is completely unique and created bespoke to the individual needs of a client, there will always be a natural balance in this sense between the two product categories. We plan to make couture more accessible across our boutiques. But in making couture more visible to the public, we aren't calling into question its exclusivity or integrity — we just want to unveil an art form to a greater number of admirers.
How do the designs differ for couture and ready-to-wear?
When designing ready-to-wear there are so many factors at play; each design is, of course, still conceived from the heart but ready-to-wear is so much more subject to business requirements and commercial viability. Whilst with couture the design process is boundless; it's a real opportunity not only to push boundaries but also to listen to a woman's needs and be able to fully meet her expectations.
How has social media helped the business?
Social media is so integral to any modern business, not only as a cost-free platform for branding and exposure but also for networking and research. So many of our longstanding clients first saw the brand tagged in a friend's post on Instagram. It's truly amazing just how much influence social media can hold. It's really added a whole new dimension to the fashion industry.
What's your favourite dress that you've designed so far?
As a designer it's so difficult to pinpoint one particular dress as your favourite piece because each creation is so special in its own way. I'd be lying to you if I told you I had a favourite, or who knows, perhaps I just haven't designed it yet! (Laughs)
You've had this business for a decade, when did you have the "we've made it" moment?
When Michael and I created the company in 2007, we didn't officially launch until 2010, so we're actually still a couple of years shy of our 10-year mark. But we're both very ambitious. With each accolade, whether it's being included in Forbes '40 under 40' or becoming the first British brand in almost a century to be accepted by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture to show on the official schedule, we always take a moment to be grateful while having the brand's next step and development in mind.
How has the brand evolved? Who is the Ralph & Russo woman today?
Both Ralph & Russo and our muse have really evolved since the brand's inception. Having launched as a couture brand there was an element of locality in what we were doing, but we've really expanded our offerings, creating six runway collections a year alongside leather goods and accessories. We've also taken the Ralph & Russo woman out of that box of classic femininity and transitioned her forward into the modern day. The Ralph & Russo woman today is not only elegant and wonderfully feminine, but also confident in herself and her style choices. She's an international being and a leader in her field.
You're both Australians, why did you decide to launch in London?
London is where Michael and I met — he'd been living here for several years when we bumped into each other on the King's Road and started bonding over our native accents. We really saw a gap in the market in London for a luxury fashion house with a couture offering; it's an incredibly fashion-forward city that serves as a cosmopolitan hub for travel and creativity. Being positioned here has allowed us to address both local and international market demands by engaging an audience that frequently travels to the city.
What is the biggest challenge working with your life partner?
Being with them literally 24/7... (Laughs)
What are the perks of working with your life partner?
Being free of politics. Michael and I know and understand each other on such a personal level that it makes working as a team so much easier because we recognise each other's strengths, flaws and emotions.
I read somewhere that you want to create a Ralph & Russo universe. What more do you aspire to develop?
When we launched Ralph & Russo we never planned for it to be solely a couture brand. We always envisioned becoming a luxury lifestyle brand that encompasses ready-to-wear, leather goods, shoes, perfume, interiors and more. We want to curate a Ralph & Russo lifestyle for our clients so that the brand is never just a one-time purchase, but an element of their daily lives.
What's next for Ralph & Russo?
We have many exciting projects in the pipeline including the launch of new product categories and the opening of several Ralph & Russo boutiques in some of the world's key capitals. It's really a very exciting time for the brand - stay tuned!