Emilia's World: Designer Emilia Wickstead Sits Down With Grazia

Grazia talks about the intricacies of summer dressing with London-based designer Emilia Wickstead
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Emilia's World: Designer Emilia Wickstead Sits Down With Grazia

It may come as a surprise that Emilia Wickstead, arguably one of modern-day fashion’s most modest and functional designers, is a fan of juxtapositions. “I believe that less is more, and that sometimes simplicity is the hardest thing to achieve. I love the juxtaposition of playing on this modest and simplistic rhythm while still showing skin in clever and unexpected ways through design. It makes what you wear all the more interesting,” Emilia tells Grazia.

Emilia Wickstead is the New Zealand born, London-based, internationally inspired designer whose collections are anchored in strong cuts, bold colour-work and effortless fabrics. In just over a decade (she first launched out of her South Kensingston flat as a made-to-measure brand in 2008), she’s achieved an untouchable design DNA that is as celebratory as it is respectful of the female form. Season after season she presents pieces that intuitively align with the modern woman’s needs – “Freshness and playfulness. Ease and attitude. A wardrobe that exudes timelessness,” states the designer. This philosophy is doubtless not lost on Emilia’s loyal army of females of public stature, including Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, Michelle Obama and Queen Rania of Jordan.

Designer Emilia Wickstead

“The Emilia Wickstead woman is multidimensional – she is modern, elegant, intellectually savvy, and open to evolution which is reflected in the clothing that she wears,” she observes. Emilia was nominated for the British Fashion Award for New Establishment Designer in 2014, and won the 2015 Walpole Award for Brands of Tomorrow, and has been integral to the London Fashion Week line-up since 2011. There was freshness and attitude aplenty on her SS19 runway, from billowing silhouettes bursting with botanical prints to svelte jumpsuits powerful enough to take to the boardroom. While her contemporaries command attention through obvious strokes of avant garde, Emilia has been quietly subverting norms from the start. Her only drama comes by way of powerful colour pairings (envision fuchsia against parakeet green), and courageously oversized silhouettes. “As a designer, it feels natural for me to always be looking forward and exploring new ideas. Of course, this means that my design aesthetic is constantly evolving and expanding, but the essential DNA of the Emilia Wickstead brand will always be at the core of everything that I create.”

It comes as no surprise that Matches Fashion – the British born ecommerce site celebrated for its buy-in of forward-thinking, functional fashion names – has handpicked Emilia to create a 27-piece capsule in celebration of its Il Pellicano collaboration (a series of curated shopping experiences and events in partnership with the Italian hotelier). The capsule marks the designer’s second beachwear collection and is an achingly dreamy ode to summer – think feminine, vintage cuts and a quixotic palette anchored in blue, pink and red. “Summer always makes me think about being playful and having fun with your wardrobe,” explains Emilia. She adds, “This collection brings feminine silhouettes and fun-loving details together – there is something for everyone and the pieces are designed to feel airy, light and luxurious; they can be taken from day to night with the right styling.”

Ania cropped top, Dhs 1508; Leslie high-waisted poplin shorts, Dhs 1776

The most notable sentiment is quite possibly the prints in which each fanciful design – from quaint sailboats to ancient architecture – conjures its own memory for the wearer. “Print helps to cultivate a mood and is a way of celebrating colour and creativity. Our prints range from nautical scenes to Roman cityscapes, contrasting an old-worldliness with the modernity and lightness that the pastel palette brings to the collection. The prints bring another dimension to the linen and really capture the dream-like nostalgia with which we so often reflect on summers past, particularly the childhood memories of those long, hot summer days and nights.”

The capsule’s campaign was photographed by Shaderska Valdez using a Super 8 film in a picturesque clifftop setting overlooking England’s Cornish coastline. Model Leah Rödl sits perched atop weathered stone in a parachute-sleeved dress and wearing bows in her hair. She looks disarmingly painterly in a vision that’s somehow both majestic and intimate. In other scenes, model Shaderska Valdez joins Rödl, wearing matching tailored two-pieces and peering out across the ocean. The pieces are more than perfect for a summer spent travelling between the Middle East, Europe and beyond. Emilia acknowledges, “I wanted the collection to capture the warm-weather mood of the holiday months, to celebrate how a great summer wardrobe should look and feel.”

What is special about Emilia is that her collections and their corresponding themes are never too far away from her own affections. “I have always felt an affinity for the English seaside, and the Cornish coastline is particularly magical. Having grown up in New Zealand, the water is never far away, so being on the coast holds a certain nostalgia for me,” she explains. “I recently holidayed with my husband and children not far from our shoot location and it was wonderful – sun, sea, fresh air and laughter.” For all the complex prints and rich silhouettes, Emilia’s deep understanding of the woman wearing her clothes underpins every collection.

Rowena ship-print shirt dress, Dhs 3,940

For Emilia, summer is about family time and creating your best memories – in just the same way it is for us. “Quality time and endless days in the sunshine, poolside or by the sea. Talking too much yet reading too much. All of these attributes are represented in the ease of this collection. Holidays are about relaxing – there are designs to go walking in, designs to accompany your bathing suit, designs to have long lunches and dinners in, and ultimately designs to lounge in all day or dress up and stay out all night in.” In that case, where will Emilia be packing her Il Pellicano pieces off to? “Always to Italy! Hence the Italian-printed linen and swimsuits. I spent so much time in Italy as a child and growing up with my nonna, who was from Florence and meant everything to me,” she recalls excitedly. And no doubt she’ll be spending time there with an inner circle of friends who also happen to also be clients.

The Wickstead woman experiences success in all areas and Emilia arms her with effortlessly beautiful yet spirited pieces to stride through them in. In Il Pellicano and beyond, there’s no denying that that juxtaposed ethos also hits the sweet spot for the Middle Eastern consumer. “I admire the emphasis that is given to dressing up in the Middle East. Middle Eastern women uniquely have an extraordinarily attentive eye for detail and a passion for style which I admire very much".

Photos: Supplied