How Olivia Rubin hit the sweet spot

Grazia Editor in Chief Alison Tay has a colourful conversation with fashion designer Olivia Rubin as her SS20 collection lands at Robinsons
How Olivia Rubin hit the sweet spot

The sun-drenched shores of Dubai just got that bit brighter thanks to the arrival of British fashion designer Olivia Rubin’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection at Robinsons. Starting her career at the hallowed houses of Alexander McQueen, Dior and John Galliano, she’s ripped up the rule book, and blazed a trail of her own thanks to her oh-so-Instagrammable upbeat signature sequins, and dress-me-happy stripes becoming an instant hit with fashion’s best loved FROWers, including Eva Chen and Aimee Song. High street diffusions, a foray into interiors, a beauty collaboration, and now Middle East expansion followed. Does everything Olivia touches turn to rainbows? Grazia meets her in Dubai to find out…

For her SS20 presentation at London Fashion Week, Olivia Rubin recreated an ice-cream parlour inspired by a vintage ice cream van she encountered. Dreamy.

Welcome to Dubai. I’m so happy you’re here! I’m a huge fan! For those unfamiliar with your designs, would you describe Olivia Rubin in five words?

Feminine, eclectic, colourful, fun and unique.

You have very specific and instantly recognisable handwriting. How did you find your signature? Or did your style find you?

I have been artistic from a young age and when I studied at Central Saint Martins in London, we were encouraged to push boundaries, so I quickly discovered that colour and surface design were my strengths.

Kendall Resort Stripe Top Dhs1,465

If you don’t mind me saying, I believe you belong to a new generation of cult brands – including Rixo London, Réalisation Par, and Ganni – that have created a new genre for an underserved consumer with a strong style identity who’s questioning the ethics of mass production on the high street, but doesn’t yet fall into the luxury income bracket. First of all thank you, and secondly, was hitting this sweet spot intentional?

Pleasure! Yes, it was definitely intentional. When I started to make clothes after the birth of my second child I struggled to find colourful unique pieces that didn’t cost thousands and that weren’t mass-produced and ran the risk of everybody else owning. I wanted to make collections that had a point of difference and that bridged the gap between luxury and high street.

Olivia Rubin SS20

Mary Katrantzou once told me that although she’s loved for her kaleidoscopic prints and colours, she only wears black Alaïa dresses to work to help her focus and give herself a blank canvas. However, I get the feeling you’re a committed colour addict. Am I right? Please don’t tell me you’ve created an incredible universe of make-believe you don’t inhabit yourself!

I’m the opposite of Mary! If I am not wearing colour or print I don’t feel like myself. I am most definitely my brand, and while we are trying to expand our offering with some plain colour options, it is the rainbowinspired pieces that are now instantly recognisable to the brand. 

Why was Middle East expansion important to you?

I feel that the Middle East also has a penchant for colour and sparkle. Before I began wholesaling I was receiving big orders from the Middle East via my website and could see a dedicated following building up. Once we launched in Selfridges we had lots of interest from Middle East stores, influencers and press.

Olivia Rubin SS20 

What is it about Robinsons that you feel resonates best with your brand?

I think Robinsons has a loyal yet experimental customer. I think Robinsons customers like looking for new designers, and the use of colour draws them in. The brighter the better. We also focus on modest midi dresses that have Middle East appeal.

What do you think it is about your aesthetic that will speak to women in the Middle East?

I think it is the combination of colour and silhouette. The special sequins we use that are both lightweight and printed on with all our own prints offer the Middle Eastern customer a new type of eveningwear that no other brand does at my price point.

Olivia Rubin SS20

What do you believe is it about the Olivia Rubin aesthetic that has captured our imaginations?

The shapes are always easy to wear – as much as I love style, I feel comfort is also a consideration. The sequin skirts, which are one of bestselling items, are so versatile and can be dressed down with a T-shirt and trainers but equally dressed up with a matching sequin top. The Olivia Rubin customer wants a special piece that can be worn in multiple ways.

Stevie Lilac Dash Skirt Dhs1,465

You seem to have truly redefined the steps of building a millennial fashion brand. Have you had to reconfigure the lessons from Alexander McQueen and John Galliano at Dior for the digital age?

I learned a lot from my experience at these top designers. Almost all of the collaborations I have worked on have been organic, and the companies have approached me directly. We have turned a lot down as well, because the collaboration has to be right for the brand and not jeopardise the direction of the brand. Similarly, most of the celebrities and influencers we dress contact me directly though social media, which has been integral to expanding.

Olivia Rubin SS20 

Your Spring/Summer 2020 presentation could be described as optimised for Instagram. Tell us more about Daisy the ice cream van, and is there an element of working backwards from the social-media reveal now when it comes to the concepts for your collections?

All my inspiration comes organically and there is no planned process to research or concepts; they are simply things I see that excite me. I met Daisy at a spring fair with my daughters and just thought it would be cool to recreate an Olivia Rubin ice-cream parlour with my love of pastel colours.

Sienna Pastel Ombre Dress Dhs2,015

Do you think your designs are an antidote to the current political uncertainty in the UK?

I try not to get bogged down in external matters. I want the brand to be fun-loving and I don’t take myself too seriously, so in that sense yes, but this is the way I am and try not to be something I am not. Too many influencers and brands take fashion too seriously, but to me fashion is a magical escape and should be fun and there to enjoy.

How will Brexit affect your business?

Hopefully not too much. We have our production chain all set in place prior to Brexit so we have not made any drastic changes. We will adapt when and if we need to.

Olivia Rubin SS20

What’s the dream for Olivia Rubin?

I try and live for the moment. That is how my brand became a brand. I didn’t have a goal to start a brand that has got to where it has today. I missed designing clothes and everything that has happened was born organically from hard work and determination. I have lots of ideas I would love to try, but all in good time, when the moment is right.

Catie White Sequin Top Dhs1,465

Is your permanent collection a statement about sustainability?

I strongly believe that it is better to buy one item you love that can be worn over and over than ten cheaper items that have no sentimental value. Sustainability is also an important factor for us in the whole manufacturing process. We visit our factories regularly to monitor their processes and we have introduced a sustainable daywear collection for SS20 that solely uses sustainable fabrics such as Tencel and organic cottons. It is something that we are focusing on more and more.

Olivia Rubin SS20

Is having such a clearly defined signature encouraging consumers to embrace a style that doesn’t date?

I never follow trends. I listen to constructive feedback, but at the end of the day I have learnt you can’t please everybody in this business. I stay true to my style at all times, and while I want to expand the choice within each collection, ultimately it has to feel like me! I have customers who DM me all the time telling me their stories of their Olivia Rubin pieces; where they wore them, compliments, kind words… this always makes me smile and gives me reassurance that I’m making people happy with my clothes.

Esme Abstract Floral Skirt Dhs1,54

  • Shop Olivia Rubin Spring/Summer 2020 at Robinsons Dubai Festival City

Photos: Supplied