Meet Alessandra Rich, The Designer Behind The New Royal Label Of Choice
In the last year, Alessandra Rich has secured her status as a go-to designer for the royal set
"My customer has always been someone with a very intense social life,” Alessandra Rich explains while tinkering with a tray of accessories: ladylike lace gloves and diamanté chokers. “She needs beautiful outfits for all sorts of occasions - lunches, dinners, weddings, christenings, parties...”
In the last year, Rich has secured her status as the go-to designer for women with such well-packed calendars via a trio of high-profile new clients with royal associations. First, the Suits actress Abigail Spencer wore her navy polka dot midi dress to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, placing her on the list of the best-dressed guests in the papers the next day. Then, in July, Pippa Middleton wore a cropped spearmint version of the same style for Prince Louis’s christening.
The connection to Britain’s higher echelons was cemented, though, when just months later the Duchess of Cambridge wore the same dress — this one an exact match for Spencer’s — in an official royal family portrait to celebrate Prince Charles’s 70th birthday. It’s a timeless look that she will probably re-wear again and again — as she did in May for a visit to Bletchley Park.
The PDD (polka dot dress) trend is alight and copies can be found everywhere from Zara to Kitri in a movement that I’ve affectionately dubbed “Alessandra Rich for the poor”, catering for those who, like me, can’t afford the original’s £1,225 ($2,375) price tag due to trivial reasons like needing to pay bills.
“We saw a big spike in people wanting to buy the dress after Abigail wore it,” Rich confirms. “After the Duchess as well, we were very lucky because it was a double spike. It was a dream come true, especially that the Duchess wore it in a portrait as it will become iconic in the image. I think this dress will live in our collections forever now, with some changes each season. It would be a shame to let it go.”
The dress in question — pleated silk crepe de chine, with a contrasting white collar and cuffs — was inspired by the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph of a sailor kissing a stranger in Times Square on VJ day in 1945.
In both her spring and autumn collections for 2019, this now-signature silhouette is carried through, styled with pearls and shoulder-draped cardigans or fetishist leather collars. “This dress is all about its shape, with pleats and very Forties,” she says. “It’s a very flattering cut and all women look beautiful in it. It’s a perfect occasionwear style.”
“Occasionwear” can be a loaded word in the world of high fashion and one that many designers turn their noses up at in fear of being considered uncool. But through Rich’s lens, a prim and proper retro dress is modernised and given a sense of humour; Forties silhouettes are subverted with almost-tacky Eighties glamour, like the red dress cinched with a heart-buckled belt that Emma Louise Connolly wore to Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank’s wedding in October.
These fun mixes are obvious in their appeal to British women looking for something to wear on the event circuit.“It’s about finding this balance of classics with a twist,” she says. “These dresses are demure, they’re covering the arms and legs, and they’re in nice, fresh colours. But there’s always a split somewhere, or a body chain underneath. It is both ladylike and naughty and I think there is a bit of both in all of us.”
Despite the sexy subtext to most of her pieces, Rich says that mothers and daughters, together, are one of her core audiences. “We get this very often, the daughter in her 20s and the mother in her 50s, like me, are buying a similar thing. This used to be very different, people wouldn’t have dressed the same as their mother for an event, but now they can both wear the same dress and wear it their own way.”
You need to be filled in on Rich’s background to understand how she so intuitively reads the social set and their sartorial needs. Rich in more than just name, she was born in the Italian countryside and moved to the UK 25 years ago. She now lives between London’s expensive Mount Street and a similarly fabulous studio in Milan with her husband Steven, an art dealer and the CEO of her label. Rich started her business in 2010, aged 41, with no experience, just an understanding of how frustrating it is to have nothing to wear to fancy arts events.
“My first job was to move to London, to marry my husband and to work in his art gallery,” she explains frankly of her start. Becoming the city’s “hot new designer” in her 40s was quite the plot twist and she says that it has taken time for her to define herself as a designer and make a global success of her business.
“After being in his gallery for so many years, I decided I wanted to prove that I could do something for myself. I was in my 40s and I thought ‘let me try to have a fashion brand.’ I learnt everything from scratch. In the early days I was just doing something that I liked, it was a passion project. I was naive but determined and I had logic, so I’ve got here now.”
As she approaches the 10th anniversary of her label, Rich is content with the success she’s had to date and excited by what’s to come. “Dresses are the bestselling category for us and I think a woman will always need a good dress. But I would love to grow everything else too. We do knitwear, denim, T-shirts, evening gowns, a little bit of everything. I want to have a range that a woman can reach into every day in her wardrobe, whether she is going to a bar with her friends or to a royal wedding.”
Rich’s Duchess endorsements aren’t just luck — it’s no wonder that her clothes are so appealing to the young royal, and those in her set, today, considering that she cites two of the royal family’s “polite rebels”, Diana, Princess of Wales and Princess Margaret, as her muses. “They were both so chic,” she says. “With Diana, I couldn’t choose one favourite outfit, they were all fabulous. I know all of her looks by heart — and she wore polka dots so well.”
— The Daily Telegraph