Roland Mouret in conversation with Colin McDowell at Selfridges

At an intimate event at Selfridges last week designer Roland Mouret chatted to Colin McDowell about his new menswear collection, his humble fashion origins and, of course, about THAT dress.

Written by Katie Wright

Roland Mouret by Yasmeen Ismail
Roland Mouret by Yasmeen Ismail.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what a hellish place Oxford Street is when you’re in a rush. Last Thursday, having legged it home from work to change (what, did you think I was going turn up in front of not one, but two living fashion legends in my standard office attire?) I had to dash out of Bond Street tube station, dodge hordes of dawdling tourists and run up three escalators to find I’d missed the first five minutes of the event. I was at Selfridges to watch fashion journalist Colin McDowell interviewing designer Roland Mouret in front of an audience of about 50 people. I needn’t have worried about my tardiness though. The next forty-five minutes were a fashion writer’s dream come true – Mouret’s wonderfully Gallic way with words elicited more truisms, maxims and aphorisms than a whole fashion week’s worth of backstage interviews. And, of course, a few clichés too, but I won’t begrudge him that.

Scarlett Johansson in Roland Mouret By Melissa Kime
Scarlett Johansson in Roland Mouret by Melissa Kime.

Straight off the bat, French-born Mouret reminisced dreamily about how the first shop he worked in was ‘like a window to the rest of the world,’ because it allowed him to observe people and what they wore close up. This was not some glamorous Parisian boutique, though; it was his parent’s butchers shop. Which prompted McDowell to ask what Mouret thought of dress made of meat that Lady Gaga wore to the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards. According to Mouret, Gaga is an artist whose genius borders on madness – ‘maybe it’s because inside she is as raw as the meat she was wearing’ he deadpanned – and he doesn’t envy that level of fame: ‘I’m really lucky that my dresses are more famous than me.’ But Mouret isn’t precious about how his customer chooses to dress, nor does the designer long for a return to the time of formality when gloves, hats and matching shoes were de rigueur for women. ‘It’s so easy to find the past quite charming and quite romantic but I find life more interesting now. I love to see what women want to buy from me and mix with other designers’

Roland Mouret's Galaxy Dress by Lou Taylor
Roland Mouret’s Galaxy Dress by Lou Taylor.

Roland Mouret started his design career late in life by today’s standards. ‘I was 36 and I said to myself, if at 40 I’m not making clothes I’m going to be a bitter bastard.’ Now a full-time London resident, he first came to England in the eighties and co-owned a nightclub for a time. Attracted by the counter-culture of Soho, he saw London as the ‘other side of the mirror’ to tasteful, Chanel-worshiping France. With no formal fashion design training, Mouret funded his own first ‘demi-couture’ collection, his definition of that being ‘when someone who doesn’t know how to make clothes tries to make some clothes and pretend they are couture.’ £2000 paid for all the fabric, production and the final show, but he had to cut corners at times, for instance using his own bed sheets to cut patterns until a friend told him that he should be using calico. ‘That winter I was producing the clothes myself on a manual sewing machine. The needle went through my finger so many times and I was bleeding on the clothes and I thought ‘it’s so conceptual, my DNA is on the clothes!’’

Scarlett Johansson Rouland Mouret Dress by Claire Kearns
Scarlett Johansson in a Rouland Mouret Dress by Claire Kearns.

Mouret concentrated on dresses simply because he didn’t know how construct anything more complicated. ‘I used hatpins instead of safety pins, but the first time someone wore [one of my dresses] when she came out of the car she had her arse to the public. So I had to learn how to make a zip.’

Seven years later it was those early dresses that inspired the watershed moment in Roland Mouret’s career, bringing him international fame and credibility. ‘I said to my team, I want to go back to the first dress, the dress that I never finished. And I had just met two women in my life, and I realised that I didn’t have anything for them in my collection.’ Those two women happened to be Dita von Teese and Scarlett Johansson. So, in 2005, the tight, sexy, cinch-waisted Galaxy Dress was born. Adopted as red carpet uniform by A-listers on both sides of the Atlantic, a million high street copies were spawned and the dress gained modern classic status almost instantly. The genius of the Galaxy was that it showed off an hourglass figure perfectly, but also gave the illusion of an hourglass shape on even someone as skinny as Victoria Beckham, who became a close friend of Mouret’s.

roland_mouret_dita_von_tease_soni_speight
Dita von Teese in Roland Mouret by Soni Speight.

That friendship proved to be instrumental in Mouret’s career. Amidst all the success and adulation Mouret split from his business partner, came close to bankruptcy and lost the right to sell his designs under the Roland Mouret moniker. It was at that point that Beckham introduced the designer to former Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller, who became Mouret’s new business partner. In 2010 they bought back the Roland Mouret name, a feat few designers in the same situation have managed.

GALAXY & DNA DRESS BY CHRIS RODWELL
The Galaxy dress by Chris Rodwell.

The Roland Mouret brand is still growing. A stand-alone shop at 8 Carlos Place in Mayfair opened in January this year and his first menswear collection launches for spring 2012. The latter came about when Mouret realised that at 46-years-old ‘there was nothing was on the market for me.’ Does his design philosophy differ for menswear? The importance of men and women dressing for each other is not lost on Mouret, but it’s the motivation that differs with mens clothing. ‘Men would love to undress the woman I dress and women would like to borrow an outfit from the man I dress,’ he told McDowell. Either way, Mouret loves to see his designs translated into real life. ‘With my new space in London, when [customers] come and try an outfit it’s so fantastic for me to be a part of their life through that outfit.’

London has served the designer well, and created that rare thing, a Frenchman who recognizes that the French have a tendency towards arrogance: ‘I still argue with people when I go back to France and they think they’re the best.’ I came away from the interview liking Roland Mouret, and not just because he’s a veritable sound bite machine. He’s got a blend of self-awareness and measured self-confidence that’s quite unique in the ego-driven fashion industry. If you ask me, he deserves nothing but credit for the hard work and raw talent that has taken him from the butcher’s shop to the stars.

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