Ralph & Russo's razzle dazzle

From the White House to the Paris haute couture

beyoncé in ralph & russo leaving the white house in 2010 - splash via donna and navaz

Australian designers are dropping like flies.

But the bad news stories about the casualties - which include Collette Dinnigan shuttering the high-end line which made her name and Kit Willow Podgornik getting fired from her label by its new majority owners - has tended to eclipse the good news stories.

From Alex Perry to Zimmermann, there are plenty of brands still working independently and doing rather well, it would seem. In spite of the challenging retail climate in Australia, one that has witnessed an invasion of international high street brands and online retailers over the past two years.

And now, seemingly from left of field, comes news of Ralph & Russo.

Frockwriter will take a punt that many Australians have either never heard of the brand or else if they have heard of it here and there, they had no idea there was an Australian connection.

The 31 and 33 year-old duo (see gallery, below) of designer Tamara Ralph and chief executive officer Michael Russo – who hail originally from Sydney and Brisbane, respectively, and are also real-life partners, it appears – launched their brand in London in January 2007. According to Fortune magazine, which recently placed them in the 39th spot on its ’40 under 40’ list, the business is growing 400percent per year.

Just to clarify, this is no run-of-the-mill ready-to-wear business.

Ralph & Russo Couture is high-end fashion with price tags to match – they reportedly reach USD500,000. The evening wear gowns have been known to include 152,000 hand-embroidered Swarovski crystals, with even a daywear item such as a tailored wool jacket potentially requiring 120 hours of detailed work.

The business is so exclusive, you'll need a customer login to even enter the website.

High-profle clients include Angelina Jolie, Eva Longoria, Kylie and Dannii Minogue and Beyoncé, who wears Ralph & Russo not only on the red carpet but in concert. Ralph & Russo made many of the performer’s costumes for her current Mrs Carter Show World Tour - and her performance for Barack Obama at a White House State Dinner in 2010. The Swarovski crystal-encrusted gown was later selected by London's V & A Museum for its 2012 exhibition Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950.

In January, the duo will take one step closer to being able to call themselves haute couturiers.

Ralph & Russo is the first brand designed by an Australian to have been invited to take part in the Paris haute couture collections. The next couture season, Spring/Summer 2014, will take place in Paris from January 20-23 2014.

Announced in early November by the industry’s governing body, the Chambre Syndicale de la haute couture Parisienne, Ralph & Russo is one of three new “membres invités” that will be joining the January schedule. The other two are Belgian Serkan Cura and, interestingly, the revived Schiaparelli brand, under the creative direction of Marco Zanini, ex Rochas.

Given the brand's London address - Sloane Street, Knightsbridge - no surprise that the Brits are also laying claim to the coup, reporting Ralph & Russo as "the first British brand in almost century to gain entry to fashion’s most exclusive club".

 

For the uninitiated, haute couture is very different to ready-to-wear.

For a long time, Collette Dinnigan traded off being the first Australian designer to be invited to show on the Chambre Syndicale's biannual ready-to-wear schedule. Dinnigan was later joined on the schedule by Paris-based Australian Martin Grant.

But Ralph & Russo's inclusion on the Paris haute couture schedule, even as invited guests, is next level.

The term haute couture is legally protected by the French Ministry of Industry and the houses that are granted official haute couture status are reviewed annually. There are various criteria for consideration.

As distinct from factory-made ready-to-wear, which is sold off-the-rack in a series of sizes, haute couture is made almost exclusively by hand and fitted individually to the client by a full-time staff of no less than 15. Daywear prices start at AUD 10,000 and the eveningwear has been known to reach into the mid six figures. Erica Packer's John Galliano for Christian Dior haute couture wedding dress in 2007, with an estimated price tag of AUD250,000, is a good example.

From time to time, the Chambre Syndicale invites new guests onto the schedule, who may eventually be granted official haute couture status, as has just occurred with Alexis Mabille and Maison Martin Margiela. This brings the tally of haute couture maisons up to 14. This list obviously includes iconic Parisian brand names such as Chanel, Christian Dior and Givenchy.

How have Ralph & Russo remained so under the radar?

Prior to launching the Ralph & Russo brand in early 2007, Ralph operated an appointment-only cocktail, evening- and bridalwear business in Sydney. The designer claims to be a fifth generation ragtrader, who began making her own clothes at the age of 10 and selling them at 15. According to her LinkedIn profile, she attended Sydney’s Whitehouse Institute.

Russo is a former investment banker with PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Deutsche Bank and the former chief technical officer and director of digital business development of the London-based streaming music video service VidZone.

The duo met by chance on Ralph’s first day in London in 2006.

There are no Ralph & Russo stores, but both Harrods and Bergdorf Goodman have now opened concepts. Here is a Harrods-produced video interview with the duo:

IMAGE CREDITS
COVER: BEYONCE IN CONCERT, MRS CARTER WORLD TOUR - VIA EXTRATV.COM
TOP: BEYONCE AFTER HER WHITE HOUSE STATE DINNER PERFORMANCE 2010 - SPLASH VIA DONNA AND NAVAZ
GALLERY:
1/ TAMARA RALPH & MICHAEL RUSSO - MICHAEL CAULFIELD/GETTY VIA ZIMBIO 
2/ ANGELINA JOLIE - VIA CREATIVEBOYSCLUB.COM
3/ EVA LONGORIA - VIA SPANISH.FANSHARE.COM
4/ VIA THPFASHIONBLOG.COM