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Incredible Women

Podcast guest Roksanda Ilincic on maternal inspiration and jumpsuit joy

In an extract from PORTER’s chart-topping podcast series, Pieces of Me: My Life in Seven Garments, ROKSANDA ILINCIC talks to SARAH BAILEY about the people and places that have inspired her work, and the touching sartorial moments that will stay with her forever – from childhood memories of her mother’s designer wardrobe to the pink Roksanda jumpsuit that has lifted her spirits during lockdown. Here, we give you an insight into the Serbian designer’s world through fashion

All clothes, Ilincic’s own

Whether being worn by Michelle Obama to meet the Chinese president, or by Penelope Cruz for her movie premiere, there’s always something special about a Roksanda dress. The architectural line, the bold colorways borrowed from contemporary art, but also “a certain soft power, a certain shelter and protection,” as Ilinčić puts it. “I think, because I’m a woman, I always have that kind of female perspective on what a dress should do.”

Brought up in Belgrade, in Serbia, Ilinčić’s first, and indeed eternal, muse is her mother – a pharmacist with a passion for Yves Saint Laurent. “To see my mom so beautifully dressed, coming to pick me up from school, I always felt that tremendous joy. It was somehow very reassuring how she dressed in a certain way – it was always considered and involved beautiful colors put together. It’s something that gave me strength to use colors later on in my work.”

After originally studying architecture, Ilinčić came to London in the ’90s, where she was mentored by the brilliant – and formidable – professor of fashion design the late Louise Wilson at Central Saint Martins. “I think she had a certain softness towards me,” remembers Ilinčić. Indeed, it was Wilson, with her almost preternatural instinct for greatness, who foresaw the fashion designer Ilinčić could be, almost before she knew it herself. “Louise was such an incredible person,” says Ilinčić. “She was almost able to see through you. She would see something that you are not able to see – like your potential and possibilities. Everything that maybe others wouldn’t.”

In fact, Wilson’s belief in Ilinčić was the inspiration that helped her label, Roksanda, come to fruition. At a time when everyone was wearing black, and stores would buy little else, her tiny independent label based in London’s East End crafted gowns out of couture fabrics in bright, bold colors instead, changing the face of red-carpet dressing forever…

The YSL dresses in my mother’s incredible wardrobe

Growing up, Ilinčić was always in awe of her mother’s Yves Saint Laurent dresses. This one, from the YSL archives, is from the French maison’s 1976 Opéras – Ballets Russes collection

“My mom is my huge inspiration. If people ask, ‘Who is your muse?’, I always choose her. When I was six or seven years old, I would be in the room when she was getting dressed, making some funny comments about what she should wear and how she should look. And she would always take them seriously, like my opinion mattered.”

The dress I wore when I won Red Carpet Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards in 2012

Ilinčić wore a red and black beaded Roksanda dress when she won Red Carpet Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards in 2012

“I did not think I was going to win that award, not until they called my name on the stage. And I was in such shock because I hadn’t prepared a speech. It really hadn’t happened before that such a young brand got this award. I almost stumbled on to the stage and made the kind of speech that really came from the heart.”

The outfit I wore for the opening of my London Mount Street store in 2016

Ilinčić celebrated the 2016 opening of her Mayfair store in London with a striking blue and yellow architectural look

“I’m wearing a top that is made with this very sculptural, architectural drape. It’s obviously in bright blue and yellow. All the women who came that night were wearing my clothes – and to see them all in wonderful, bright colors, celebrating with me, was definitely one of those moments I will remember for the rest of my life.”

The ‘organza’ pearl dress I wore when I was nominated for Designer of the Year in 2016

Ilinčić wore an elegant organza pearl dress when she was nominated for Designer of the Year at the 2016 Fashion Awards in London

“This dress is a very, very special piece in my collection. It actually encompasses 5,000 organza pearls. It’s a couture dress that is made by wrapping the organza around a marble sphere, then drying it and stitching it to make this incredible shape that looks like an organza pearl. It’s probably one of the most exciting evening pieces I have made. I wore it in 2016, when I was nominated for the first time for British designer of the year. It felt like such an honor.”

My engagement ring

For Ilinčić, the beautiful engagement ring she was given by her husband, Philip, in 1999 symbolizes the immediate connection they felt when they first met

“When I met my husband, Philip, it was one of those moments when you feel an immediate connection, which very rarely happens with me. He was so incredibly charming, eloquent and funny – we just kind of kept laughing the whole evening.”

My daughter’s vintage christening gown

Ilinčić‘s daughter‘s Victorian christening gown holds many happy memories for the designer and has been in her husband’s family for generations

“The moment my daughter, Efimia, was christened – in one of our churches in Belgrade, in 2011 – was very special for me. Her christening gown is a beautiful vintage dress – Victorian, embroidered, with lots of lace. It actually comes from my husband’s family and it has been passed on for generations and generations.”

A pink jumpsuit from my spring/summer 2020 collection

This jumpsuit from Ilinčić’s 2020 Roksanda collection has been her sartorial savior while self-isolating in her London home

“We are living in this strange reality, locked in our homes, looking at devastating news happening every day. And this particular piece has brought so much happiness to my life in quarantine – just wearing it around the house makes me feel a little bit better. And this brings me back to what fashion really is – something that is there to give you a certain joy, to elevate your spirits, to protect you and to help you. And that’s why this piece has found its way into my seven most important pieces.”