Emilia Wickstead

Text by Katia Ganfield

New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead’s innovative take on traditional garments is to gracefully manipulate them with a modern, British twist. “I’ve been [in London] for 15 years so I’ve been inspired by having English friends, by entertaining in the English countryside… it’s all triggered a lot of ideas. And obviously, I’m all about dressing up.”

Migrating to Milan with her mother at age 14 left a significant impression on Wickstead, and after another move to London at 19 to complete a BA in Fashion Design and Marketing at the prestigious Central Saint Martins, she was determined to leave her mark on the fashion industry. After graduating with honors, she moved around the world to work in the design studios of Giorgio Armani, Narciso Rodriguez and Proenza Schouler, as well as a stint in editorial at Vogue. “I learned how to work with established brands, which in turn gave me an understanding of how fashion companies are run in the ‘real’ world—the business and management side of a fashion label as well as production and design. I also grew up with my mother having her own made-to-measure business which is where I gained the most insight in these areas.”

Her latest collection for Autumn/Winter 2012, which recently showed at London Fashion Week, was fraught with eighteenth century references, featuring layered skirts and square necklines. The collection parallels that of last season’s for its contrast to an historical approach through youthful demure. Her modern aesthetic is portrayed through her signature pleats and pencil skirts stitched beneath eccentric, flowing garments. “I wanted it to be modern and old, inspired by all the richness of countryside reception rooms but made into something new and fresh and different to anything else on the market currently.”

Wickstead’s efforts in maintaining traditional elements were evident in her shows, where she introduced the collection herself, followed by models carrying traditional prints of horses cantering around a castle. The soft gallop of the horses perhaps mirrors the movement of her pleated chiffons as they shift and fall.  An innocent sensuality is evoked through the cashmere princess coats, shades of blush pink referencing thoughts of childhood. In contrast, other coats are fitted with bright scarlet belts and draped over high-waisted, open-backed evening gowns for a dramatic effect.

Catering to every kind of woman, whether you’re the Duchess of Cambridge, whose visits to the atelier were widely-reported, or a SoHo socialite, this is fashion that never fails to impress.