IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Roxy's Moxie: Roksanda Ilincic turns heads

Next thing you know, the queen will be calling Roksanda Ilincic to ask if she can whip up something special for a big event.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Next thing you know, the queen will be calling Roksanda Ilincic to ask if she can whip up something special for a big event.

That's how it must seem to Ilincic, the elegant Serbian-born designer whose colorful dresses just happen to have been worn this year by American first lady Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton, the stylish Duchess of Cambridge.

The highly visible endorsements have moved Ilincic from the "rising star" to "star" category in the British fashion firmament as she readies her much-anticipated Tuesday show at London Fashion Week. She's no longer up and coming, she's here.

The success of her expanding line is an impressive achievement for Ilincic, who grew up in the former Yugoslavia and came to London to study at the esteemed Central St. Martins art college, where she helped offset her student expenses by modeling on the side.

There is no question that the long-legged Ilincic has a model's looks, but for her the catwalk was just a means to an end, a way to train at the school that has produced some of Britain's leading fashion stars, including the late Alexander McQueen and other luminaries.

"I liked it, but I never thought that would be something that would take over my life," Ilincic said at her busy canal-side studio in northeast London. Assistants were helping her prepare 30 outfits for the catwalk — and matching the eyepopping shoes that are vital to the look.

Last minute decisions must still be made: Ilincic and senior members of her team have to choose the makeup and hair styling approach, and make final alterations to the loosely structured garments, which started out as simple sketches on Ilincic's pad.

Ilincic, who trained as an architect before she embraced dress design, no longer has to do the sewing herself. But her concerns now extend far beyond the catwalk. As the leader of an expanding company, she judges her collection's success not on the air kisses that come her way after the show — or even the press reviews — but on the sales results that trickle in a few months later.

"I always wait to see my sales figures and the results from the buyers," she said. "That's when I feel happy."

She said the glitz surrounding fashion shows can be misleading.

"People look at what we do and it looks glamorous and fun, but they don't realize there is a tremendous amount of pressure, particularly in and around the show," she said. "It's not just about creativity, there are many other elements that build up to the show."

It has been rare for a Serbian-born designer to scale fashion's heights. Ilincic grew up in Belgrade, where she was exposed to Western fashion at an early age. Her country would later be engulfed by war, but Ilincic — now in her mid-thirties — remembers a happy childhood before those troubles, and she is still drawn to her homeland.

"My memories are really amazing," she said. "I think my country is beautiful. We are quite family-oriented. It's not just Sundays, it's every day. There is always a meal in the day where all the members have to be present around the table. We have incredible sun and warmth in the summer months. We have such colors; I think that's why I love colors in my clothes so much, I bring it from home. It seems brighter."

Ilincic has been showing at London Fashion Week for the last four years, and she has had many prominent clients, including actresses Gwenyth Paltrow and Emily Blunt, but nothing prepared her for the velocity trendsetters Obama and Middleton would provide when they showcased her designs.

"It's no surprise she is attracting big name clients," said Avril Graham, Harper's Bazaar executive fashion and beauty editor. "Roksanda is one of my own personal favorites on the London design scene. Her understanding of real women and silhouettes designed to flatter is perhaps the key to her success. Her collections are packed with must-have, tasteful numbers."

She said Ilincic's creative use of color offers "a hip and modern vibe" that have made her designs particularly popular in the United States.

Obama chose Ilincic twice this year, first in January when she wore a wool coat and satin dress to receive the Chinese president and again in May when she and her husband made a state visit to Britain.

Ilincic said she has always designed with strong, independent women in mind — qualities she said are embodied by Michelle Obama.

"Michelle made the whole dream come true," Ilincic said. "It was an extraordinary feeling."

Middleton chose a light gray dress by Ilincic for her arrival at Los Angeles airport in July on her first ever trip to the United States. She had earlier showcased other British designers on her extended trip through Canada.

"She has such elegance about herself," Ilincic said. "To be supported by her was a big honor."

She might seem like a woman who has it all: a successful global business, a happy marriage, a young child — and high cheekbones to boot. But Ilincic still suffers from nerves, particularly when it's time to shed her anonymity and come out in front of the crowd at the conclusion of a catwalk show.

"I hate coming out at end of a show and taking a bow," she said. "I do bow. I think the bow means thank you to all the people who put an effort into it. I feel like doing that. But I don't like it because you're up there and you're being judged a lot and that kind of judging I don't like."

At least she has one advantage: Ilincic can choose any of her own designs for her brief moment in the spotlight.