There’s nothing quite like a piece from Alessandra Rich. Barely-there maxi styles that graze the floor and appear as delicately woven as fine cobwebs strung between tree branches have become synonymous with the label that counts trendsetters Alessandra Ambrosio and Olivia Palermo as clients. Since 2010, Italian-born Rich has been bringing her amped-up vision of modern femininity to fashion’s table, seducing women with light-as-air fabrics and unapologetic cuts that celebrate the form beneath.
The appeal of Rich herself, however, is not as powerful or as immediately visible as the clothes she makes. It lies in her humility (I don’t believe I’ve ever been thanked as much for an interview) and her unwavering belief that to be a woman is to be beautiful, whatever that means to each individual. In a world that shows no sign of untangling the mess created by folks crowing emancipation every time they snap a topless selfie, Rich is crystal-clear on why she designs the types of gowns which have made her name. Because, put simply, she likes it.
Time spent speaking with the Italian-born seamstress is a lesson in sharing gracious and warm conversation; Rich is as interested in me as I am in her, and we slip between family anecdotes and discussing professional high points without fuss. She’s disarmingly honest – she counters general industry consensus to say that as far as she’s concerned the push for see-now, buy-now is already gone – and is also wildly appreciative of her customers.
“When a client stops by the showroom, and they say, ‘I wore one of your pieces the other day and I never, ever received so many compliments in my life,’ then all your travelling, the long hours, the no days off, is all paid back, 200 percent.”
Your journey into clothes design came a little later than normal, why was that?
Yes, this came quite late in life, when I was 40. But looking back, maybe it was something that I should have done much earlier. I think because I come from a very provincial, small town in the north of Italy, it was not considered a job to be in fashion. All of this to say I did design my wedding dress when I was 27, but it was never taken seriously from my side. And then, all of a sudden, I thought that maybe it was something I wanted to do. It’s never too late.
How did that realisation come about?
I wanted to do something for myself. It took probably a year to understand what to do, how to do it. Little by little you learn. And at the beginning it was very, very difficult, very different then to how the business is operating now. It was a wonderful choice that I made, definitely.
Did you feel like it took courage when you made the change of career?
I just went with it. It was, I would say, quite a sudden choice. I remember when I told my husband, Steven, who at the time was an art dealer – he had an art gallery and was dealing with Old Master paintings, and now he’s the CEO of the company. That was a big change. We’re busy, but we enjoy it.
Could you ever go back to not designing clothes?
No, not now. I don’t think I can do anything else.
So, do you ever regret not starting earlier?
Never regret, it’s my life philosophy. As Andy Warhol said, “Ideas are in the air,” so I just took from the “air”, at the right moment.
When it comes to getting inspired for a new collection, do ideas arrive quickly, or is it a slower personal process?
Ideas come suddenly, when you don’t expect them to. But it takes a while to create a collection, so it’s not that from some random ideas you’re ready to show in Paris. You have ideas and they breed ideas. It’s a mix of things that you remember and that you saw in the past and all of a sudden comes to your memory. Out of the first five pieces I design, I see another five. Of course, you start with something that is very, very general, and – it’s strange to say – it’s general, but it’s very precise. And then from there you see what it will bring to your fantasy.
You’re known for dresses. Do you ever feel pigeonholed?
I don’t mind that, in the sense that I believe in the dress as a complete outfit. You feel feminine, you don’t have to think too much. Lace, yes, I use quite a lot. I love lace, it’s very sexy; it’s seduction. I still use it, maybe a little bit less now because many other items in the collection are added. We launched knitwear, prints, shoes, trousers, so the collection is definitely much more complete. But I would say that the core of the brand is a dress, for sure.
If a woman sees another woman in my dress, she would recognise it as an Alessandra Rich.
Your clothes are described as feminine at a time when a lot of people are looking at unisex or genderless dressing. How do you feel about that?
For me, it’s the beautiful part of being a woman. I see in my women that they like to be women. You don’t need to be like that every day but when you want to be, you have the opportunity. You know that you have a dress that when you walk in the other women will look at you and say, “Oh wow!” It’s nicer to seduce a woman than to seduce a man, in my opinion.
Is it easier to seduce a man than it is to seduce a woman?
Yes. To seduce a woman, you have to have that respect.
You live in London, you fly back and forth in Milan, and you show in Paris. What made you decide on this way of working?
I don’t know. I’m Italian but I moved to London 24 years ago, and I decided to show in Paris just to make my life more complicated! This is the honest truth. I think Paris is very important in fashion, but through Paris there is the whole world. It’s so, so frantic.
Domenico Dolce & Stefano Gabbana have said that their collection will end with them. Do you feel similarly about the Alessandra Rich brand?
This is a very, very difficult question. I’ve never thought about it, but I suppose it would be an honour if someone would carry it on. I don’t think that I’m important enough to be carried on, but I’ll leave it with someone else to make the decision.
What’s coming up next for the label?
At the moment, I’m just doing two collections a year. Watch this space!
Is your outlook on fashion different to that of your peers, as you’ve experienced “real” life before you started designing Alessandra Rich?
I’m still living a “real” life; I’m a dreamer just during the night.