London-based fashion designer Emilia Wickstead talks to us about motherhood, the royal wardrobe and styling the Duchess of Cambridge
Emilia Wickstead is eating a bread roll. Not a gluten-free, organic, nut-and-seeded excuse for a carbohydrate, but a white, fluffy bread roll. With butter. This may not sound like something worth remarking on, but it pretty much sums up the young fashion designer in one bite: she seems so normal.
Wickstead found huge success with her whimsical yet regal dresses – her S/S14 textured pink Christian midi-skirt won hearts and wallets, from Marylebone to Notting Hill, as devotees flocked to matchesfashion.com – and then later down the line with her everyday separates. The 32-year-old seems so unaffected that I soon forget (as she orders steak and chips for lunch at the Rosewood hotel) that her face is a constant fixture among the who’s who of the British fashion circuit.
Originally from New Zealand, British-based Wickstead has always been something of a globetrotter. She moved to Milan aged 14, where she lived for four and a half years, and then to London for university – she received a BA in fashion design and marketing at Central Saint Martins, with honours in 2007. She’s half Italian (her mother’s side), and her husband is from Brazil, so a taste for travel, as well as fashion, is in her blood.
The Duchess of Cambridge has recently voiced her praise for the label, with The Telegraph proclaiming Wickstead “a favourite designer”
“My mother was a fashion designer,” she recalls fondly, with a smile and a softness reserved for speaking about her family. “So I think it was instilled in me at a very young age. When I moved to Milan, after my mum married an Italian, the world of fashion came to life and I was seeing it for the first time. I was always intrigued and wowed by the entire industry. At the time, Milan was very much having its moment with Fashion Week. And that’s when I thought that this was something I could do.”
Although, ironically, her first fashion memory could have seen it go either way: “I remember my mother working very late nights for the fashion house she created and I asked her to never leave me her business!”
Before setting up her own label, Wickstead honed her skills at Giorgio Armani, Proenza Schouler, Narciso Rodriguez and Vogue in New York and Milan, before returning to London and opening her first store in Belgravia in 2008 (her flagship is now on Sloane Street). Starting out as a made-to-measure atelier, she graduated to seasonal ready-to-wear and has been an unmissable name at London Fashion Week for the past four years, while her international presence is continuing to grow. A busy mother of two, she’s not afraid to admit she finds it hard to balance it all: “Because it is! It’s hard to go weeks on end without seeing your children if you’re on a deadline.”
A typical working day consists of her getting up with her three-year-old daughter Amalia and one-year-old son Gilberto. Wickstead spends time with them in the morning before the nanny arrives and then drops her daughter off at nursery on the way to work. She makes sure she is always home before bedtime, even if there is an event that evening, which, of course, there are many.
“By the time it gets to the weekend, it’s family time and I’m exhausted,” she says. “I do find it difficult to balance work and family life, and I always admit to that, but then I think how privileged I am to have a great job and two healthy children. So as much as it’s tiring, I do try to forget that and enjoy the moment and be grateful for what we have.”
Wickstead’s coy when I press for any details; be it her feelings towards her accomplishments or even the area of London where she lives, or enjoys visiting. She still has her first editorial coverage (a spread in Vogue after she called the editorial desk and insisted they look at her website while she hung on the line) sitting on her bookshelf, but doesn’t want to comment on any other reviews that followed, good or bad.
She’s thoughtful and diplomatic, even when asked the simplest of questions (Me: “Biggest fashion faux pas? EW: “I better be careful what I say…”). However, it feels more like she’s uncomfortable under scrutiny and protective of her privacy, rather than pushing a PR agenda.
The Duchess of Cambridge has recently voiced her praise for the label, with The Telegraph proclaiming Wickstead “a favourite designer”. But again her response is considered: “Every time someone endorses the brand and wears it beautifully is a great moment for me. I’m proud every time I see somebody in one of my pieces. That could be someone on the red carpet who is in the public eye, or just someone who is walking down the street, or into a restaurant. Every time that happens, it feels like a huge achievement.” Indeed, she finds inspiration from the women she passes on the street every day. “I’ll often be running up behind someone, secretly taking a photo of the detail on a coat or something,” she laughs.
As far as role models are concerned, she doesn’t feel it’s her duty, but says it would be “lovely” if people were to look up to her that way. As for her own idols, she turns again to family.
“I looked up to my mother, who was a working parent and definitely a role model. I also looked up to my grandmother, who was a very big part of my life. She had eight children and was a stay-at-home mum. There is something to be said about having true respect for your elders: for their wisdom and ability to nurture. Both my mother and my grandmother are my role models for very different reasons.”
"Every woman needs a great pair of trousers, a high-waisted pair of jeans, and a great dress in her wardrobe"
Dressed simply in a black polo neck, chevron-patterned cigarette pants and pointy flats, with little more than gold hoops and a slick of red lipstick by way of adornment, Wickstead only spends a maximum of five minutes getting ready in the morning, a dream that she’s achieved by keeping a tidy and tightly edited wardrobe that she updates at the beginning of every season.
“I hate to overthink fashion,” she says. “I do that for a living, especially when I’m designing a collection. When it comes to my own wardrobe, I’ll embody what I’ve designed for the season. Testing all of your products and wearing them as your clients would is very important; learning from the designs and fabrics you’ve used, whether they were right, or whether they weren’t.”
As well as her own label, she also loves Current Elliott jeans (“I’m really into the high-waisted ones. They’re so comfy”), James Perse and Sunspel T-shirts. “I love knitwear,” she enthuses, “which we have for Emilia Wickstead now, and you’ll very often see me with a big overcoat. My go-to shoes are my pointed velvet Rochas flats and I also wear a lot of trainers with jeans. Every woman needs a great pair of trousers, a high-waisted pair of jeans, and a great dress in her wardrobe … and a really good coat. These will cover any outfit.”
As talk turns to getting away from it all, Wickstead grows wistful. She will soon be retreating to one of her favourite places in the world: her mother’s country house in Italy. She shares some of her special places (the Amalfi Coast for its food and wine, and Tuscany – her grandmother was from Florence, and Wickstead and her husband married in Montepulciano). But they’ll be back for New Year’s Eve to host their annual dinner party.
“I love being with friends, and having people over for dinner. I love cooking and I’ve started to get back into that now.” And just like that, while sorry to miss pudding, the school-run beckons. I bet she has an Um Bongo in her handbag.