Australian design duo Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo discuss gowns, X Factor and Swarovski crystals with Laura Jackson.
When was Ralph & Russo born?
Tamara Ralph: About two years ago. I have always been interested in design, both my mother and grandmother were in fashion. My mother taught me how to sew when I was 11, while my grandmother taught me to dress a mannequin. While most kids had posters of pop stars on their walls, I had Karl Lagerfeld and Claudia Schiffer. I moved to London four years ago, which is when I met Michael.
Michael Russo: I was working in investment banking and running my own music business at the time but Tamara’s designs were so amazing that I thought there was definitely something worth looking into there.
What is the hardest part about starting a business in a country you have just moved to?
TR: I had no support network, and, while I had private clients I designed for in Australia, I didn’t have a client base in the UK.
MR: We just had to start from scratch. We dedicated the whole first year to researching who we needed to know to make it happen. I had a few good celebrity contacts from my music business, and because we were aiming at high-end clients they were a good start.
TR: Once we had designed a few couture pieces for people our reputation spread by word of mouth and it went from there.
What helps Ralph & Russo stand out from other high-end designers?
TR: We offer our clients the opportunity to collaborate with us. They can look at my samples and then we discuss the design and choose the fabrics together. People love to collaborate, especially celebrities who are already very fashion aware. They really enjoy having that design input.
Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
TR: It can be anything from a country I visit to a piece of vintage silk I find in a fabric store. A lot of my style comes from my mother – she was always travelling and we had so many exotic things in our house. This is reflected in my designs. I don’t necessarily follow trends. Of course, I pay attention to what is going on, but I think people should have their own identities.
Do you have a favourite celebrity who you have worked with?
TR: I could never pick a favourite, but I am really enjoying working with Dannii Minogue on her X Factor outfits at the moment. She is so into fashion, she loves collaborating on looks and designs. I also really enjoyed doing the designs for Simone Ballack’s (wife of Chelsea and Germany footballer Michael Ballack) wedding too.
What is next for Ralph & Russo?
TR: We are looking to launch a full ready-to-wear collection next year.
MR: It is expensive to do, but I think by working with private clients first, we now have a solid financial base to launch a ready-to-wear collection.
How are you finding business in the current economic climate?
MR: Because we deal in high-end product, we haven’t really been affected. In fact, business is better than ever at the moment.
Do you have a favourite dress from the ones you have designed?
TR: That is such a hard question. I love anything with Swarovski – I adore crystals. But every time I design a new dress, the girls in the office say “that’s our favourite.”
Who is your fashion icon and why?
I love glamorous women – whether that’s old-school Hollywood glamour like Sophia Loren, or more modern-day icons such as Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley.
It is no surprise that Ralph & Russo’s fashion icons are such champions of full-on Hollywood glamour. Just one look at the pair’s jewel-encrusted goddess gowns is enough to see that their inspiration comes from red carpet starlets such as 24-year-old actress Scarlett Johansson.
Born in New York, Johansson first attracted the critics in the acclaimed film The Horse Whisperer in 1998. Her subsequent roles in Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring earned her two Golden Globe nominations in 2003, and she continues to impress and win style plaudits. By turning to the style of old Hollywood and favouring feminine and figure-hugging outfits on the red carpet she echoes the iconic Marilyn Monroe. Her fashion choices betray a grown-up glamour and she is often seen wearing designers such as Marc Jacobs, Roland Mouret and Chanel.
Michael Russo and Tamara Ralph own designer womenswear label Ralph & Russo