Columns on fashion, culture and ideas

Women's Fashion / An Intellectual Fashion

Roksanda Ilincic

Every two weeks, contributors from all fields of contemporary creativity and thought answer questions about the status of fashion in culture, and choose the pictures to illustrate their words

Roksanda Ilincic
Roksanda Ilincic Photography by Harry Carr

Roksanda Ilincic’s sense of elegance has made her into one of the most successful voices in the contemporary London fashion scene. A graduate of Central Saint Martins, she has quickly achieved considerable success...

Roksanda Ilincic’s sense of elegance has made her into one of the most successful voices in the contemporary London fashion scene. A graduate of Central Saint Martins, where she studied under Louise Wilson, she has quickly achieved considerable success, dressing such diverse icons as Björk, Lady Gaga, the Duchess of Cambridge and Michelle Obama. Her unique creative skill has been acknowledged by numerous awards, such as the British Fashion Council New Generation Award, the British Fashion Council Fashion Forward Award and, as recently as December 2012, the Red Carpet British Fashion Award.

How would you connect fashion to elegance?
It’s a very interesting question, because I think that people perceive elegance very differently in our time. To me, elegance is very important. It’s something that I have in mind when I start designing, and it’s something that I have in mind when I finish designing. So obviously, it’s almost like a guideline, and something that sets my personal taste, because I’m personally drawn to it. However, I do feel that it’s important to establish a new type of elegance, a modern elegance: not something that is repeating what already happened in the past, but something that is relevant to our time, that feels fresh and somehow different from the elegance that we know from before. In fashion, you need to create a tension, a dialogue, with what you are doing. Otherwise you just end up creating boring things, and not having any response.

What is the role of history and art history in your conception of fashion?
It is really important to know what was happening in the past, what people discovered, what you could look at, in order to inspire yourself. At the same time, it is very important to look at the future, at something that doesn’t exist, that hasn’t been created yet, that is up to us to create. The important thing is to bring together those two ways of looking, and to create something that is relevant to our lifestyle.

"In fashion, you need to create a tension, a dialogue, with what you are doing. Otherwise you just end up creating boring things, and not having any response"

Would you describe fashion as a language and a discourse, as Barthes did?
Fashion is definitely a way of communicating. Apart from covering, hiding, or exposing ourselves, we are also saying lots of things in the way we are dressed, especially nowadays. We tend to belong, or not belong, to certain groups simply by the way we are dressed. You can see if someone is from Europe, or belongs to the British fashion scene, to the music world, or to art. Language that is written and told through clothes is very important. So definitely, absolutely, yes, it is a language.

The word "intellectual" was coined in a time of great political distress. Does fashion have a political role? And in what way?
Fashion is very important politically. It reflects the time, the economic and cultural changes happening in society. It’s a mirror to see what is happening in other areas of life. At the end of the day they are all expressed through clothes as well.

How would you relate the concept of "fashion" to the one of "style"?
Fashion is something that you can feel, that you can touch, that you can wear, whereas style is something that is inside of an individual. I find it very emotional, very intuitive, and very unexpected, while fashion is something you can learn and even borrow.

What does fashion have to do with intellectuality ?
I’m not a big fan of overly intellectual fashion, because I think there should be a certain balance in the way fashion is perceived. There should be a great element of fun, and joy, and I can even use the word 'frivolity', that everybody hates. Some sort of easy, everyday form of carelessness in the way fashion is perceived.

"I find style very emotional, very intuitive, and very unexpected, while fashion is something you can learn and even borrow"

You’re a London-based fashion designer, famously obsessed with the Pre-Raphaelites. Does London and English culture influence your designs?
It does, to a certain extent. I was always drawn to London, even when I was a student living in Serbia. I liked this slightly punk-y, against the system, style that designers created there: I looked up very much at figures such as Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen. At the same time, I am very much part of my own heritage, and very conscious of where I come from, which is almost the opposite to London. In that sense, I’m very drawn to my own roots, and to a certain idea of classicism. The Pre-Raphaelites combined this sense of classicism and a desire to create something new. Therefore I have always been fascinated with them. As you see, I am always coming back to this idea of newness. I’m trying to develop it through my work. Clothes are there to tell stories visually. It’s visual, but the story is always there.

Your designs have a semi-couture sense attached to them. Which role does couture play in your conception of fashion?
It has always had a great influence on my work, and it has always been there. I am always coming back to it, as if I could not have enough of it. There are certain elements of it, particularly Parisian couture in the 1950s, that convey a notion of a dream, of a fantasy, something so perfect that it is almost otherworldly. The way the clothes were constructed, and the way the women looked, with hats, and gloves, and shoes, represent a dream of perfection. That dream keeps fashion alive, it makes it more attractive, and brings emotions that we can’t get enough of.

In two weeks Donatien will be interviewing the shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood.

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