Ralph & Russo – Dressing Beyoncé Interview by Fiona Sanderson and words by Hannah Norman
When she stepped out on stage for the opening number of her Mrs. Carter world tour, few would have disagreed that pop star Beyoncé looked anything less than her usual polished self. All eyes were on that now iconic white outfit, which perfectly showed off her enviable physique. But the real secret behind the style lies in the dress design, dreamed up by couture house Ralph & Russo. We caught up with its CEO, Michael Russo, to talk gowns, glamour, and what it’s like to dress one of the most famous derrières on the globe.
“She’s amazing to work with – a real treat,” Russo smiles when we ask about Beyoncé. “She’s amazing fun. She’s one of those genuinely lovely people. She’s a very hard worker, very focused on what she does.” So, just how involved is she? “Usually, we’ll get a general brief from her about the theme of the show or what she’s looking for, and that’ll be it,” Russo reveals. “She’ll let us come up with the ideas and the options, and then we’ll sit together and go through them and she gives us her input.”
This isn’t the first time Beyoncé has called on the creative talents of Ralph & Russo, however. “We’ve just had such a great relationship and we’ve worked with her on so many different things, from the red carpet to stage performances to a private performance for President Obama – it’s all been so varied,” Russo tells us. “To have her in our outfit in front of the President, that was definitely a real highlight. There have been so many different highlights over the last few years, but that was definitely a moment where we were very proud.”
For her current tour, Ralph & Russo have created the majority of Beyoncé’s main stage outfits. “Stage is something we only do for Beyoncé,” Russo admits. “It’s more of a creative outlet – it’s done for the purposes of entertainment and it’s a little bit more fun and fashion-forward. It’s very different to doing haute couture gowns, not only because they look different but because there’s so much to take into consideration – she has to get changed so quickly between performances, but you’ve still got to make it look amazing on stage with the crystal work.” Not only that, but there is the added pressure of dealing with one of the globe’s biggest stars, but as Russo reveals, “she knows what she wants, and working with her is a real collaborative process.”
Russo should know about collaborative processes. He and Creative Director Tamara (the Ralph half of the duo), founded their couture house in 2007, after they quite literally bumped into each other in the street. “Tamara had been in the country for literally only three or four hours and had just dropped her bag off at the place she was staying and went out to discover London for the first time,” Russo says of their chance meeting. “I was just walking the other way, and we literally bumped into each other. I apologized and realised she had a very heavy Australian accent at the time – it’s now been diluted somewhat! We started talking and realised we had the whole Australian thing in common and it went from there.” It took another two years before the pair set up Ralph & Russo – and the rest, as they say, is history as Ralph & Russo is now considered a world-class haute couturist. “From the feedback we get from everyone, from clients to press to retailers, we are perceived now as a major couture house, which is so impressive for us,” Russo says. “We feel so proud, as we’re only five years old, and we’re stood in the realms of other houses who have hundreds of years of heritage. In such a short time frame, we’ve managed to elevate ourselves so much.” But, he continues somewhat pragmatically, “we’ve always got to stay ahead and be different.”
It’s this commitment to brand and business that has seen Ralph & Russo becoming something of a celebrity favourite. “It happened that two of our first clients were the Minogue sisters – Kylie and Dannii – and we had the Australian connection, so that helped! The really put us on the map put the name out there. To be honest, the whole brand today is really just grown from word of mouth,” Russo reveals.
The Aussie stars aren’t the only famous clients on the Ralph & Russo books, having even attracted the attention of Hollywood royalty, in the form of Angelina Jolie. “We do a lot for Angelina Jolie,” Russo smiles. “She’s great to work with. We’re making a piece for her at the moment actually, which I’m sure you’ll be seeing on the red carpet very shortly. Angelina Jolie is very elegant and very stylish and the outfits we tend to do for her have more simple cuts and shapes, but they’re always quite unique in their style. So there isn’t a lot of fuss, but there’s always something that makes it a little bit more unique and different and keeps her that one step ahead in fashion.”
So, what about Kate Middleton? “Watch this space!” Russo laughs. “Definitely watch this space. There’s a lot happening in that area. You may very well see something! Kate is amazing. She’s so great for this country – really good. She’s a great role model. Her style is really not over-the-top and she knows what works for her.”
It’s not hard to see why Ms. Middleton and the toast of Tinseltown have come knocking at Ralph & Russo’s door. “Quality’s become more important to people,” Russo reasons. “If you come for a really beautiful, tailored jacket from us, it’s something that you will buy for a lifetime – it’s not just going to last you a season, because of the quality of it. Each of our jackets has something like four and a half thousand hand stitches. It can take four or five weeks to create – the quality is incredible. It will last for fifty years and it’s still very timeless. All the stitching is done here in London. Our craftsmen come from all around the globe but everything’s hand-made here for quality control. I think we’re one of the few brands that do everything here – every bead, every crystal.” But with two Aussies at the helm, is Ralph & Russo an Australian company? “No, we’re definitely not an Australian company!” Russo laughs. “We’re definitely global. But in terms of our craftsmanship, it’s all British-made. We make everything in Britain and we pride ourselves on that – it’s very important, as it allows us to control the quality.”
So, what’s next for Ralph & Russo? “World domination!” Russo laughs. Joking aside, the next step for the brand is in fact a diversification into making a range of limited edition handbags. For a company whose work centres on creating bespoke, one-of-a-kind dresses, creating a matching, bespoke handbag seems like a logical step. “It’s our first product that isn’t associated with couture gowns,” Russo confirms, “but they are very high-end and the most incredible bags. You’ll have to come and see them when they’re ready!” That, Mr. Russo, is a promise we’re holding you to!