Byline: Rosamund Urwin
ROLAND Mouret claims to owe his success half to pragmatism and half to the bra. When the fashion designer -- famed for creating the super frock, the Galaxy -- was starting out in London in the Nineties, it was uncompetitive to make a T-shirt here: "It was too expensive, but if you added 50cm to it, it became a dress. McQueen was doing the incredible, Hussein [Chalayan] was doing insane table clothes and I started with dresses."
Not just any frocks. Ones that flattered not catwalk waifs but curvy women. "There is one clothing item that separates a model and what we call a 'real woman': the bra," Mouret observes. "You use models for 10 minutes every six months -- they're 16, they're carefree, they don't need a bra. If you see a bit of a nipple, everybody's happy. A real woman is the opposite: they do not consider it aesthetic to show your breasts.
As a young designer you tend to think, 'I hate the bra, I don't want to design around it'. But I embraced it, saying, 'Let's do a dress about the bra'."
I have met Mouret at his Mayfair storecum-atelier, a grand Edwardian building with high ceilings and marble fireplaces. Downstairs, dresses hang in the uncluttered way they do in expensive boutiques -- just eight in one room -- while upstairs, Mouret and his staff beaver away, designing more.
Dressed in a black Phillip Lim shirt, loafers and Gap trousers that he has tapered at the ankle, Mouret looks younger than his 51 years. So much so, in fact, that I suspect there's a portrait ageing in the atelier's attic. Mouret is a handsome old-school charmer, whose chocolate eyes stare deeply into yours as he speaks, and something of a philosopher too, tempting Pseud's Corner with statements such as "Fashion is a language without words".
A flirt, it seems fitting that Mouret is famed for frocks that caress the female form. 2005's Galaxy was the embodiment of that -- a sartorial sensation worn by Rachel Weisz, Victoria Beckham and Dita Von Teese. It is a male fantasy of a dress, Jessica Rabbit-ifying the wearer.
It was also much copied on the high street -- something that irks Mouret to this day. "They call it a 'homage' but that means just ripping something off completely. All these ideas come from young designers, who don't have a penny in their pocket. The inspirational transfer is one-way to the high street's advantage."
This is the perpetual complaint of the designer but I've never heard anyone offer a solution -- until Mouret. "It should be like in music where when you use someone else's work, that person doesn't stop you, they invoice you. Could we think about a new system in London: not going to court to stop someone but paying a fee? It would help keep designers in England."
Back then, Mouret had a bigger business problem than copycats, though. Just a few months after the creation of that super frock, he fell out with Sharai Meyers, his fashion fairy godmother gone bad. The pair had launched his label together in 2000 but she owned everything, he was just her employee. So when they split, he lost the right to use his own name.
In the past, "managerial differences" were cited as the cause. Mouret is more forthright now: "At that point [Sharai] tried to control my creativity. It was a divorce. It's like when you marry someone and five years later, you don't recognise that person any more."
He adds that he lacked the energy to fight for his name: "I had to protect the only thing that I consider to be mine: my hands, the way I drape. If my name wasn't inside the clothes, though, the outside had to scream it."
Mouret managed to bounce back, winning the financial backing of the music tycoon Simon Fuller, who once managed the Spice Girls. It was Fuller's first foray into fashion. …