Stilorama Magazine Interviews Ronit Zilkha
British designer Ronit Zilkha is no stranger to the Fashion industry. She was a regular at London Fashion Week for more than 12 years. Her very feminine inspired eveningwear and daytime tailored designs have been worn by Royals, celebrities, and fashion editors everywhere. Her list of clients included the likes of Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Julia Roberts, Cherie Blair and the Late Princess Diana. After the birth her daughter in 2001, Ronit embarked on a new creative adventure and created a range of clothes and accessories under a brand new name: “Lullilu”.
Ronit’s new range is, in her own words, about a way of life. It’s about investing in a small number of cleverly co-ordinating pieces which make a wardrobe and last for years.
We met for a morning coffee just after the school run, and we were greeted by her warm smile, and treated to a lovely and relaxed chat about her life as a Fashion Designer, Business woman and mother.
Hala Di-Maio: When did you discover your love for fashion?
Ronit Zilkha: As a little girl I always loved this side of creating. My mum and dad were both in the fashion business. My father ran a factory manufacturing men’s shirts my mother was the sales brains. The business was my family identity, and growing up, I used to love going to the factory as I found the process of cutting and putting a garment together fascinating. Seeing my mum from an early age choosing the most exquisite fabrics, cutting patterns and making glamorous dresses with embellishment and beading, made me develop my love for fashion.
HD: Your clothes are feminine yet extremely functional. They are every woman’s answer to the perfect working wardrobe. Can you tell us where you draw your inspiration from?
RZ: My main inspiration came from good friends who always liked my style, believed in me and kept instilling in me the desire to continue, and from feeling blessed that I can keep busy and earn a living from doing what I’ve always dreamt about. My motivation has always been to outfit women in flattering and comfortable wear, and make them feel happy in their clothes and with themselves.
HD: Your career as a fashion designer took off very quickly soon after you graduated from college, and you achieved great success. How did you deal with all the pressure at such a young age?
RZ: I think that for me, it was always the work and designing that kept me going. My excitement was creating the yarns, designing the fabrics and the prints. It was a big challenge that took all of my focus. I never paid much attention to the success as I always kept myself busy, and it always surprised me to see other people’s reaction at meeting me: In my mind I wasn’t a celebrity at all, I was just doing what I loved.
HD: Your designs were worn by Royalties and Celebrities including Diana, Princess of Wales, Kate Winslet, Julia Roberts and Cherie Blair, who were all pictured in magazines and newspapers. How did you stay true to the concept behind your creations without being influenced by the media comments in general?
RZ: As I already mentioned, I was so focused on my work and designing that I didn’t really think too much about it; I always remained silent about my celebrity clients for I consider it an honour to dress all women. But having Princess Diana as a customer from my first collection onwards was at the time something amazing that couldn’t be topped! Things were different then, and designers were measured by their work and creativity and not by how famous they were. As far as I was concerned, I was very happy and I felt lucky that they chose to wear my clothes, which made me realise that my concept and ideas were on the right track.
HD: After the birth of your daughter you founded your label ‘Lullilu’. Can you tell us more about it?
RZ: LuLLiLu was for me a rebirth, a new beginning. I was inspired by my daughter to create a children’s range, something smart and classic, comfortable, soft and durable enough for a child to wear, and fun enough for a child to like! I also of course wanted to continue doing what I mostly loved, which was designing for women everywhere. So, the philosophy behind Lullilu was to create stylish-easy to wear clothes, as I believe that women should be able to invest in pieces that can be worn from season to season, and that same pieces can be used as a blank canvas to style and accessorise according to mood and function. With Lullilu a woman will never need to worry about wearing the same dress again and again as each time it will look different. This is investment dressing at its very best. And that’s what I wanted, to make it easier for women everywhere to be smartly dressed yet still feel casually comfortable in what they’re wearing.
HD: When you start working on a particular design, what takes centre stage, the fabric or the shape?
RZ: It depends on the piece, but in general the shape and the fabric both have to work and merge with each other, so I would say they go hand-in-hand. Sometimes it is the fabric that inspires me to design, the incredible softness of cashmere or the coolness of cotton, and other times it will be the shape or a particular design that fires up my imagination, and then the fabric will just be functional. Either way the end result has to be something you can fall in love with and make it a “must-have piece “.
HD: Your new label is all about comfort and quality, and your designs are classic and extremely stylish, they are also orientated to daywear. Would you say that Lullilu is for the ‘new woman’ who juggles her personal life with her working life?
RZ: I would say that LuLLiLu is for ALL women, because although it is rooted in my classic designs I still like to imbue every piece with a modern feel or twist, to appeal to every woman from every walk of life, whether working or in the home, a mother or not, young or old.
HD:Have you got any plans for an eveningwear range in the near future?
RZ: Yes absolutely, it is definitely on the cards as it’s something I’ve been yearning to do, especially as I want to design for all aspects of a woman’s life. It will be the icing on the cake for me, so watch this space…
HD: What about next year’s collection, have you got anything in the pipeline? And can you tell us what to expect from LuLLiLu’s spring/summer 2012?
RZ: The thinking behind LuLLiLu is that each Collection is there to build up a wardrobe, meaning that every style will have a follow up to coordinate or enhance it. Therefore my next Collection will be all new items of course, but ones that complement beautifully all the pieces of my previous designs.
HD: In addition to the LuLLiLu clothes line, you also support the Wayuu Taya Susu bags. Can you tell us more about your involvement with Wayuu Taya Foundation, and how did it all start?
RZ: The Wayúu Tayá Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 by Patricia Velásquez, a Venezuelan actress & supermodel, to help improve the lives of Latin-American indigenous communities. The proceeds from the sale of all bags go to benefiting the Wayuú people. The bags are hand-made by Wayuú indigenous women at Shukumajaya, the foundation’s center that helps educate women.
Patricia used to model in a lot of my shows. All bag items are one-of-kind, so once you decide on the pattern and colours the ladies will knit them one by one and they will all have a unique number which means that our LuLLilu Susu bags will be unique to us. We are very proud to support such a great cause.
HD: On a personal note, has the birth of your daughter given you a new insight into women’s lives, and maybe helped you to realise the importance of designing clothes that can be incorporated into their busy lives?
RZ: Absolutely. When I had Lulli and started buying clothes for her, I realised that children clothing were mostly intentionally made to be disposable. I decided that I wanted to do something about it and therefore designed a new range of children’s clothes called LuLLiLu – Lulli’s nickname – an interdependent collection where every season dovetails with the one before and after so nothing is wasted. Lulli herself helped sketch out designs and select colours. For the women’s wear, I have tried to take the best elements of the old Ronit Zilkha range which clients and buyers liked and incorporate them in the new collection. I suppose I once took women through their working years, and now they are mothers like me, some with a flexible career and others not, but they all need clothes to suit their lifestyles as well as things for the next generation. And that’s what LuLLiLu is: Flexible, user-friendly if you wish, but still smart enough.
HD: In the last few years, we have seen a big surge into collaborations between celebrities and fashion designers and high street brands. What is your personal opinion on that?
RZ: This new generation of celebrities do have a sense of business and I think they know how to use their popularity and name to the maximum; I believe that it’s a great way for them to capitalise on their own popularity. The competition is so vast these days that they know they have to do this while they can… sadly this means that a young generation of designers who went through years of studying and working hard are being pushed aside occasionally as they won’t be able to compete with the celebrities, and even if they do get the work it will be hard-going for them, as it’s much easier nowadays to have a well-known name attached to a label than to launch a brand new name.
HD: Is there anything that you would still like to achieve in your career as fashion designer?
RZ: I would like to think, looking back at my career since 1990, that I achieved more than I ever thought I would. Now I would like to enjoy LuLLiLu and grow it organically, follow my instinct and do it my way …
HD: Finally, what advice would you give you to young fashion designers, starting out in the world today?
RZ: Starting a label will be hard because there are too many celebrities, already famous for other things, turning their hand at designing now, and people will always want to go for the name they know. But to be fair nothing can stop you from working hard at what you believe in. Always keep an open mind, move with the times and financial climate even if it means compromising your ideas just a little to start off with. Make sure you keep your business head at all times, but be true to the essence of your style and signature, and never lose sight of your dream.