“I’m self-taught. The journey of my work is when I drape. I’m still discovering, still teaching myself.”
Roland Mouret’s journey has been an unlikely route to being among the best-loved names in British fashion – not least because he is French.
It begins with a country boy escaping to the city, leaving a French mountain village near Lourdes, where he was expected to become a butcher like his father. Yet today, Mouret lives and works in the heart of the English countryside, in Suffolk. “I take fabric with me in my suitcase on a Thursday. I drape Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And on Monday, I come back to London,” he says.
"I’ve always been this double person. My clothes are for a city life yet in the wools and textures of the countryside. Fashion is supposedly all about change, yet I prefer to evolve because that’s what happens to our bodies and in nature and actually, I love that. I learned as a country boy growing up with the seasons that what is beautiful one summer will be just as beautiful the next."
When Mouret left the rural South West for Paris, he made an entrance – literally – through the front door of the nightclub of that era; Le Palace. “I told myself if I can get inside, when there are so many people waiting, hoping, in line outside, I can succeed. I made myself a blue suit, kind of “Zazou”. I stood under a streetlamp. Every time the door opened, I was lighting a cigarette. I was a poser and I got invited in. I know what it is to be an outsider. The women I dress often feel like outsiders, even those who are well-known. I identify strongly with that. Many of my clients have shaped their own lives yet they tend to have a strong sense of their roots, an honest ambition to move ahead yet with a love of where they come from.”
After ten years living for Paris by night, while working by day as a model, a stylist and an art director, Mouret moved to London. “Paris had become my trap,” he says simply. A change of country ignited a new flame; a wish to create a fashion collection. Mouret had no formal training, but he knew he had the precision to cut, the skill to drape and the courage to combine the two. “I came from a life where I thought the door was closed. Yet it opened the doors to my creativity and I’ve always grabbed my chances,” he says.
You could say Mouret came late to the business that has defined him ever since.
"One day, I realised ‘I’m 36 and if I don’t try by 40, I’m going to be bitter"
In 1997, Mouret took some fabric and, inspired by his own “greats” Azzedine Alaia and Yohji Yamamoto, yet working tirelessly to create a signature that was his own, he started. He only cared about the opinion of his toughest critic; himself.
A new business partnership helped expand the brand. But when that floundered, Mouret discovered he had also lost the rights to his name. “I was not broken. I called my father to tell him, ‘I lost your name. I promise you I will buy it back.’ Then I discovered my signature was on the outside.”
“The Galaxy; it’s a bit like having your first Number 1 chart hit. You are defined by it.” The Galaxy dress, introduced in 2005 and still available today, proved both a timeless signature and a signpost; the latter to entrepreneur Simon Fuller, who backed the label’s relaunch as RM in 2006. “Simon called and said, ‘You’ve had thirty celebrities in three months wearing the same dress. How?” I replied, “Magic. I’m the magician. I know my tricks.” What I mean is we are all perfectly imperfect. I’m not scared of curves. I really love skin. I like to understand gravity and glamour.” What he loves is the female body. “I’m not afraid,” he laughs.
"I drape, I touch, the fabric takes the lead and the element of transformation is always magical to me."
He doesn’t use mood boards or sketch pads, instead what nature gives us all, from tiny to plus size. Part of why the Galaxy works is Mouret’s understanding that different women require different support. “A big breakthrough for me was when I started to understand bras. The back of the dress is solid so you can conceal any underwear you want.”
In 2010, rights to the ‘Roland Mouret’ name were acquired by the joint venture of Roland Mouret and Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment.
While Mouret is famous for dresses – also including the Titanium, the Moon, The Pigalle and countless red-carpet triumphs – he is celebrated among his clients for separates, specifically tops that flatter and trousers that as he put it, “give good bum, why not?” What he wants is to keep things modern for women’s complex lives.
Recent expansion has included the perfume “Une Amourette”, the result of a collaboration with irreverent Parisian perfume house, Etat Libre d’Orange. This has ignited his passion anew. “I felt as if I was back to 20 years ago, longing to learn. Smell touches your brain, your imagination. It’s really feminine and masculine at the same time.” Distinctly feminine are the Roland Mouret maisons; two beautiful stores, the first of these, with an atelier on the premises is at 8 Carlos Place, in London’s Mayfair, the second, the Manhattan apartment, on New York’s Madison Avenue. In addition, a lavish book, to be published by Rizzoli in September 2018, not only celebrates the past 21 years of design, it provides a blueprint for the future.
The brand, which is profitable, now includes eyewear, shoes, bags, accessories and bridal. The future, says its creator will involve the chance to play with the icons he has created and to push technique. The key to everything are Mouret’s craftsman’s hands, who know how to create pieces which become like a second skin, intimate and sensuous, and yet empower the wearer.
"I love the way fabric feels, I love to grab it, I love how clothes fall over the body. I’m known for drape and structure, but I succeed, I think, when the clothes feel comfortable to you ….and perhaps through the eyes of someone else, someone you love, so you will leave the fabric more loose on yourself, like after sex. We all dress up to undress."