interview by JANA LETONJA

Tamara Ralph’s passion for creating unique iconic pieces saw her quickly establish herself within the luxury fashion industry, where her designs became recognised by a more international audience under the brand Ralph & Russo. In 2022, she launched her namesake brand and this season’s Couture collection ‘Lost in Love’ marked the 1-year anniversary of her return to Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week.

We’ve just witnessed your latest Couture collection ‘Lost in Love’. What does this collection mean and represent to you?
This collection has a special place in my heart because it was not only a love story with Paris, but a love story that grew in Paris and a personal love story of my own. It has a lot of elements in it that mean something personally to me, which is really nice. 
The collection itself has details in it highlighting elements of me as a designer that really kind of started my career in Paris. I have such an affection for Paris, but also a personal relationship and that growing in Paris, and so this collection has something that really sits at my heart.

Where did you draw the inspiration for this collection from?
From elements of my personal relationship, meaningful elements and things that inspire me from Paris itself, from this romantic love story that we’re telling through this collection. That was really the starting point of the inspiration and it grew from there. We have a lot of black and whites and these kind of very Parisian details, highlighting Paris itself, but with very strong elements of romance and passion throughout. 

In many pieces, we’ve been able to see an orchid. What role do orchids play in this love story?
It’s actually one of my favorite flowers and they symbolize the flowers of my personal relationship. They symbolize love and family, and they actually symbolize children. I started designing this collection at the same time I found out I was pregnant with my second baby girl, so orchid was a flower that I was drawn to.

How does this collection showcase your continued evolution as a designer, and as a brand?
I think in the first two collections there was a lot of strength and strong elements, and this collection is kind of taking it back to romance. As a creative, I’ve always been quite well known for romantic elements and going back to celebrating the romance is really nice. The collection still has these quite strong feminine details, but yet in a much more fun, romantic way this season. 
I’ve always had a love for tailoring, which showcases in my collections and corsetry and structure. But then with the softer details and the really intricate embroideries, it’s something that I kind of fuse in with all my work. 

Tell us more about the whole creative process, from envisioning the pieces, designing them, choosing the materials, and adding all the little details that make them so special.
It’s a very involved process. I started this collection very early on because I knew that I was having a baby and everything, so I wanted to be very organized. We do a lot of development with the techniques, embroideries and things like that, so they always evolve.Once you start a process, you normally get inspired by something that you find and that you love within that, and that sparks a whole new direction of ideas. It’s a starting point and then you get the next idea and the next idea and the next idea. 

We work with a lot of artisans around the world. All of the jewelry and metal work is Italian based. We work with a lot of the French artisans and it’s nice to collaborate with these artisans that are so passionate about what they do and what they produce. We really kind of create art together, which is lovely. And we do a lot of development in house as well. A lot of the floral work and all the fabric manipulation, the embroideries and everything is all done internally. We have a great team that works on providing me different directions based on my inspiration.

What do you love the most about Couture fashion?
The fantasy of it. I think as a creative, you can really let your mind run free. You are not restricted with the commerciality side of things or having to look at it from a ready to wear perspective in the sense of merchandising. When you’re sketching and thinking about what would be the most beautiful details, what would be the most amazing, there’s no restriction there.

How does being back at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week feel, and how exciting was this show especially as it marked your 1-year anniversary since being back?
Like I said, Paris holds a very special place in my heart. It was where I started my career and I’ve been showing here now for around 17 shows. It was a big turning point in my career being invited by the Federation at the time in 2014. I’d never done a fashion show before and it was quite unique for them to invite a designer that had never actually produced a collection before. I don’t think they had ever done that. 

It was quite a lot of pressure at the time, having never produced a collection and I’d had a couple of months to get it put together. But that really grew the brand and my exposure as a creative, because I had obviously a lot of high profile clients and a lot of celebrity followings and things like that already. Until then, it was all very much word of mouth and it was very private, whereas presenting at the Couture Fashion Week made it very international and public. I come to Paris all the time, so as a creative, it really is where my heart sits at.

Fashion world got to know you under the Ralph & Russo brand. What drove you to launching your own brand, and what vision do you have for the brand’s future?
Launching under my own name was something that I was always going to do, moving on from Ralph & Russo. It’s nice doing it under my own terms and under my own name. And it’s been wonderful to kind of spearhead the whole vision, business, creative and everything, which has been a lot of work. But it’s been really incredible. And I had a lot of demand to relaunch as well, so it was really lovely to have that support. That kind of motivated me to probably launch earlier than I was planning on. It just kind of organically happened in that sense. The response has been incredible and I’m very happy to be back in Paris, showing here. 

We are concentrating a lot on luxury. Couture is obviously the height of the fashion industry and from a luxury perspective, it’s very much the vision for the house to maintain that. Last season, we launched our collaboration with Audemars Piguet, which was very special. To have these kind of special collaborations or product launches that are unique and luxury and focused is where we’re keeping the brand. We’ve got another collaboration coming out with a wonderful brand next year, which we can’t talk about yet, but it’s with a brand that’s at the top of their field. Working on these specific product launches or categories, but done in a very elevated way, is the focus of the brand at the moment.

Now that another Couture Fashion Week is done, will you also do some Ready-to-wear or Bridal collections in the near future?
Bridal, we do within Couture. But Ready-to-wear in itself is something that we’re looking at. Right now, we want to focus on the luxury launches first, the product launches, because we’ve got a few coming out. 

Your passion for designing started very early, at the age of 12. What was it about this craft that fascinated you so much to pursue it as a career?
I loved the storytelling and the fantasy of it. I liked that you could be a personality in one outfit and then be another personality in another outfit. You could really change someone’s look or tell a story through fashion as well. I think that’s what enchanted me when I was young. Growing up in Australia, it was very removed from the European fashion industry at the time. When I’d read Vogue and I’d see things, it was all so wow. Australia’s fashion industry was very different at that time, but it’s grown a lot and it’s quite a big luxury market now. And for me, Australia was so far away from Europe and I’d never visited Europe, so it was kind of that fantasy with fashion and Paris and Couture and everything.

Having two young kids, how do you balance it all?
I have a wonderful partner and I make sure I have my family time and then work time. To have the right team around me is really important. I have wonderful staff who I’ve worked with for many years. Some of them have been with me for 10 years, so they know me very well and that’s made it much easier, especially with the fact that I just had another baby. I had to work well in advance with the collection to have it ready, at least the creative side of it done and decided, and because they know me so well, they can then support me in that aspect. So that’s been wonderful and it also helped them to grow because I’m giving them more responsibility in that sense. My time is much more limited than it was previously, so it’s about having the right people and team around you, empowering them to do their jobs and what they love. And it’s actually amazing because once you empower them to have more responsibility, you really see them shine, which is nice.