"The dresses are the stars, I’m just the director" – Roland Mouret
In conversation with the dress designer
I t was after a private lunch in Dubai, with one of the world's greatest designers, that the secret to building a successful fashion empire was unveiled. Here Roland Mouret speaks to Buro 24/7 Middle East's Editor in Chief, Shannon Wylie about his eponymous brand, why egos are the most damaging detail in a designer's collection and how it came to be that his clothes are more famous than the man behind the mannequin...
Welcome to Dubai!
You officially launched your first flagship last December?
Yes, the pop-up shop.
What was the reaction like from the Middle East? Obviously your presence has been felt here for quite some time but the pop-up was the first time that you've had a structure...
It's quite interesting. You go from being in a store, to a rack, to a pop-up shop and the reaction is so nice. I'm so excited to open a real store in Fashion Avenue next year in September because, for me, it's completing the experience of retail. It's not just the outfit that's coming to a place; you're becoming part of my world.
And your world, as you described, is a very established one.
Ah, this word established. Tell me what you mean (laughs).
You've had a brand name, you've changed the brand name, you got your brand name back, you've collaborated with other larger companies, and you've dressed countless celebrities...
Obviously being at the pinnacle of the fashion industry, what does that mean to you as an individual and a business owner?
You have to be completely humble about it and stay great because it's not about you, it's about the work you produce and I'm so happy that my dresses are more famous than me. You know, I can age the way I want, I can move the way I want because the dresses are the stars, are the actresses and I'm just the director.
You have to take care that your ego doesn't trap you on that branch. And then there is modesty. You have to be who you are, to stay as great as you are.
And what's it like being the director?
It's not simple. It's full of experiences and surprise. You have to embrace the unknown when you're creative. You have to have unknown answers and to fight back in your own way, with your creativity. It's so important that you are like that because it's the sense of what creativity stands for. It's completely unknown and you should have no regrets at all.
Was there ever a time you thought you wouldn't make it?
Oh yes, many times. I was close to bankruptcy, twice, when I was young. Losing my name was weird because the moment my former partner said to me: "You will never come back", was the moment I said: "I'm going to prove you wrong!" If I could have said anything to him, it would be: "You gave me the best present ever, I'm not going to fight you. It would be a loss of energy to fight you. I'm just going to start again." I became objective as to how situations work in this world. You can do business without a name. I realised that with my clothes - From the outside you don't need a name, however from the inside, the sad thing is that I had lost my father's name. I called him straight away and said: "I apologise and I promise you that I will get it back".
And what did he say?
He showed me reassurance straight away and said: "Don't worry, just do what you have to do, I'm supporting you and I'm always on your side". He knew, you know? He knew the pain I was going through and he was the only person that I had to apologise to.
There are also been a number of celebrities who have supported your journey too and likewise. Do you think that your clothes tell the story in the way that they're styled or in the way that they're presented that have more prominence?
The red carpet is a job and you have to express yourself without words. The outfit is a tool of expression and I like to work with celebrities that need tools to protect them. I feel that my dress is a protector, not like armour, but like protection, from a bad picture, I don't find it enriching. We're not better because of the picture. Women on the red carpet are having a silent movie moment, she has to pass a message and you have to get it because.
Yet you don't do menswear, so you can't project that same message?
I was in menswear but menswear, you can just wear a black suit and you'll be fine.
Do you find that creativity is stifled?
Between men's and women's? Oh it's different. I really enjoyed menswear but they're different kinds of animals. Really, it's like you're in a zoo. On one side you have the predators and on the other side, you have the butterflies.
That's a beautiful analogy (laughs).
And I promise you, the predators are not the men, they're the women.
And what about Middle Eastern fashion? What's your take on what's happening in the region at the moment and how does Roland Mouret the brand fit in?
I think the Middle East is moving and it's adapting itself to transformation in terms of climate change, social politics and religion. I also think the concept of the veil and the abaya is becoming a more open discussion because there is research on both sides of acceptance, and I like that. I think when I come here, I'm more interested in the designers and their kind of modest dressing. You have to adapt to your country and you have to take your local message international. I will be really, really interested in the future to see someone that's doing modest dressing. I find it more interesting to learn from them and to see how I can help them or to show them how to structure their company, to mentor them.
The business of fashion is probably the biggest part of creating something that's very successful. Obviously there's a lot of personalities you've worked with, including your business partner. How do you manage that?
My now business partner is great because he's never there. We talk maybe twice a year and we send presents for Christmas, which is brilliant, because the only thing he says to me is: "don't lose money".
So how do you not lose money? Tell us about your foresight and your vision...
I sell clothes. I'm not a brand recognised for its leather goods, or big machinery. I have to be honest with myself all of the time. I need to deliver a collection that I think women don't have in their wardrobes. My clothes are more famous than me because people wear them, not because people know them. They wear them!
Don't miss Roland Mouret's Spring/Summer '17 Paris Fashion Week show.