The Serbian-born, UK-based fashion designer Roksanda Ilincic talks about growing up with fashion.
'I have never abandoned necklaces and bangles'
The Serbian-born, UK-based fashion designer Roksanda Ilincic talks about growing up with fashion. My love of Yves Saint Laurent is a nostalgic thing because my mother, Ranka, was obsessed with it. Clothes were a passion for her. She was always glamorously dressed up, partly because of her job in PR, but also because in my home town of Belgrade people liked to dress up to go out to the theatre and parties. There were lots of social things going on.
We were limited in what we could buy in Serbia, so she travelled to Paris and Italy to buy clothes. She loved Dior as well, and she liked to create her own things. She found amazing fabrics that her seamstress would make up for her. She would take me to the fittings and we would choose the fabrics. I learnt so much. She would take me to Venice and Rome, and I remember all the amazing shop window displays. I was a little girl but thought no one could do window displays like the Italians, the way they coordinated the colours and the themes.
My mother loved to dress me up as well, but I was very fussy. She put me in dresses but I was quite rebellious and, at that stage, didn't like them. I was a tall girl and thought looking like a princess would make me feel completely out of place. I really wanted to blend in with the rest of my classmates and belong to a gang. Funnily enough, when I grew up, it came full circle and now I adore wearing dresses.
However, I was particularly fond of my velvet dresses, which I wore with red patent shoes. Probably every little girl had those. One dress was navy with flowers and the other was deep burgundy. I loved that one. I chose my own clothes from the age of seven. It sounds quite early but I remember we were just starting school. We had a school uniform but there were different elements and I was very particular about my shoes. Later, trade embargoes affected what we could buy and sometimes there was no fuel. My school would have no heating in the middle of a Balkan winter.
As a teenager, I would customise my clothes. I would pick out my mother's dresses and add embellishments or make the silhouette slightly tighter without her knowing. She wasn't always happy about it. A few times I picked up her favourite Saint Laurents. It was really bad, but I had great party wear. Unfortunately, she gave most of her wardrobe away, and a lot of those Saint Laurent pieces from the 1970s and 1980s have now gone. I don't think she realised that I would have enjoyed them so much. They went to charities and relatives. In my country you would only consider wearing vintage from within your family. Otherwise it was frowned upon.
We lived in Prague for a while, and I couldn't find anything trendy enough to buy there or in Belgrade, so I had clothes made. I liked a dressy look but was much more quirky and experimental. You wouldn't believe the terrible hairstyles I had, the crazy hair colours. Lipstick was a revelation when I first discovered it at 15. I always wore it. I adored accessories as well. I owned lots of necklaces and bangles, and I have never abandoned them. I like mixing them: old things that have nostalgia or a sense of the past with the new.
Although I studied architecture, my heart is in fashion. I read about Central Saint Martins College in London from magazines like The Face and i-D, and got into the MA course there. I was 22 and loved the freedom to wear what I wanted and behave how I wanted. The more unique your look the more it was appreciated in London. I started modelling part-time, and I bought a pair of Louis Vuitton boots with my first pay cheque, then a pair of Chanel's classic two-tone shoes. I love their classics.
I used to enjoy going around markets but I don't have much time now unless I am travelling. Portobello used to be a favourite, but the markets in London are dying out and you can't find as many amazing things, so I buy from Kerry Taylor Auctions or on eBay. Like my mother, I now collect Saint Laurent and vintage Chanel or other vintage clothes that I fall in love with. I think my style is quite feminine but I like to mix opposites, such as a dress with a man's coat or a dress from my collection with something vintage. I adore heels. My favourites are Chanel but I also love Pierre Hardy, Nicholas Kirkwood and young designers who have a fresh new approach. I like high shoes because of the way they elevate your body and shape you differently, but I also love my flats, like Chanel, Miu Miu and Repetto, or nice pumps that I bought on holiday in Morocco.
I wear dresses from my own collection to events, as it is mostly evening wear. I am lucky enough to have seamstresses in the studio to make my pieces up in wool or other day fabrics. I am inspired by Balenciaga's shapes, Dior's structure and Vionnet's draping. I am planning to start a little day range to give more variety to my collection. I have already expanded into swimwear and am now thinking about accessories and jewellery.
Roksanda Ilincic's collection is available at Villa Moda, The Gate Village, DIFC, Dubai.