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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Newman

ROKSANDA ILINCIC


Roksanda Ilincic portrait shot by Quentin Jones. 5ELEVEN Magazine  SS23 Issue 10
Roksanda Ilincic portrait shot by Quentin Jones

5ELEVEN Magazine talks with the award winning designer Roksanda Ilinčić

on her love of craft, culture and community.


In a world of fickle trends and questionable capital one thing remains constant – the seasons. In the fashion world, an industry that celebrates and survives off change, only a small handful of designers continue to push their customers out of their comfort zone whilst simultaneously serving them flawless designs they can’t live without season after season. Serbian-born (in what was then Yugoslavia), but London-based designer, Roksanda Ilinčić is one of them.


Words by Charlie Newman.


Roksanda collection was photographed by Edwin S Freyer at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Styled by Tasha Arguile. Makeup by Amy Wright at Caren Agency using Armani Beauty.

Dorrit Li appears courtesy of Select Models London.

Dorrit Li shot at Dulwich Picture Gallery London by Edwin S Freyer and styled by Tasha Arguile. Roksanda Ilincic x 5ELEVEN Magazine SS23 Issue 10

Born in Belgrade, Ilinčić has always found joy and solace in the freedom of expression. As a child she would meticulously watch and guide her mother as she got ready, “I think that my mum would have been a fashion designer in a different life. Fashion was always a big passion and she had an intuitive way of dressing up and enjoying it in a very free and creative way.” Even now she recognizes the profound influence her mother has on her designs today, “I guess that was something I was observing from a young age and is still present within my collections. That connection with family, with roots and a sense of belonging.”


Her mother also passed on her appreciation for art onto her daughter, an area of interest she explored further when studying History of Art at high school, and which lit somewhat of an “awakening” inside of her. Ilinčić then delved that bit further into it and went on to study Architecture at the Faculty of Applied Arts at the University of Arts in Belgrade, all the while pouring over the pages of fashion magazines. Time and time again she would read about the lauded Master’s degree in womenswear at Central Saint Martins, and so in 1999 she enrolled, joining the long list of celebrated alumni who were also taught under the esteemed late Fashion Design Professor Louise Wilson, a list Ilinčić believes is a “pure testament to her and how incredible she was.” Whilst some young designers crumbled under Louise’s “tough mother love” style of teaching, Ilinčić thrived, sharing a “special bond” with her “unorthodox” teacher. New to England, she was something of an outsider at CSM but this only caught Louise’s eye even more, “She liked it when people were different, different points of view, different cultures, different languages.” Whilst Ilinčić misses Louise’s presence greatly, she’s never lost sight of the vision Louise so encouraged, a vision celebrating multiculturalism imbued through a multi-disciplinary approach to fashion design.


Dorrit Li shot at Dulwich Picture Gallery London by Edwin S Freyer and styled by Tasha Arguile. Roksanda Ilincic x 5ELEVEN Magazine SS23 Issue 10

Ilinčić may describe CSM as a “groundbreaking” opportunity for her, but nevertheless she still stuck to her roots, never swaying too far from her architectural eye. It’s impossible to ignore how much both art and architecture inform her designs – the way they move through and encompass the space, how they support the form. Her designs reach far beyond style and transform fabric into sculpture. Her design process is centred upon “creating something that feels like a building, creating a space, that is taking a space and creating a language into a space.” For Ilinčić, architecture is all about “bringing a certain sanctuary, refuge or place that is protecting us from the outside the world and I always try to embody this in my designs. I always want women to feel the same wearing my designs, in their own homes and safe places.” She favours “fluid architecture that doesn’t have many walls, a space to breathe and air to flow.” and this is evident in her flagship store on Mount Street, founded in 2014 and designed in collaboration with Sir David Adjaye. Her designs are constructed with the same values, “I rarely have a corset, only if I have to. I always try different ways to make things light. Anything that is particularly sculptural or voluminous I always cheat and use particular fabrications or lots of padding with petticoats and support that is happening underneath the dress.”


Just like her designs, when it comes to Ilinčić’s shop all does not meet the eye. Unlike the neighbouring luxury brands that surround her Mayfair flagship, from the outside you would be forgiven for thinking it is a gallery, for you won’t find a faceless mannequin donning one of her best-selling dresses in the store window, but a piece of art or sculpture by one of her resident female artists. Ilinčić admits that “eyebrows were raised” when she chose to make this bold business move, but it worked. “What is so wonderful is that the customers responded to it so well. Those art pieces that I was presenting in the window didn’t push them away, on the contrary it made them more curious to come in and discover the whole story.” Today luxury brands are hungry for artist collaborations but it was Ilinčić who forged this pioneering path from the very outset of her career. “At the time when I started this whole dialogue with my customers and people in the industry, it was hard to persuade artists or people working with different disciplines to join me and create something unique and special. I’m a true believer that when you get many hands, many minds, many souls, many hearts involved in the same project, that’s when the project is the best. So it took some persuasion at the beginning, but I give credit to London because there are so many creatives here who are very open-minded, maybe more open-minded than other places in the world. I was lucky enough to find my people early on and slowly build a legacy and space where people and artists are comfortable to come and join and present something out of their comfort zone.”


Dorrit Li shot at Dulwich Picture Gallery London by Edwin S Freyer and styled by Tasha Arguile. Roksanda Ilincic x 5ELEVEN Magazine SS23 Issue 10

Nestled within the epicentre of London’s influential galleries, Roksanda Ilinčić has created her very own little gallery, “A little platform for different female artists, particularly young ones that are still there to be discovered.” She purposefully chose to highlight female artists “because the presentation and diversity of women in art and crafts is something that we need to address.” Her passion is so palpable, it begs the question whether she too would like to practice art herself? “I’m sure there is an artist in me… but somehow I struggle with finding the time to create a safe space in the studio where I can paint. Even during the pandemic with the company and with everything going on, sadly I couldn’t create the space for me to paint but I'm sure the time will come. Maybe when I retire I will suddenly decide I want to be an artist. I feel like life is very fast and very demanding. I think that we live in quite an interesting historical moment in time. Finding the time to dedicate yourself to painting, sculpting and art pieces is precious.” In the meantime she turns to the Turner Prize winning artist Veronica Ryan, the ceramicist Julie Nelson and Ljubica ‘Cuca’ Sokić, another Serbian woman with an “incredible colour sense” for inspiration, as well as visiting Studio Voltaire and the Alison Jacques gallery.


Forever raising women up, Ilinčić feels the significance of sharing her story to create an exchange with her customers. “I think this is very important for anybody buying into fashion to know and to understand because I’m not creating just clothes, I’m creating a world, an emotion, a certain idea and I think that’s what people are coming to buy and that’s what luxury fashion is all about. It’s an ethereal moment that you can’t quite grasp and we can’t quite put our finger on, but we keep coming back for it. I think the female art narrative and point of view in both art and fashion is my strength and something I wanted to set up from the beginning. So here I am many years later with women in the shop window.”


Dorrit Li shot at Dulwich Picture Gallery London by Edwin S Freyer and styled by Tasha Arguile. Roksanda Ilincic x 5ELEVEN Magazine SS23 Issue 10

Behind Ilinčić’s fabled store window you’ll find her signature sculptural silhouettes bathed in a neutral palette punctuated with daring dashes of electric colour. Come suit or dress, a Roksanda Ilinčić look is destined to strike up conversation. It is the latter that launched her career for when she joined the non-profit talent incubator Fashion East over twenty years ago, dresses were not du jour, but her vivid flashes of colour proved there was fun to be found in dressing up. Her distinctive voice in an overcrowded field of blurred fashion trends is a voice that resonates with successful and intellectual women across the world from Michelle Obama, to the Duchess of Cambridge and Cate Blanchett. But what does a brand whose very core is embedded within elevated sophistication and glamour do when the world is swept by a pandemic and reaches for tracksuits over trouser suits? With agility and grace, Roksanda responded promptly, setting up her e-commerce site and expanding her knitwear and tops collections and making her customers Zoom meeting ready. Even during a time where we collectively lost a sense of reality, Ilinčić reminded us that “fashion is there to support us.”


Fashion informs us too, a principle she clings dearly too. “I’m constantly tuned in with everything that is happening around us and Louise is definitely somebody who was always underlining this. Knowing what is going on culturally in the world of fashion, politics, the economy is a must. I couldn’t agree more because fashion doesn’t exist separately from the world. You can look at fashion and guess where it’s coming from and why. I’m always trying to translate what’s going on around us into the clothing. This might not be immediately visible but it’s definitely there. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m still around, why my brand has longevity because of the understanding of what’s happening in society and tying it in with fashion.” She also cites the importance of a plan and a dream when creating a legacy, because without one it’s all too easy to get distracted.


Dorrit Li shot at Dulwich Picture Gallery London by Edwin S Freyer and styled by Tasha Arguile. Roksanda Ilincic x 5ELEVEN Magazine SS23 Issue 10

With a fully established and authentic aesthetic comes the freedom to explore. Since first showing at London Fashion Week in 2005, Ilinčić has since partnered with Fila and Barbour as well designing the first NFT dress available to purchase in GBP. Whilst some designers may be fearful of avatar clothing, Ilinčić saw it as “an opportunity to experience something in a totally different world through Artificial Intelligence. It’s fascinating to do something at the very beginning, to not know where it’s going to go, how far it’s going to go. I really wanted to be one of the first people to try.”


As her fashion-obsessed daughter approaches the age of 12, Ilinčić is all the more conscious of “the implications that are facing our children… We need to learn how to shop and buy better and not just produce for the sake of money, but for the sake of art and beauty. For the sake of lifting our spirits through fashion and our society and culture.” Just as Ilinčić’s mother passed on the fashion-forward baton, so too does she with her own daughter, however this time you don’t have to be related to reap the rewards. You might not be able to inherit her fabulous wardrobe but you can come extremely close at the Roksanda Ilinčić boutique.


Visit the Roksanda Ilinčić store in person at 9 Mount Street, W1K 3NG or online.


You can find Roksanda interview inside the Spring Summer 2023 Issue 10

Dorrit Li shot at Dulwich Picture Gallery London by Edwin S Freyer and styled by Tasha Arguile. Roksanda Ilincic x 5ELEVEN Magazine SS23 Issue 10

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