Where did it go wrong for Roland Mouret, Meghan’s go-to British designer?

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  • Roland Mouret
    French fashion designer
  • Victoria Beckham
    Victoria Beckham
    Businesswoman
Meghan wore a Roland Mouret dress on the eve of her wedding in 2018 - Getty Images
Meghan wore a Roland Mouret dress on the eve of her wedding in 2018 - Getty Images

Back in 2005, even those with the mildest interest in fashion would have been familiar with Roland Mouret’s Galaxy dress. The figure-enhancing shift, made using a 1950s corsetry fabric called Powerflex to cinch and flatter the wearer’s body into a Jessica Rabbit silhouette, became ubiquitous on the red carpet. Name a female celebrity, and they probably wore it: Halle Berry, Cameron Diaz, Rachel Weisz, Miranda Kerr. Victoria Beckham is said to have had one in every colour - it was the cornerstone of her WAG wardrobe. A failsafe piece that was both sexy and sophisticated, it transcended trends and occasion. It was no wonder that, even at £990, normal, non-celebrity women were falling over themselves to buy it too.

Its creator, Mouret, was nicknamed the ‘King of Cling’ at the time. The French-born, London-based designer saw his name become a byword for well-cut, flattering formalwear thanks to the Galaxy’s success. In more recent years his friendship with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, has kept his label in the headlines.

Today, his namesake brand looks set to become the latest casualty of the pandemic, having filed for administration following weeks of rumours. The Roland Mouret flagship boutique in Mayfair has been closed and more than 80 members of staff have been made redundant.

Roland Mouret with Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, in 2016 - Getty Images
Roland Mouret with Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, in 2016 - Getty Images

It seems unfortunate timing. With fashion trends currently taking a lead from the early 2000s, the label was well placed for a revival. It’s not a stretch to imagine Beckham and co rewearing their Galaxies on the red carpet today, not just in an effort to be sustainable, but for the same reasons they wore it the first time around: because it makes them look and feel so good.

“I have always wanted to guarantee that you can’t take a bad picture in my clothes,” Mouret told The Telegraph back in 2018. “But you have to also understand your body from 360 degrees and what you do and don’t like about yourself. As soon as you know that, you can find a favourite designer. You decide that this person’s work stands for the same things that you do and makes you feel confident.”

No wonder, then, that he had a loyal clientele - in the age of social media, when every person you encounter has a high-spec camera at the ready in their phone, a man with that kind of talent should surely remain in high demand. On the front row at his shows you would see the same women return year after year, faithfully clad in his hyper-figure-flattering creations.

As a business, though, the Roland Mouret journey has been a rocky one. Just two months after the Galaxy dress launched, Mouret split from his financial backers, Sharai and André Meyers, citing ‘managerial differences’. He took a two-year hiatus (during which he designed a line of dresses for Gap), before launching a new fashion label, RM by Roland Mouret, backed by Simon Fuller, the Spice Girls manager and financial muscle behind Victoria Beckham’s namesake fashion label. Indeed, when Beckham first launched her critically acclaimed collection of Galaxy-esque dresses in 2008, it was rumoured that Mouret was ‘ghost-designing’ the collection behind the scenes, although he claims to have only helped her recruit a pattern-cutter.

The Galaxy dress on the runway at New York Fashion Week in September 2005 - Getty Images
The Galaxy dress on the runway at New York Fashion Week in September 2005 - Getty Images

It wasn’t until 2010 that the designer finally bought back the rights to the ‘Roland Mouret’ name, and opened his multi-level flagship on London’s prestigious Carlos Place, where Jenny Packham and Matchesfashion.com also have boutiques. In 2011, Mouret relaunched the Galaxy dress (now marked up to £1,450) reviving the hype surrounding his most famous creation.

The label has maintained a quiet-yet-consistent presence in recent years, with Mouret’s empowering approach to style proving even more relevant in the wake of Me Too. Over the past couple of years, his designs have been worn by Reese Witherspoon, Emerald Fennell, Lady Kitty Spencer and Dame Helena Morrissey. The Duchess of Cambridge wore one of his dresses to the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral earlier this year, and Meghan wore a Mouret skirt in New York in September.

His royal connection made him one of the most talked about names in fashion in 2018, in the run up to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding. Meghan wore Mouret multiple times in the days leading up to the wedding and he was a bookies’ favourite for the commission of her wedding dress - that was until Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller was seen adjusting the train on the St George’s Chapel steps while Roland took his seat with other friends in the pews.

meghan markle - Getty Images
meghan markle - Getty Images

His most recent London Fashion Week event was attended by yet more famous friends - Idris and Sabrina Elba, Daisy Lowe and Vogue editor Edward Enninful. He certainly still holds clout and court in London’s social circles.

So what went wrong? Staff have reportedly been told that the coronavirus pandemic was to blame, and that’s most likely the sum of it. The impact of all those global lockdowns will have been catastrophic for a label that specialises in formal attire for professional women and special occasionwear. Even now, office dress codes remain more relaxed than they were in 2019, and the return to wedding guest dressing was perhaps just a little too slow to save the brand.

September also saw the launch of an activewear line, although this now reads as a too-little-too-late effort to cash in on the loungewear boom, which has already been a saturated market since the pandemic began, as others pivoted to recover sales quicker.

galaxy dress - Getty Images
galaxy dress - Getty Images

Whatever the outcome of the administration process, Mouret, who turned 60 this year, remains a respected talent, adored by those who wear his clothes. It’s not inconceivable to imagine that even if the Roland Mouret business folds, the man himself will continue to serve his women on a couture commissioning basis - the backbone of his past success.

Like Meghan and Victoria, Mouret’s most loyal clients saw him as an honest friend, a mirror and a confidante. “I must spend that time with my ladies,” he has said of the attention he pays to each. “It is all for them, you see.”

As far as the fashion industry and those clients are concerned, there’s potential for another chapter in this story, and knowing Mouret, it's going to be a good one.

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