I've had the Oscars, show me London

Richard Tyler dresses filmstars by the score. This week he makes his first appearance at London Fashion Week and Harvey Nichols.
The name Richard Tyler will probably mean little to anyone in Britain, except to fashion aficionados. True, he recently received some attention when he took over the design helm at the Italian house of Byblos, but Tyler himself is the first to acknowledge that "outside the United States, people don't know who we are".

In Hollywood, however, he is the designer name on everybody's lips. An estimated 60 per cent of actors attending the Oscars wear his creations, and his list of devoted clients includes Anjelica Huston, Julia Roberts, Geena Davis, Miranda Richardson, kd lang and Susan Sarandon. "I love his clothes because they are beautifully cut and beautifully finished," says Anjelica Huston, whose wedding dress Tyler created for her marriage to artist Robert Graham. "Richard is my favourite designer," enthuses Laura Dern, who wore one of his gowns to the Academy Awards a couple of years ago. "He is simply a brilliant tailor".

But Tyler's biggest ambitions did not lie in Hollywood. When he met his wife, Lisa Trafficante, in 1987, she asked him what his career goals were. The first, he said, was to win the Cody Award. Tyler has so far picked up three of this most prestigious of American fashion awards (now the CFDA). His second ambition was to have his clothes in window displays on New York's Fifth Avenue. Both Bergdorf Goodman and Saks department stores have turned that wish into reality. And his final goal was to show in London. That he reaches next Monday when he presents his second line, Richard Tyler Collection, as part of London Fashion Week. The show will coincide with the launch of the line at Harvey Nichols.

One of Tyler's nicknames is "the Master of the Jacket". His suits are in a league of their own - smart, sassy and sexy. "For me, the quality is the most important thing", he asserts, and to prove it he has 40 hand- finishers working on his main "Couture" line in his downtown Los Angeles studio. "It's like it was done in the old days. No computerised machines.

The Collection line is made out of Italy to reduce costs, but prices remain steep. Jackets cost between pounds 560 and pounds 940; dresses start at pounds 375. He promises that the new collection will be "very light", "drop- shouldered" and "sort of minimal". Colours will be soft and romantic, with a predominance of lavender, pink and white. "It's like wearing nothing," he says, "but it's not sheer. It's all to do with construction." His inspiration was apparently the opening scene of Visconti's The Leopard in which light curtains blow in the wind.

Tyler, 51, is casually dressed in a khaki T-shirt and jeans. Anjelica Huston stresses that he is "uncommonly modest". He is also game for anything. When the photographer asks if he would mind jumping into the pool fully clothed, he merely asks if she would like him to put on a suit, goes in to change, and then plunges straight in.

He first arrived in Los Angeles in 1978, when he was Rod Stewart's costume designer and he fell in love with the place. "There was no smog at the time. Nobody was being shot on the street corner, so I guess I had a really good impression".

Stewart had come across Tyler in his native Melbourne, where he had opened a boutique at the age of 19. His mother used to make costumes for the local ballet and opera, and would also design outfits for visiting American stars such as Norma Shearer. "From the age of about four or five, I was always surrounded by these incredibly tall models," he says. His first job was cutting bras and swimwear in a factory. He then worked for a Savile-Row-trained tailor who made suits for the then premier of Australia, and he has been fascinated by the English look ever since. Ask him about style icons and he will mention David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Roger Moore as The Saint and Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.

He spent his first few years in Los Angeles, however, whipping up stage clothes for the likes of Andy Gibb, Sean Cassidy, the Village People and ELO. "It was pretty wild," he laughs. "Stuff that maybe I won't own up to right now. There was a lot of Spandex and sequins. Jumpsuits on Sean Cassidy and pink shirts on Andy Gibb." He also remembers making white satin tails for Diana Ross for the premiere of The Wiz. The singer put him up at the New York Hilton for a fortnight and he cut and sewed the clothes together on two room-service trolleys.

Yet in 1987 he found himself down and out in Beverly HIlls. "I'd make money and then spend it all," he admits. After living in a broom closet and washing in a bucket of cold water, he scraped together enough cash to buy a one-way ticket back to Australia. The day before he was due to fly, he met Lisa in a night-club. He cashed in his ticket and has never looked back.

"Lisa really made things happen," he says."She made the dream come true. She really has guided the company, and still does so. She even gives me direction fashion-wise". He always talks about "we" rather than "I" when referring to his fashion business.

Within a year, they had opened a menswear store in Los Angeles, and most of the customers were women. Daryl Hannah popped in on the very first day. She told Julia Roberts about her find, who told Winona Ryder, and things snowballed.

Tyler launched his first women's collection in 1993 and it was an immediate success."Everyone kept saying, `Your dresses are great'", he recalls, "and I really thought I had made the worst dresses in the world." He still insists that women's wear remains a "struggle". "My real passion is menswear," he says. "It's a lot easier for me. I really am a tailor at heart."

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