Roland Mouret: Diamonds are a boy's best friend

Things are looking up for couturier Roland Mouret. A glamorous joint venture with a jewellery company, a partnership with a mysterious fairy godmother - and now a chance to shine at London fashion week. Susannah Frankel meets a man whose time has come
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The Independent Online

Everything in my life has always been linked to dresses," says Roland Mouret. "My dad was a butcher, so he wore a long apron. And as a child, I always wanted to be a priest." He says all this, quite deadpan, as if he means it, despite the fact that any sartorial connection comes, in this instance, from far out left field. Of course, there are those who might say that this is quintessential Mouret – he is not, after all, just any old dress designer. Instead, the clothes that he conceives – think Hollywood glamour fused with Parisian chic, Madame Gres-style drape... and all with a hefty dose of the raw, creative edge the British fashion capital is known for thrown in – are in a league of their own.

Today, only two weeks before his London show, Roland Mouret, couturier, sits in front of his new studio, just off the King's Road. In the leafy courtyard, he seems cheerier than ever before – some might even go so far as to describe him as "contented". He has every reason to be smiling as he pulls out a packet of glittering stones from the pocket of his low-slung jeans and tips them out into the palm of his hand – they are, at least in part, the reason behind any current happy circumstances.

"My family jewelleries!" he announces proudly – his accent is southern French, far richer and more open than its Parisian counterpart. "You know. Les bijoux de famille." They are, in fact, 20-odd small but perfectly formed uncut diamonds, testimony to the fact that M Mouret is in the fortunate position of just having signed a six-season deal with Oryx – a company which mines jewels in the Congo. Oryx will sponsor Mouret's twice-yearly London show.

Mouret will, in turn, oversee the design of a diamond jewellery collection which will be unveiled for the first time this month, along with his clothes. And, if this all sounds too spectacularly glamorous to be true (we are talking about London Fashion Week, after all, which these days, if the world's media is to be believed, has fallen upon hard times), it gets better.

The deal was masterminded by Mouret's new backer. As perhaps befits her status as patron, she prefers to remain anonymous, leaving Mouret to reap the benefits of the limelight. All that is known about her is that she was a client of Mouret's – he dressed her for her engagement and also her recent wedding, romantically enough – for a year and a half before they went into business together in February this year. "It is like in the 1930s, you know," says Mouret, "when all these countesses were helping designers."

Both Mouret and his mystery "countess" are in agreement that, despite the obvious fabulousness of the arrangement, the in-your-face glitz with which diamonds are usually associated is unfortunate. Their diamonds will, therefore, remain uncut – this is a fashion first. Mouret himself wears one at his throat – it looks like an impressively large piece of crystalline sugar (an extraordinarily beautiful and complex piece of crystalline sugar nevertheless), which, to the untrained eye, could be passed over without comment. This is exactly the point. These diamonds are intended to have a personal affinity to the wearer – a woman, or indeed man, who has rather more strings to their bow than the need to wear their wealth on their sleeve.

"Taking away the connotations of diamonds as shiny and expensive," the designer says, "they are also inherently very beautiful. For me, I would prefer to buy a diamond than a car. Diamonds are like human beings, people forget that they are unique. They've also been around since before the dinosaurs. I like the idea of a diamond being like a soul mate. I like the idea that you choose your diamond."

Each stone will be given a name and a certificate ("like a diamond passport") when it is mined. They will be sold on a private commission basis – the buyer will specify the size and colour of the diamond – and set very simply in white gold, to bring out the natural beauty of each individual stone. The end product will be stamped RM Rough – "like rough diamond", Mouret explains. "I've always thought that a sponsor should be linked to you in some way. That its product should be included in your work without your looking like a prostitute."

Both personally and professionally, the rough diamond moniker seems to suit Roland Mouret down to the ground. He was born in Lourdes 40 years ago. His father was a butcher, his mother a waitress. They are both still alive and Mouret visits them at home each year. "They're still together, it's incredible." He has one sister who he describes as "bohemian, exotic" and this does not seem hard to believe. "It was like growing up in a big funfair. All the lights in the shops. It was like a religious Dallas. At first I wanted to be a priest but when I was thirteen I told them at school that I wanted to be a fashion designer. The headmaster called my dad and said, 'you know, he can't do that'".

Mouret says that, to this day, his family can't believe that anyone from their background could make a living being creative. His parents didn't disapprove of his chosen occupation but they did wonder where the money would come from. "My father never really talked about money. He just told us there would always be food on the table."

During the Eighties, Mouret worked in Paris. He went to fashion school there but that only lasted three months. "I decided I'd rather go out, have a life. I was a club kid, my look was quite Forties, quite Dick Tracy. I made my own clothes during the day and bought more at the flea market." During this period he also dabbled with modelling (for Jean Paul Gaultier and Yohji Yamamoto), styling (he once designed a pattern for the readers of French Elle for a dress that would cost them the grand sum of £5) and art directing (for French fashion catalogues). Then, at the end of the Eighties, he moved to London.

"You know," he says, "there has always been a cross-cultural relationship between Paris and London. In France we had Poiret, in England there was Worth. One can't exist without the other. In the south of France they are as proud and mad as English people."

In 1994, Mouret set up the Freedom bar. "It was the most fantastic experience," he says. "Before that, there was nowhere to go in London before 7pm. With Freedom people could hang out in Soho all day. I opened the place with three other people, we all put in £10,000. I met Lee [McQueen] there, and Katy [England] and Hussein [Chalayan]." And Mouret was also approached by Italian clothing manufacturer Gibo, to design a line of clothing which reflected the lifestyle.

"People Corporation was all about white-trash culture. We could never establish ourselves on a broad basis because it was too underground." With 60 per cent of People Corporation sales in the Far East, the financial crisis that hit that part of the world by the late 1990s led to the decision to close the company at which Mouret decided to go into fashion business alone.

It was, it turns out, a very happy change of direction. The designer's first show took the clothes back to the salon environment and comprised the most lovely parade of dresses made out of squares of fabrics wrapped around the body and fastened with pins. It was quietly respectful to women – each piece of fabric was arranged with the individual in mind – and hugely glamorous. It was also, quite refreshingly, not aiming itself at the front pages.

Clothes were sold on a one-off basis only. It was far less sensational than the work of some of London's lesser designers who, through revealing rather more skin than is absolutely necessary or pulling of mind-blowingly crass stunts with celebrities, gained all the column inches. Instead, Mouret was appealing directly to his client.

At this season's collections he will do just the same and, due to the absence of names like Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen, this may well be Mouret's moment. "So many designers are making clothes for women in their twenties," he says, "but at prices that only women in their thirties and forties can afford. There's no point doing that. But I don't want to do clothes for before 7pm. You can go to Marks & Spencer for that."

He has introduced mannish tailoring, predominantly in black and white, to his collection and has learned that, although his couture business can survive by wrapping alone – it continues to do so – his ready-to-wear line has to have hanger appeal. Dresses are more finished than they have been, although they still come with instructions telling the customer how to wear them. It is a highly personal and exclusive way of dressing which, in a world increasingly overtaken by luxury conglomerates, is very appealing. Mouret works closely with several women who are colleagues and friends – he says that if he can make them happy then he's done his job.

"We are showing in an empty house in Rutland Gate," he says. "It will be after 7pm and lit by moonlight. It's my 40th birthday show and it will be like a party – with only 120 press, 100 friends and a few buyers. There will be no seating numbers. Everyone is equal."

He is inspired this time, he says, by Hollywood in the 30s, 40s and 50s. "I want to revisit all my visions of a Hollywood as a kid. We used to have Marilyn Monroe, now we have Madonna." Such unashamed nostalgia will, of course, come packaged with the more organic, idiosyncratic touch that is all Mouret's own.

"Some designers want to dress up the woman inside them," he says, "I want to dress the woman at my side. I'm just doing exactly what I believe in. And every single piece is something that I love."

 

For private commissions contact 020-7376 5762. Roland Mouret ready-to-wear is available at Browns, Koh Samui and Joseph

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