Susie Rushton: Indestructible garment that built an empire

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The Independent Online

Screw it up into a ball, fling it into a suitcase, fly it to the other side of the globe - and still look glamorous, feminine and crease-free, with no iron required. Over the past two decades, the signature Ghost dress has remained a reliable standby in an industry notorious for proposing fantastic, sexy or shocking designs that might be heaven to behold, but are hell to wear and, in particular, care for.

A Ghost dress in the label's unique crepe-like viscose yarn can even be put in a washing machine - a claim with which few designers of similar stature would concern themselves.

The highly practical, softly-textured fabric that would make Ghost's reputation was championed not by a male couturier but a busy mother-of-two - surely no co-incidence. The iconic Ghost dress is cut, usually on the bias, from this highly-practical fabric and then dyed in dreamy colours and stitched with embroideries that underscore the label's unashamedly feminine image. The typical Ghost dress may have passed in and out of fashion over the past 20 years but the always-available simple slip dress, ankle- or knee-length, with spaghetti straps, is dependably flattering. A fluid, romantic silhouette has always been more visible on the Ghost catwalk than anything as aggressive as structured tailoring; details tend to be of the girlish variety - waterfall frills and gored skirts - rather than androgynous. The current, lingerie-inspired catwalk collection stuck to an easy-on-the-eye palette of primrose yellow, lavender and pale peach.

"My work is very much aimed at understanding the female shape," Sarne has said.

Styles with a scooped neckline and three-quarter-length sleeves were also perennial favourites - not least becuase Sarne insisted that there would be some garments that could be worn with a bra underneath the clingy fabric.

The final product may appear effortless, but in fact the process of making a typical Ghost dress is both time-consuming and unique. When garments are first cut from the raw viscose they must be made to outsized patterns; once dyed, they then shrink to the desired size. According to Sarne she discovered the fabric by accident, after washing a fabric sample - and then decided that she preferred the shrunken to the original.

This costly technique also lends a vintage feel to the finished textile, a factor which has enabled Ghost to keep in step with trends for Bohemia and antique clothing.

In the 1990s Ghost received a further boost to its image when it became the label that supermodels name-checked as being best suited to their itinerant lifestyles. Britney Spears, Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Sophie Dahl, Nicole Kidman, Amanda Donohoe, Liz Hurley and British model Liberty Ross (also the face of Ghost perfume) are all fans. Ghost was even honoured with a bridal credit in the final series of Sex and the City when the character Miranda was married in a velvet suit by the West-London based label.

Ghost has become a staple for design talent: over the years, head designers in Sarne's studio have included Nicholas Knightly - now at Louis Vuitton - and Susanne Deeken - now at Marc by Marc Jacobs.