Roksanda Illincic is a London-based designer, and owner of her own label ‘Roksanda’. She has designed her own garments for over two decades and celebrated living 20 years in London last year, she is now one of the most recognised and celebrated
designers in the city. Roksanda has been a regular feature on the London Fashion Week schedule since 2005, later adding swimwear and blossom, a childrenswear line, to the ready- to-wear offering. In June 2014, she opened her very own store in London’s exclusive Mayfair area, and a few months down the line was named ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ at the Harper’s Bazaar UK Women of the Year Awards. So it’s fair to say Roksanda is someone to take note of.
Solstice: What was life like in your home country of Serbia, and how did you get into design?
Roksanda: Well, when I was born the country was part of Yugoslavia and then became Serbia and Montenegro. Now it is just Serbia, following the splitting of the two countries. It was a turbulent time in the Balkans and things were generally tough economically and politically. I was lucky enough to be born into a middle class family, with both my parents having good jobs. We travelled a lot, which led me to have many different experiences. I studied architecture and applied arts back home in Belgrade, but I was always interested in fashion. I was definitely influenced from a young age by my mum and her incredible collection of clothes, colour is also a big thing back home, so clearly that had an effect on me. I think it came from the situation in the Balkans, as I said, things were a little bleak politically and economically to we tried to dress in bright colours to lift the mood a bit.
Solstice: How did you find the transition between life in Serbia and London?
Roksanda: The U.K has been my home for just over 20 years, I feel British now! But it was hard when I first came here. I immigrated to study for a masters degree in fashion at Central Saint Martins in London, but I only knew one person when I arrived. So the first few months were quite lonely for me. Thankfully, I managed to make good friends and my design work really picked up.
Solstice: You said you feel British, and that shows, as you’ve supported the British fashion industry by working on various campaigns and programmes to give it a boost and exposure. Tell us about why you love the U.K fashion scene so much?
Roksanda: Well, after graduating from Central Saint Martins, I was given financial support from the British Fashion Council’s “NewGen” scheme, which backs promising young British designers. So, I’ve always felt indebted to the U.K’s fashion industry and so I like to try and give back to it. Earlier this year, I had my London Fashion Week show in the building of the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth department which was hosted by the ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign. It was incredibly successful and had stars such as Cate Blanchett attend, who I utterly adore. It’s a great cause, and I think we raised some awareness for the country’s industry.
Solstice: What do you think about the unprecedented hard times caused by the the Covid-19 pandemic?
Roksanda: It’s a very sad and challenging time. We are questioning everything - how we and our families are going to survive, and our businesses as well. Sadly, this time is the lowest point of my career so far, and for the industry in general. I just hope we are going to find some answers soon.
Solstice: How has your business worked around social-distancing measures and other problems created by the outbreak?
Roksanda: It’s not easy, because in design lots of things are done in 3D, so you have to assess things on a model, and see how they look in each direction - it’s very tactile. We’ve all had to download various different computer programs and adapt to the situation. I like to use my iPad to draw out designs in 2D and they are then made into 3D models.
Solstice: Fashion has been one of the hardest hit industries, how do you think it will adapt in the aftermath of Covid-19?
Roksanda: Many people think that fashion is in its own bubble. However, I don't think it is. Clothes are worn to protect us, like a uniform and they also let us express who we are. In hard times, some people want to retreat and go to the basics, while others want to dream and escape. Fashion tackles and answers both of those needs. The industry will be fine. Things will be difficult for a while, but fashion has always prevailed.
Solstice: What is the most enjoyable part of being a fashion designer?
Roksanda: The design process is the most exciting and interesting part for me. You're looking to express yourself through your designs, so the state you're in and what you're feeling has a huge impact on the designs. I love seeing the final pieces after production, but for me the initial design process is the best and most fun.
Solstice: You've recently collaborated with Lululemon to launch an athletic-wear SS20 collection (see above). What made you want to join forces with them?
Roksanda: It was a great opportunity! Atheltic-wear such as leggings, sweatpants etc. are always so drab looking in terms of the colours used. 99% of these kind of pieces of clothing are either grey, black or a dark blue. I've always used vibrant colours in my designs and generally wear colourful clothing. The only time when I'm wearing head-to-toe black or grey is when I'm working out in my gym gear! Lululemon were looking to create a more colourful collection that would change athwear into something that was expressive, as well as functional. I jumped at the chance to work with them and I'm very happy with the results of our collaboration.
The collection has the athletic-wear staples such as sports bras and leggings, but there are also items that are specifically to those in-between, on-the-go moments, like a midiskirt, wide-leg trousers, and a drawstring dress, all in a technical satin. Those are really pieces for transitioning from one phase of your day to another, when you’re on your way to the gym or you’re just commuting. Streetwear has been very popular in recent years, and sportswear has also seen a sharp increase in sales. So we're just trying to further blur the lines between traditional fashion wear and functional wear. Why not have the best of both worlds?
Solstice: Since we're on the subject of colour, what is your favourite colour?
Roksanda: I don't actually have one! I think that's a reason why my designs have such a great variety of colours, because I think all of them are great!
Solstice: Finally, what do you have to say to any aspiring designers out there?
Roksanda: Well, the next few months and possibly years will be very tough for smaller designers and brands, but if keep going and try as hard as you can , you’ll pull through these tough times. Like most businesses, if you want to be successful, you have to dedicate your life to it and go through a lot of blood, sweat and tears. With every win comes many losses, and you will have to make sacrifices. Most success does not come overnight.