Ralph & Russo Fall 2019 Couture Collection

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Arriving at the British Embassy just after 5PM today, Marisa Tomei was one of several guests who dressed for the Ralph & Russo couture show as though it were a Cannes première.

She looked stunning—or as the press alerts now say, “she stunned” in a bejeweled black bodice and feathery skirt. And as it happens, according to the program notes, we were attending a “1930s soirée en plein air,” which would mean she wasn’t even overdressed. The rest of us, well, we were definitely underdressed. Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo had a 90-metre runway constructed through the embassy’s gardens to present their Art Deco-inspired lineup. Two ushers in tuxes opened up the terrace doors and out came a series of looks in white that would have registered regal were they not so decadent; there were liberal applications of pearls, flowers outlined in mink, fringes of crystals, tiers of ostrich feathers and diamond-effect tiaras.

What followed was a transition into color starting with impressionist pastel hues and soft surface detail, then gowns that turned more dazzling and, at times, rather glitzy. The designers cited the artist Erté as a point of departure while making interpretative stops along a broader couture timeline that included Chanel, Dior and even Paco Rabanne. Their clients, meanwhile, keep getting younger and younger—as in, 18 to 25-year-olds. For them, the relevance of couture is that it can be both exclusive and every day. Ralph said when these girls find a look they like, they might have it modified into a skirt and a top.

This would explain why the tweed peplum jackets and miniskirts worn with flats had a more ingenue spirit than many of the diaphanous gowns. In any case, what Ralph & Russo understand so well is the fantasy made real—and to their credit, they do this with an intense level of craftsmanship and without repetition. “People still want that—and they will always,” said Ralph. Thus today’s parade of showstoppers, with enough variety to last through summer weddings, fall galas and the start of awards season.