Kate Middleton's Blue Engagement Dress May Have Triggered the Downfall of Fashion Brand Issa
It's hard to imagine a blue wrap dress costing £430 could signal the end of a little-known British fashion label.
But, when Kate Middleton wore Issa London's famous silk-jersey blue wrap dress to announce her royal engagement to Prince William in 2010, little did she know her fashion choice would see the closure of the label just five years later.
In November 2010, the Duchess of Cambridge stepped out in a simple blue dress called the "Sapphire London," designed by Issa's founder and former creative director, Rio-born Daniella Helayel.
Less than 24 hours later, the dress became an overnight sensation and sold out from British retailer, Harvey Nichols, and resulted in the brand's designs being sold out in more than 43 countries, according to reports.
Years later Helayel and Issa vanished from the fashion industry.
In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, Helayel reveals the unprecedented popularity for her designs, while amazing for sales, was disastrous for her business.
At the time of the Duchess' engagement, Helayel reveals she had just 25 staff members and three pattern cutters in her West London studio. Meanwhile, her label was on the "verge of financial crisis."
"Issa was a niche brand; we had a loyal following, but in 2008 and 2009 we were in serious financial trouble. When Kate wore that dress everything changed," she says.
There was no indication Middleton would wear the Issa dress during her engagement announcement, Helayel says. "That morning I'd gone to yoga as usual, and then I got a call from a friend telling me about the royal engagement. It was all very exciting."
"We didn't have a TV at the studio and this was pre-Instagram, but we soon knew Kate was wearing Issa because at four o'clock the phones began ringing and didn't stop. It was bonkers," she adds.
When Kate wore that dress everything changed.
With the dress sold out in minutes and demands for reorders, Helayel soon learned that popularity isn't always sign of success.
With sales doubling following the appearance of Middleton in her dress design, Helayel reveals she didn't have the money to finance production on a mass scale to meet demand.
"The bank refused to give me credit, and the factory was screaming for me to pay its bills. I needed an investor," she explains.
After Camilla Al-Fayed, a friend of the designer's, offered to buy a 51 per cent stake in the company, the company recruited a new CEO in 2012, which subsequently saw Helayel leave the brand as creative director in May 2013.
Two years later, the label closed.
"I left because I couldn't take any more. I felt so stressed that my hair went white and started falling out. I was broken by the end of it," Helayel says. "I had a great business, which I'd built up on my own over a decade. To watch it evaporate was heartbreaking. I took two years out and didn't design a thing. It was too painful."
"I don't think people realize how much I suffered, but I have always believed that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," adds the designer, who has recently launched her new label, Dhela, and has gone onto design a similar Middleton/Issa dress for Monsoon, currently on sale.
To watch it evaporate was heartbreaking. I took two years out and didn't design a thing.
Helayel's sentiments about the unrealistic demand placed on designers to meet orders, especially when one of their pieces is promoted unexpectedly by a celebrity, echoes those of several designers who have struggled with the impossible demands of sudden growth.
Alber Elbaz left French fashion house Lanvin last October after 14 years at the brand's helm, and later opened up about the crippling stress of having to start designing a new collection the moment he finished the last.
Revealing his dissatisfaction with his profession at the time, Elbaz told Vogue: "People think fashion is one long party that never ends. It's a party, but it ends. The life cycle goes through highs and lows."
Likewise, designers such as former creative director of Dior, Raf Simons, have also opened up about the difficulty of finding inspiration on demand.
People think fashion is one long party that never ends. It's a party, but it ends.
In an interview with the Business of Fashion (BOF)in 2015, Simons admitted, "When you do six shows a year, there's not enough time for the whole process."
"Technically, yes — the people who make the samples, do the stitching, they can do it. But you have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important," he added.
More recently, British jewelry designer, Dominic Jones, has spoken out about the anxiety of success at a young age in the fashion industry, when the likes of Rihanna, Karl Lagerfeld, and Beyoncé became fans of his early work.
After the designer launched his eponymous label in 2009, the 31-year-old revealed to the Evening Standard, "If I'm honest I didn't really know what I was getting myself into."
"I worked out quite quickly that the end game wasn't necessarily what I wanted. I didn't really enjoy having my name as a brand. It isn't something you think about when you're 23 years old and making pieces on your kitchen table.
"And then you're in magazines and on carrier bags, but it's my name and I don't really want it to be a brand. I'm a quieter person than that," added the designer, who "disappeared" after presenting his 10th collection in 2014, before surprising the industry with the announcement he was to be the creative director of British jewelry brand Astley Clarke.
The Royal family has learned to be very careful about newcomers to the relentless churn of fame and attention. Perhaps those who hover in their orbit—designers, friends, and more—should be similarly prepared.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.