Napoleon Bonaparte got all the attention, but his sister Pauline was no slouch. Reputed to be the most beautiful woman in 18th century Europe, she was also known for her impulsiveness, frivolity and racy reputation — all ingredients that can spur a fashion designer to creative nirvana.
British designer Jenny Packham, who has long been a favorite of the Duchess of Cambridge and Hollywood celebrities, has been spending a lot of time in Paris recently, where she opened a showroom in the City of Light as the center for her famed bridal gowns and special event creations. A butler at the British Embassy across from her Paris shop turned her on to the Bonaparte sister and Packham quickly became enamored with Pauline, aka the Princess Borghese, as the centerpiece for her spring 2020 collection.
Packham unveiled the collection of gorgeous evening gowns emblazoned with sequins, crystal beading and fringe in Paris and will bring the full collection to Houston this Wednesday, October 16 for a runway show and cocktail party at Elizabeth Anthony to benefit the American Heart Association. In an email interview, Packham talked about why she now prefers Paris to unveil her new collections, her favorite celebrity look and what she’s most looking forward to during her Houston visit.
PaperCity: Welcome back to Houston. This will be your second visit in a year. Is there anything you plan to do or see in Houston that you didn’t have time for last year?
Jenny Packham: Thank you, I am very happy to be back. I am hoping to visit The Museum of Fine Arts, try more of the wonderful restaurants in Houston, and, of course, I am looking forward to meeting all of our customers at the catwalk show and shopping evening with Elizabeth Anthony.
PC: In previous years, you have unveiled your collection in New York and London but now you are showcasing it in Paris. Why?
JP: We’ve been a fixture on the New York Fashion Week schedule for the past 16 seasons, returning to London last year in celebration of the brand’s 30th Anniversary. We’ve presented the past two collections in Paris at our newly launched By Appointment Only Apartment – it has long been home to the brand. All of our international buying appointments take place in Paris — commercially it makes sense to present the collections to press and international buyers over Paris Fashion Week.
PC: What was the inspiration for your spring 2020 collection?
JP: I had a lot of fun with this season’s inspiration which celebrates the joie de vivre of Princess Pauline Bonaparte. Famed for her looks, notorious for her passions and immortalised by Antonio Canova’s shockingly nude statue. Napoleon’s sister was wild and considered to be the most beautiful and salacious noblewoman in Europe.
PC: You also plan to show some look from your spring/summer 2020 pre-collection in Houston. What was you inspiration for that collection and how does it differ from you spring collection?
JP: The Houston show will feature an edit of best-selling styles from the Spring Summer ’20 Mainline and Pre-Collections. The SS20 Pre-Collection was inspired by the Spanish Master of Light, Sorolla. His rainbow colour palette, depiction and application of iridescent light. The collection is as rich in colour as it is in texture: pleated gold gilded lamé, embellished tweed, polka dot crystal tulle, organza and Victoriana lace adorn rose quartz tulle gowns, buttercup yellow cocktail dresses and emerald green sequin jumpsuits.
PC: How is your Houston/Texas customer different from clients in other parts of the world?
JP: Our client varies across each of our major markets, so it is important to cater to each market; accommodating different style preferences and traditions. I love meeting our customers in Houston — the women are wonderfully glamourous, fashion forward, don’t shy away from sparkle, and they look beautiful in my designs.
PC: When we Googled your name, one of the stories that came up mentioned six celebrities who stole the spotlight in one of your gowns. Do you have a favorite look worn by a celebrity?
JP: I am so honoured to have dressed so many talented women over the years and I still get the same thrill when someone steps out on the red carpet in my designs. The first time Angelina Jolie stepped out was pretty special. (Jolie wore a one-shoulder red Jenny Packham gown to the premiere of Tree of Life in 2011.)
PC: Designing bridal gowns is also an important part of your business. How does that differ from designing for other special occasions? And which do you like to do best?
JP: I love both and feel very lucky to design dresses for special occasions — be it a wedding or a black tie event. Creatively, I can be really indulgent with the designs and I have always loved working with beading and embellishment. Because of the nature of my collections, the occasions they are worn to tend to be quite special and have a sentimental significance to the wearer.
I feel a sense of responsibility to our customers and It’s lovely to think that I’ve somehow played a part in the memories of a special day.