Jenny Packham, a red-carpet designer of choice

Jenny Packham (above), the British eveningwear designer, at her showroom in London.
Jenny Packham (above), the British eveningwear designer, at her showroom in London. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

LONDON • She is the go-to, red- carpet house of choice for a constellation of Hollywood stars, counts Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, as a loyal devotee and holds a glittering client Rolodex of some of the wealthiest women in the world.

But Jenny Packham, the British eveningwear designer set to show her latest collection at New York Fashion Week last Sunday, rarely pulls the same fashion A-listers to her front row.

Anna Wintour does not attend. Neither does Anna Dello Russo, the flamboyant Italian editor-at-large of Vogue Japan.

Well-heeled department store buyers are there in droves, but not the street-style stars of the moment, nor downtown bloggers keen to chart the latest breaking trends.

Rarely is the gulf between what is desirable on the red carpet and what is desirable on the runway as clear.


Bryce Dallas Howard wearing a sequinned Jenny Packham number at the Golden Globes last month. PHOTO: REUTERS

She knows how to cater to everyday women and provides elegant and appropriate wear for many occasions.

HELEN DAVID, fashion director at Harrods, on eveningwear designer Jenny Packham

"If women want to look quirky or experimental, well, then they go elsewhere," said Packham, 50, from her Mayfair studio last week. Her tone, while not defensive, was firm.

"But so many women don't want that from occasion wear, which I think many labels can forget," she said.

"They want to look gorgeous, to feel the part in the moment. As a designer, I strive to give them that, and so often err towards the traditional. I'm certainly not in the business of making anything or anyone seem avant garde. I make them feel beautiful."

The statement was perhaps a gentle dig at the London fashion culture, which notoriously celebrates eccentricity and the outre, as well as an acknowledgment of her own strengths. It is Packham's creative philosophy and blithe disregard for trends, after all, that have propelled her into her niche in the fashion power structure. She has made a virtue, and profit, out of being the safe and appropriate choice.

"She knows how to cater to everyday women and provides elegant and appropriate wear for many occasions," Helen David, fashion director at Harrods, wrote in an e-mail, referring to the designer's signature floor-length gowns with cascading beadwork, embroidered cocktail dresses and shimmering after-dinner separates, all united by a faithful adherence to simple, flattering silhouettes.

Last year, for example, the Duchess of Cambridge opted for a buttercup print silk shift when leaving the hospital with a newborn Princess Charlotte, a scarlet cap- sleeved bespoke dress when meeting the Chinese President at a Buckingham Palace state dinner and a bespoke diaphanous diamante- encrusted gown when greeting guests at the London premiere of the latest James Bond movie, Spectre.

Adele chose Jenny Packham for her American and British televised comeback performances last autumn, as well as to accept her Oscar for Best Original Song for Skyfall in 2013.

And at the Golden Globes last month, actress Bryce Dallas Howard hit the headlines for sporting a sequinned US$4,800 (S$6,723) Jenny Packham number on the red carpet that she had bought for herself from Neiman Marcus, while Helen Mirren wore Jenny Packham gowns to both the Golden Globes last year and to the Screen Actors Guild awards, also last month.

"I'm always excited every time Jenny shows a new collection in New York," stylist Jessica Paster said. "Right away, I pick my favourite red-carpet looks to try on all my girls."

Paster, whose clients include actresses Emily Blunt, Sandra Bullock and Dakota Fanning, said she had been a fan of the "whimsical and beautiful" brand for years.

Packham set up her eveningwear line after graduating from Central Saint Martins in 1988, and owns the business with her husband, Matthew Anderson, who is also the company's CEO.

But in 2009, she traded her slot on the London Fashion Week calendar in favour of New York, despite 60 per cent of her business being based firmly in Britain, France and Italy.

"It was partly a commercial decision," she said. "America has a much more established and robust occasion-wear culture than Great Britain, and given the sheer size of the market in both evening and bridal wear, it made sense to move and try to expand from a sales perspective.

"But it was also a personal one. I felt my design point of view was more welcomed in New York, that I could show my collections in the way I wanted to show them."

Greater proximity to the West Coast and its red-carpet opportunities were also draws. Packham says that digital traffic to her website and across social media platforms soars each time her gowns are worn by celebrities during awards season, mutually advantageous for both parties.

"I think, in hindsight, I felt obliged to be something I wasn't - to be unusual and in line with a sort of English eccentricity that rules the roost here, although that is changing somewhat now," Packham said.

"In America, I can just be glamorous, which is lovely. People are happy and accepting of exactly what it is I do."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'Jenny Packham, a red-carpet designer of choice'. Print Edition | Subscribe