LONDON — Bruce Oldfield has been creating dresses for royals, actresses and the international rich for nearly four decades, but nothing makes him wince like the words “couturier” or “fashion designer.”
This story first appeared in the March 3, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I hate that word ‘couturier.’ I would rather be known as a dressmaker, or a dress designer. I don’t want to be a fashion designer because I don’t do fashion. We leave that to other people,” said Oldfield, 63, from his small atelier on Beauchamp Place, where he’s had a shop since 1984.
“I design clothes, proper clothes, for proper occasions. That’s where my business is. I don’t do ready-to-wear, it’s all made-to-measure. I’m like a Savile Row tailor — except I produce new designs twice a year.”
For the first time in a decade — and after some tactful nagging from his Stateside clients — Oldfield will be holding trunk shows in New York at The Mark hotel beginning Wednesday in a bid to capitalize on a renewed vigor in the market.
“Everybody I speak to who has knowledge of the U.S. business says that in New York the women are ready to spend again. And they are spending,” said the designer, who’s dressed in luxe street style: black, tailor-made cashmere blazer, an old Vince hoodie, dark Zegna trousers and white Marc Jacobs sneakers.
Oldfield said New Yorkers get his straightforward approach to design.
“I do clothes you don’t have to intellectually play with because I’ve never seen the point in it. When I was at Central Saint Martins, we were trained to cut things that flattered,” he said, adding that he thrives on the buzz of making women feel good with tactile fabrics and tricks “to conceal all the bits you’re trying to conceal, and making fabulous things.”
Oldfield, whose evening dresses range from about 9,000 pounds to 15,000 pounds, or $15,000 to $25,000 at current exchange, will be taking orders for his winter collection in a pop-up showroom at The Mark.
On Thursday, he plans to do a Q&A at Parsons The New School for Design with Kyle Farmer, one of his former assistants, who is now an associate professor there.
Even at 63, Oldfield remains wide-eyed about the potential America offers: “Oh, to be in America. We always used to think, you know, that being in Europe is fantastic because we were kind of independent in a way. Look at Michael Kors. He’s reached a billion in his own personal wealth. It’s extraordinary. Here, to make a business in any way successful, you really have to take it out of this country.”
Oldfield graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1973, and later that year showed his collection at Henri Bendel, having been invited by its president Geraldine Stutz, the woman who famously transformed the store into a hub for designer brands.
Oldfield established his business in 1975, selling rtw on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1978, he added couture, and became known for his clean lines, embellishment and embroidery, and began attracting big-name clients such as Charlotte Rampling.
He famously began dressing Lady Diana Spencer in 1980 even before her marriage to Prince Charles, and continued to whip up her power suits and lush evening gowns until the end of the decade.
In 2011, having already made many a royal and socialite’s bridal outfit, Oldfield was widely tipped to be the designer of Kate Middleton’s dress, which was eventually made by Sarah Burton, creative director at Alexander McQueen. Asked if he’s made anything for the Duchess of Cambridge, Oldfield said with a cheeky smile, “Not yet.”
Over the years, he’s created one-off designs for clients including the Duchess of Cornwall, Britain’s First Lady Samantha Cameron, Jemima Khan, Queen Rania of Jordan and a host of Middle Eastern royals, while Sienna Miller, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian and Kelly Brook have all worn his dresses.
And while Oldfield is sticking with couture, he remains attracted to the mass market.
The sole owner of his business, the designer said he loves watching “likes” ping onto his brand’s Facebook page, and said he’s in talks with a few high-street retailers regarding a potential collaboration for 2015, which is also the 40th anniversary of the company.
“It would have to be the right high-street store, so we can produce something that has the quality. I mean, if it’s good quality and it’s, say, 190 pounds [$317 at current exchange], then I’m happy with it,” he said.