ROME — Mafalda von Hessen attributes her solid relationship with Eric Wright to “osmosis.”
To be sure, the two friends could not be any different in terms of background and experience, but they easily complement each other and form what appears to be a partnership based on trust and respect. Fashion is clearly a magnet for von Hessen, a painter with a master’s degree in design and a Princess, as a member of the European House of Hesse dynasty and granddaughter of Mafalda di Savoia, daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. California-born Wright is formerly Karl Lagerfeld’s right-hand man at Fendi, and has also designed for Trussardi and Roberto Cavalli.
At the storied Villa Polissena of the Savoia family, a quiet oasis surrounded by a park and ensconced in the luxury Parioli district of the Italian capital, von Hessen and Wright gave WWD an exclusive preview of the Mafalda von Hessen spring 2018 collection, which will be presented in Paris from June 23 to July 3, straddling Men’s Fashion Week and the first days of couture.
First established in 2013 as what they call “an experimental project,” the fashion label is now more structured legally and financially — Victor Patino was recently named managing director — and the duo feels ready for the Paris stage. Their presentation, at 233 Rue Saint-Honoré, will leverage on the attendance of international press and retailers during such a crucial moment in the city. After this leg, the presentation will move to Milan at art gallery Studio Giangaleazzo Visconti in the historical Palazzo Cicogna from July 7 to Sept. 30.
While at first only providing suggestions and advice, Wright is now fully committed to the brand. “I didn’t plan on this. I was just a guy helping out a friend, but this is no longer a pastime. It makes sense to dedicate my attention to Mafalda and the brand, making her avoid potential pitfalls, steering her through manufacturing issues, the timing of fabric deliveries, logistics and so on,” he explained.
Von Hessen’s ethereal looks — her fair complexion, big blue eyes and blonde bob — belie her steely determination. “I always told myself: You will do something with this artistic side inside you for which you will be recognized,” she said, skipping from one clothes rack to the other.
The collection reflects von Hessen’s own style. Wearing her father’s loose shirt and comfortable slacks during the interview, she favors practical clothes that can be layered and are interchangeable.
“She has an inner confidence, stimulating and positive, which affects other women — she puts out signals,” said Wright. “And she is a detector, she has fashion antennae, as her own needs become her customers’ needs.”
While precise tailoring runs across the collection — think safari or military jackets in tightly woven Japanese cotton, or a long pink coat that can be worn as a dress —t here are also some sensual designs in Japanese satin that move with the body. Von Hessen, who was a style ambassador for Giorgio Armani for years, dislikes a gratuitous show of skin and designed several silk tulle underpinnings that can be worn under a feminine, ruched blouse, as well as leggings under shorts, often in contrasting colors.
Wright pointed to a pair of pants with buttons on its cuffs, saying that “Mafalda plays with clothes, she likes multiuse looks.” Showing how they can become shorts, for example, by pulling and buttoning them up, he proved how there were three different looks in one pair of trousers.
A burgundy bias-cut dress with a bohemian feel has straps that can be tied in different ways to alter its look. “There is not one way to wear it, it depends on how you style it,” Wright remarked. The back neckline is scooped, reminiscent of a Japanese kimono, observed von Hessen. Jumpsuits are also key in the lineup. A superlight leather coat is reminiscent of a boxing robe.
The company is based in Rome and the clothes, which are all produced in Italy, are not designed with a short-term season in mind. “We like to make things that last,” said von Hessen. The collections are “like building blocks,” observed Wright.
The brand’s customer is modeled after von Hessen, a busy mother of four who travels year-round, so that “day pieces morph into evening,” fabrics don’t wrinkle and “nothing is too tight or complicated.”
Von Hessen’s artistic sensibility is seen in the prints that she personally creates and paints, such as a multicolored web of criss-cross stripes or fun paint splatters. She also created a number of cartoonish “happy faces” and “oops” that she discreetly inserts in the clothes as tags.
“She has no respect for rules, and I find that inspiring,” said Wright.
The collection is sold at Matchesfashion.com; The Corner in Berlin; Pia in San Francisco, and Uffizi, in Short Hills, N.J., among others.
Jackets retail at between 900 and 2,400 euros. Prices of pants range from 750 to 1,500 euros and blouses from 550 euros, to the tulle embroidered versions at 3,000 euros.