Dressing everyone from Kate Middleton to Angelina Jolie, Jenny Packham’s designs are red-carpet regulars. Packham talked to TIME about the new direction for this season’s collection, the Duchess’ influence on her work and why a British-born designer chooses to show in New York City.
You went for a totally different direction this season, from the film production mood of the show to the darker clothes themselves. Tell us about the shift in style.
The collection was based on the film-noir genre of the 1940s, like The Big Sleep and Strangers on a Train. They usually feature the leading lady as a femme fatale, which was a revolutionary role for women at the time because they were shown as quite witty and cunning and out for themselves. She’s not just a good housewife; she’s very independent. The last few seasons were very sort of ethereal, quite romantic and dreamy, and it’s a little bit of a harder edge this season.
Had you just discovered the films?
No, I’d seen them but picked up a few of the books last year. I loved how when the women came out — like Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice — they’re always completely overdressed. And she comes out in the white turban in a sort of rundown café in the middle of nowhere with full makeup, hair, everything.
What’s your favorite dress from the collection?
I love the two red dresses—the one we started with really kind of set the mood and then the dress that we finished with.
Last time we spoke, Kate Middleton had just worn your pink dress to a London gala. She’s since been seen in several of your designs—do you create with her in the back of your mind?
No, not at all, because we have so many customers to keep happy. There’s all the celebrities, and then we’ve got a Middle Eastern market, the far Eastern market, U.S., Europe—the South of France wants short dresses and low backs—so we have to sort of please several people.
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You’ve shown in London and Milan, but have picked New York for the last couple of years. What do you enjoy about showing in the Big Apple?
What I like about New York is that it’s at the beginning of the season, which is great for us. I think the U.K. has an emphasis on a newer, more avant-garde, perhaps more cutting-edge aesthetic, while I think, here, the collection is accepted as a full-on glamorous collection, and everybody is quite happy about it. I feel I can just design beautiful dresses, which is what I want to do, and a lot of women can look at the dresses and see themselves in that.