British eveningwear designer Jenny Packham’s signature move is making gowns fit for a princess. Given that her designs have been worn by British royalty as well as Hollywood stars, creating opulent pieces has served her well during the last three decades. (Packham’s brand is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.)
One notable exception to Packham’s glittering client roster, which includes Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Angelina Jolie and Kate Hudson, is the newly minted Duchess of Sussex, although that may change thanks to Packham’s latest offering.
For her new collection, the designer was inspired by a trip to the former Meghan Markle’s hometown — that would be Los Angeles — where Packham stumbled upon a display dedicated to silver-screen icon and 1930s sex symbol Jean Harlow at the Hollywood Museum.
Packham’s “Today Is Tonight” collection is named after Harlow’s 1965 novel, published after the actress’ death. And it infuses the designer’s usually understated British elegance with a pinch of Tinseltown sparkle in the form of copious Swarovski crystals, sequins, ruffles and feathers.
Eschewing a traditional catwalk show in favor of a more relaxed affair in her spacious flagship store in London’s tony Mayfair district, the Sunday presentation marked something of a homecoming after 17 seasons in New York. “I thought if I bring a bit of Hollywood back with me [from the United States], that’s good,” Packham told The Times.
There are certainly a number of showstoppers in the collection, including an ivory silk gown featuring a plunging bodice embellished with hundreds of Swarovski crystals (a stylist behind me called it “quite Oscar-y”); and a ruffle-necked column dress embroidered with crystals, paillettes and acrylic flowers, which Packham pointed to as her favorite, explaining the dress “epitomizes the collection.”
There’s also a classic Packham wrap dress, which was re-worked with silver sequins in a zebra print (the style has been worn in other fabrics and shades by Jolie, Allison Janney and Dita Von Teese) as well as a dreamy floral-print tulle confection with a gathered waist and draped shoulders that wouldn’t have looked out of place in “Gone With the Wind.”
“That’s what I enjoyed about making a lot of the pieces in the studio,” Packham said. “It was really just doing some draping, just evolving them a bit, rather than having a sketch, doing a pattern, sending them off to the factory, it coming back [and] altering it. So this was one that just kind of evolved.”
It’s Harlow’s enduring legacy despite her early death at the age of 26 that first caught Packham’s attention as well as the actress’ “amazing, cinematic wardrobe,” both on- and off-screen.
“It’s always kind of like big white trousers and blouses and things,” Packham said. “So kind of mixing that and getting this sort of innocence into the collection — and yet this slightly more glamour side from the cinema.”