A moment with Kate Middleton’s favorite designer, Daniella Issa Helayel


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British designer Daniella Issa Helayel hit the jackpot last month when Kate Middleton wore a sapphire-colored jersey dress from her label Issa to announce her engagement to Prince William.

The dress, $535, caused a sensation. It sold out in just an hour on, suggesting that Middleton could be a one-woman stimulus plan for the British fashion industry, in the same way that first lady Michelle Obama has been in the U.S. for the likes of J. Crew, Thakoon and Jason Wu.


Helayel works primarily in jersey, which brings comparisons of her work to that of designer Diane von Furstenberg. But the Brazilian-born designer is quick to point out that she does not do wrap dresses, she does belted dresses. Since founding her label in London in 2001, Helayel has dressed Madonna, Keira Knightly and many others. But no one has created as much of a stir as Middleton, a longtime fan of the brand.

I caught up with Helayel for a few minutes recently to talk about all things Issa.

How has Kate Middleton changed your business?

It has changed in terms of the amount of press we’ve received. But in terms of sales, we can’t measure because we don’t have our own shops. I’m sure in department stores our sell-throughs have been much higher. [Kate] should be good for British fashion.

Why did you start Issa?

I started Issa because I could not find dresses I wanted to wear. The solution was to design my own. I began to design and make dresses for myself -- ones that made me feel confident, sexy and most importantly, comfortable. My friends soon caught on and I started making dresses for them too. What’s your design philosophy?

We try to make pieces that are functional and mould to different occasions -- the 24-7 dress. I see my role to produce dresses which are flattering, sexy, comfortable and versatile. I keep this at the forefront of my mind and like to update classic shapes as well as incorporating fresh inspiration each season.

You are a native of Brazil. Do you think there is a Brazilian sensibility to your line?

Brazilians love to get dressed and the women are super feminine and connected to their bodies, so they take pride and satisfaction in their clothes. It’s this sense of elegance and chic which I have tried to create in Issa. And having been brought up in tropical surroundings, with much of my childhood spent by the sea, it’s instinctive to absorb all the natural beauty and colors of a place, which translate onto my prints.

Your spring collection was inspired by India, right?

Yes, a trip to Rajasthan. I didn’t do many prints. It was the color and the draping of the clothing there that fascinated me. I don’t make wrap dresses, I make belted dresses that make the waist look slimmer. Because a woman is never too tall, too thin or too rich.

What is your daily routine?

I love what I do, so work is mostly fun. I wake up around 7 a.m. to work out with my trainer in Battersea Park and then take a massage. Breakfast is at 8 a.m. and then I read the papers and go through my e-mails received over the night from our offices in L.A., New York and Tokyo with my beautiful dogs Monster and Snowball by my side. I meet with my press team to brainstorm ideas for future projects and collaborations, followed by a lunch with my sales team to update me on sales globally. Afternoons are spent with my design team, working on our AW11 collection, which, can I say, is going to be rocking. During the evenings, I’m either jetting off to an exhibition (I adore art and try and visit as many galleries and museums I can) or a work event. Or I’m relaxing at home with friends. I try to keep a healthy work/life balance.

What is next for the brand?

Our current project is an online store, which will hopefully open in February. Then, I’m probably opening my first shop in Brazil sometime in the second half of 2011. We are planning six shops in three years. Our motto is ‘Issa for all.’ Having our own boutique will allow us to house every style and shape for every woman.

-- Booth Moore

Top photo: Britain’s Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton pose for a photograph in St. James’ Palace in London on Nov. 16. Credit: Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters.