News & Runway

When it Comes to Fashion, Is Kate Middleton the New Mrs. O?

Much has been made about First Lady Michelle Obama’s influence on the fashion industry. She helped transform Jason Wu, Narciso Rodriguez, and Isabel Toledo into household names, and J. Crew‘s sales skyrocketed after Mrs. Obama made several appearances in the retail chain’s pieces. Being a household name doesn’t necessarily translate into bottom line profits, though, as evidenced by the bankruptcy of Maria Pinto, a Mrs. O-favored designer. J. Crew’s stock spiked after the First Lady mentioned the retailer on the Tonight Show, proving that contemporary-priced brands may have the most to gain; while the average person may not be able to go out and splurge on a Prabal Gurung dress after seeing Mrs. Obama wearing one, it would be easier to afford the pair of J. Crew gloves she famously wore while clutching the Lincoln Bible just a few weeks later. Perhaps this explains the success of contemporary brand Issa, long-favored by Kate Middleton, whose designer choices are being followed just as closely – if not more! – than Michelle Obama’s.

Since announcing her engagement to Prince William, Kate Middleton’s fashion choices have become the object of much fascination (I’d venture to bet that we’re going to be seeing plenty of oversized hats on the runway come February.) When the 20-something wore a jewel-toned blue jersey Issa dress to the official engagement announcement, Issa – like Michelle Obama’s Jason Wu – became an instant household name. Now Daniella Issa Helayel, the Brazilian-born, London-based designer behind the contemporary label, is expanding quickly to capitalize on her new-found status.

First established in 2001, the designer told WWD that it’s been an uphill struggle to gain momentum for her jersey dresses, but that Middelton found her through friends, declining to elaborate further. Thrust into the spotlight, Issa now has a celebrity following that includes Madonna and Kylie Minogue, and there’s no denying that Issa’s F/W 2011 show will have a who’s who of the fashion glossy mastheads in attendance. With that in mind, the designer is re-launching her business in the U.S. this year and introducing e-commerce to her brand’s website. That’s far from it, however, Issa’s plans also include opening the first of six stand-alone stores in Brazil, launching a children’s collection called Baby Issa at Harrods in early 2011, and going global with the Issa women’s collection.

In a spotlight story on the designer in WWD, Issa’s chief executive officer, Marc Abegg, further revealed that they’re on “the lookout for licenses” (think eyewear and fragrance collections), and that a deal was recently signed with Havaianas to produce Issa-designed flip-flops for Australian and Brazilian markets. Though there’s always a concern of the possibility of designers growing too fast and learning the hard way that the public is fickle, Issa’s design philosophy and aesthetic holds high appeal. She has said, “I love making clothes to hide defects and enhance the positive qualities. For me, it always goes back to making a woman feel less fat and more secure about herself.”

Issa’s chances for success, judging by retailer feedback, seem very promising. Here’s hoping for a Manhattan Issa flagship!


 Daniella Issa Helayel