Kleinfeld Designer Series: An Interview with Henry & Michelle Roth
Australian designers, Henry and Michelle Roth are anything but a sibling rivalry. They exude completely different individual tastes yet are perfectly in sync with their bridal creations. With three Roth generations of bridal design in their family history it seems that their exquiste bridal creations are almost genetic. Henry and Michelle weigh in on naming their gowns, where they find their design inspiration, and the joys that come from being a part of a brides special day.
1. Each of your gowns has a unique name. What comes first the name or the gown? And how do you find the perfect name for each gown?
"Henry and I always encompass the "passage" of the gown first…from fabric to form to seeing the gown on our fit model…this is our laser focus first. The idea for a name is sometimes instantaneously derived from the atmosphere created by the gown or from a feeling the entire dress evokes. At other moments it could be that it reminds us of someone or something in our experiences or travels."
"Wow…That's a spot on first question! Style names always come at the end of the designing. It actually means a great deal to us. Firstly, we are all about personal connection with our design and the bride. We design very broadly and do so strategically. By that I mean our style base is vast - from destination to ballroom weddings. Style names are even more important because we want the style to evoke a mood, a feeling and a sense of style."
"For example, the Michelle Roth style Roberta has a sense of regality and classic chic while the Henry Roth style Endya has a sense of unique, precious and non-conformist -- and that She is. It's also a very special bonding experience for us. My Mother, Father, Michelle and I are part of the "naming ceremony" which is always a reminder of the family element present in our brands."
2. Being from Australia and traveling back and forth so often, do you draw the majority of your design inspiration from Australian culture?
"Henry and I are so fortunate to have been exposed to the world from a very young age. Our parents are a huge influence in our lives and business. They are the originators of the business and were determined to "open our eyes" to the vast beauty encompassed in the universe and to bridge the gap of living in a country so far from the rest of the world. So, certainly we are inspired by the way we grew up in a uniquely Australian environment where apart from design we were imbued with what it means to treat all people with respect and humanity. We have both carried this credo with us and utilize it everyday in our approach to everything and particularly with all our brides that we meet at our Kleinfeld Trunk Shows."
"Meaningful inspiration begins with how people treat each other and the Australian culture places great value in this aspect of life. Moreover when Henry and I design, the respect we show each other and the atmosphere in which we work takes precedence and is a large part of our creative fortitude."
"I think that my influence comes more from the street. I design into Henry Roth mainly and gowns reflect an element of "renegade" bride. My gowns are classic with a twist of cool contemporary flair. So for me it's night life, street fashion, red carpet world-wide especially the Hollywood awards seasons. I will say that there is something uncomplicated about Australian culture and that is conveyed in the collection in a way. We just love there to be an element of drama in my collections."
"As for Michelle, she has been living in New York City for more than two decades. She is so different to my style influences. Michelle is the princess of understated sophistication as a classically trained Opera Singer. Michelle worked at the Australian Consulate, and has earned an honors degree in Political Science at our Ivy League status University of Sydney. Michelle loves museums...She is one of the most stylish people I know. Her collections reflect a unique sense of confidence and she reflects the steely determination of NYC, constantly raising the bar. Her last collection had me in awe."
3. What is your favorite part of the design process?
"The design process runs the gamut of excitement to frustration. The excitement of ideas to seeing the finished dress is always one of great anticipations. Sometimes the dress is beyond your expectation and at other times the way a fabric "behaves" can be a disappointment. This is the path that is never assured. Being so proud of our dresses that we ultimately select to show to brides is thrilling and then having brides select our dresses to reflect and represent how they feel on their wedding day is the greatest compliment. This is definitely my favorite part of the process."
"The concept. The idea. The breaking the mold and doing something fresh and sizzling. Creating something that will capture the imagination of brides who come from all over the four corners of the planet. There is a great sense of pride when a bride chooses a Henry Roth or Michelle Roth gown at Kleinfeld. It's a huge feeling of bonding with a bride. I love the process of seeing that dream unfold in front of Michelle and I and all the dedicated professionals at Klelnfeld. To see Kleinfeld owners, Mara Urshel or Ronnie Rothstein support our designs we have worked so hard on and that look amazing on a Kleinfeld Bride is the full circle. That mixed with family tradition and a heritage of three generations of designers means the world to me."
4. Although these siblings are a packaged deal some gowns fall under Henry while others fall under Michelle. Henry, how do your particular gown designs differ from Michelle’s? Or vice versa? Do you design each gown together or separately?
"Henry and I have very different personalities and therefore our approach to our separate labels is a reflection of our individuality. Though often we will design together or consult with each other and our Mother, the Michelle Roth gown is quiet sophistication and less embellishment where the Henry Roth label has a more urban sensibility."
"Stop in the name of love! There is a big difference and although we are very much supportive of each brand, they do have two independent feelings and brand emotions quite different from each other."
"Michelle Roth is couture with finishes that are mainly hand sewn, the fabrics are more richly definable such as silks and imported specialty fabrics from Europe. Michelle Roth couture has a slightly greater sense of intricate detailing and Michelle's latest collection could only be Michelle with satin rolled edged piping on lace that falls faultlessly on Chantilly lace. She uses pleating, pin tucking, and draping of box pleats that are revolutionary because they don't pucker. Michelle’s collection is all about understated, Manhattan sensitivity. Look at the Brooklyn bridge, one gorgeous clean span across the length to another span. The detailing on the girders and the side metal supports are intricate. That's how hard striking simplicity can be. Constraint!"
"Henry Roth is affordable couture and in 2003 we were the foray to really champion fashion forward, irreverent designs. Henry Roth revels in taking old school fabric and cutting it into modern shapes. Take a look at Deidre. I stumbled across some re-embroidered guipure lace that I remember helping my mother drape in 1975. I looked at it twice and thought...that’s so different from what people are wearing today and I said, “Ok Michelle let's commission some of that 1970s fabric and have it made up specially and cut into totally simple A-line dress.” (This was of course before lace was a key factor for iconic dresses along the line of Lady Di's). And people love it! Brides wear it down the aisle and it evokes Audrey Hepburn in a Henry Roth kind of way."
5. How are both of your personal styles reflected in your bridal creations?
"The picture says it all."
6. What is a favorite memory you have from working with a bride?
"Years ago a bride requested a long sleeved gown and she was very particular that the sleeves needed to be resilient. The dress worried me and I had a feeling there was going to be something strenuous that would compromise the fabric. On her last fitting, the wonderful bride got up and started practicing a special dance she had created in honor of her groom. I will never forget thinking the entire night before her wedding if the dress would be able to withstand the extra movements that had been planned. The next morning a beautiful bouquet was at my desk waiting for me. Inside the card read, “I am sending you this bouquet before the wedding has even commenced. I realize the sleeves of my dress transpire the experience and joy that you have brought to me and my husband as well as the soul, passion and fragility of sophistication as part of the dance that will transcend our wedding forever.” It was very very touching and by the way... The sleeves held out!"
"It was in Sydney and we were taping a segment for one of our morning TV shows. It was being filmed at our design studio where my father and I introduced the sound specialist to the PR assistant in an attempt to set the two up on a date. They instantly hit it off and my father said, “If you get married you will have the choice of ANY wedding gown you love as a gift!” One year later, my parents attended the couples wedding and the bride wore a gifted Henry Roth creation."
7. What do you enjoy most about designing for the bridal industry?
"New fabrications, textured layering. Designing is so free to experiment with three-dimensional creativity. I have just launched exclusively for Kleinfeld the Michelle Roth Champagne Collection. It is a jeweled gown collection that is simple yet so ethereal. Seeing it meticulously come together after eight months of proto-types is the joy and the ultimate manifestation. Of course when the gown is tried on for the first time, all new styles come to life."
"The thought that here we are being given the opportunity to be a part of one of the most important and symbolic moments in a persons life. That never fails to thrill me and humble me."
Henry and Michelle with be at Kleinfeld for a trunk show February 7th-9th.
- Lindsey Groginski
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