Throughout Jenny Packham’s three decades in the fashion industry, she’s steered her brand with an impressively steady hand: consistently hitting the sweet spot between extravagance and restraint for the discerning, high society women who flock to her designs again and again. Yet when the pandemic hit, the logical pivot for many designers of Packham’s ilk—those whose bread and butter lies primarily in evening wear—was to expand their offering to more casual items. Packham, however, made a risky but carefully considered choice to stick to her guns.
With hindsight, this seems to have been the right decision. Talking to Packham at the end of a busy week of sales appointments, she notes it’s the more flamboyant pieces lighting up the attention of her stockists. “A lot of buyers have been saying they’re thankful we’re going full steam ahead with evening wear, because they’re not seeing enough of it,” she adds, noting her more whimsical flights of fancy are proving something of a balm to her loyal clientele. “With all the beading and these dramatic shapes, it might seem completely out-there for this point in time, but it’s the super special pieces that people seem to be responding to,” says Packham. “I’m just doing what they want and going with the flow, really.”
While Packham’s design sensibility feels distinctly British—in no small part thanks to her close association with some of the country’s most visible global style ambassadors, from the Duchess of Cambridge to Adele—the continued interest in her more decadent pieces makes more sense when viewed in light of Packham’s now very international market. With major retailers in the Middle East and Asia still happily snapping up her more opulent gowns, she’s managed to make it through this challenging period without compromising on what she does best.
So it figures that her pre-fall collection—made without her usual ability to trawl far-flung destinations or costume exhibitions for inspiration— pays tribute to the Old Hollywood stars Packham found herself revisiting during lockdown. (Where else have any of us been able to find glamour over the past year but in cinema?) Ursula Andress’s penchant for ivory white appears in the guise of an exquisitely-cut sheath dress with a draped, shawl-like top from which Swarovski-bedazzled sleeves poke out; Ginger Rogers is paid tribute in a feather-trimmed, intricately-beaded minidress that would blind even Fred Astaire under studio lights.
But despite the gentle nostalgia of her inspirations, Packham is keen to add that her design process is firmly rooted in the real world—and more specifically, in thinking about what the customers she’s in conversation with will be looking to wear when the lockdowns are over. With the vaccine rollout underway, and hopes that travel restrictions may be eased by the end of the year, Packham will be there to ensure that her clients’ parties and events can finally take place in all their deserved pageantry.
“When I look back over my career, experience has told me that when you have that feeling that you should be more conservative or try to lower prices, you actually need to go the other way,” Packham adds. “Sure, there are a whole lot of weddings and events that have been cancelled, but they’re still going to happen at some point—and hopefully then we’ll be there.”