The Storied Origins of Rowen Rose, Fashion’s Most Buzzed-About Brand Since Alexander McQueen
By Karen Fragala Smith
Emma Rowen Rose would like to tell you a story. A statuesque woman in a vinyl gown and white lacy thigh-high stockings is on the prowl. She works as a chambermaid for an eccentric family, and she is trying to solve a murder using the only tools at her disposal: her powers of seduction and capacity for deduction. Flash forward a season, and the heroine is a free-spirited Andalusian woman trapped by the dictates of her tyrannical mother. She prances about the house in a high-waisted saffron gown or a halter-topped black pantsuit with lace gloves, her garb providing a temporary respite from her isolation. Most recently, for Fall/Winter 2019, the Rowen Rose heroine is a denizen of the night, known to seek her fortunes in casinos and speakeasies. We aren’t sure whether this beauty—in her embellished, Easter-egg hued dresses and coats—is a friend or foe, but that’s ok, because she’s not sure either.
It’s easy to understand why Emma Raphaëlle Rotenberg, who is professionally known as Emma Rowen Rose, founder of an eponymous fashion line, is the most buzzed-about new designer to emerge since 1993 when Alexander McQueen stormed through London. Like McQueen, Rose is a visual artist whose chosen medium is clothing. And while her designs are impeccably made and inherently wearable, Rose is not merely rolling out functional apparel; she is telling stories with immeasurable grace and wit. Her style is steeped in vintage references, yet refreshingly modern. She is elegant without being opulent and alluring without being overtly sexual. She is intelligent and complex and independent and bold. She detests vulgarity and rejects the dictates of fashion’s consumerist hierarchy.
I am into introspection a lot, so I always question myself, my taste. I learned to be my own self a long time ago,” she told ELYSIAN from her home in Milan. “I do not want to think of elegance as a boring or traditionalist quality. My collections are always on the line: between conservative and sensual, between feminine and masculine. It is this complexity that I try to develop differently each season to portray the seductive mystery of the woman, her discreet charm.” Fashion’s 22-year-old prodigy—French by birth, Spanish and Polish by heritage and Italian by residency—has taken it upon herself to redefine what it means to be a woman in 2019. She is reinterpreting the feminine archetype.
Rowen Rosen Resort 2019—Chambermaid’s Diary collection
If Rose’s stories about the chambermaid, the Andalusian and the casino queen have a ring of familiarity, then congratulate yourself on being an adept student of literature and film. Rose’s first collection for the 2019 Resort season is an homage to Le Journal d’une Femme de Chambre, the 1964 French film by Spanish director Luis Buñuel based on the 1900 work of picaresque fiction by Octave Mirbeau. Rose defines the collection’s heroine as “provocative but wise and delicate,” and her complexity is characterized using unique textured fabrics. The opaque vinyl jacket and dress are reminiscent of Janet Leigh’s shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho; who could be more provocative yet delicate than a woman on the run with ill-begotten riches? A belted floor-length houndstooth dress imbues the heroine with a sense of purpose and determination: she is, after all, a self-appointed murder investigator. Seductive garb is her truth-telling serum, and the black bustier cocktail dress and yellow and white lace sundress are equal parts darkness and light. The collection’s pièce de résistance is an electric blue evening gown worn with a lace headwrap that’s suggestive of a bandage. We’re not sure if it represents our heroine’s triumph or her demise, but either way, she’ll live or die with great style.
For the Spring/Summer 2019 collection, Rose’s creative vision blossomed into 14 striking looks influenced by the Flamenco imagery of Southern Spain. This time, the narrative is an homage to La Casa de Bernarda Alba, the acclaimed play by Granada’s native son, Federico Garcia Lorca. Rose’s beloved lace and plaids are revisited in a fresh new way. A long-sleeved lace sheath dress doubles as a funeral shroud and a party dress, depending on how you style it (a familiar refrain with many of Rose’s pieces). They are classic enough to remain in one’s wardrobe in perpetuity yet jubilantly scream, “Now! Now! Now!” Case in point: a strapless yellow and red plaid evening gown with a high slit, lace trim and a mermaid silhouette. You could put it under the matching jacket for a playful day look or wear it with matching elbow-length gloves for full-on evening va-voom. The baby blue double-breasted satin blazer similarly moves smoothly from day to night and is a clear favorite of Rose’s judging by her personal Instagram feed. The season’s showstopping wattage is evenly divided between a satin forest-green gown and the aforementioned high-waisted saffron dress. Inventive draping, lush hues and unexpected embellishments (in vinyl and lace) have emerged as signatures of Rose’s designs.
Rowen Rose’s latest collection for Fall/Winter 2019 draws from DoubleJeu (Double Dealing), the 1936 film by Sacha Guitry about a grifter with a penchant for casinos. She’s equal parts tacky and tasteful, and certain design elements in her wardrobe are reminiscent of Prada and Miu Miu, the lines created by Rose’s greatest modern design influence, Miuccia Prada. We never expected to be desirous of a pink fur-trimmed long-skirted suit, but here we are craving just that now that Rose made it a possibility. A broad-shouldered red and white crepe tier dress with a Rowen Rose logo belt? Yes, thank you. How about a blue vinyl coat trimmed in fur? That’ll work. A brown houndstooth pantsuit trimmed in vinyl? Bien sûr, machérie. Do you see what’s happening here? Rowen Rose’s collections are enough outside your comfort zone to feel exhilarating but refined enough to steer clear of costume territory. Her design language is instantly recognizable (strong shoulders, satins, houndstooth, plaids, rich jewel-toned hues) but not so proprietary that it wouldn’t flatter just about any woman.
Rowen Rose Fall-Winter 2019 Double Jeu collection.
Rose’s predisposition for paying homage to films and novels nearly obscures the most notable storyline of all: her own. Born in Paris into a multicultural home, Emma Rowen Rose spent her childhood captivated by art in all of its forms: film, painting, music, design, literature. During high school, she took night classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts then studied design at the prestigious École Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode (ESMOD) in Paris followed by another design program at the Istituto Marangoni in Milan. ”Schools teach you a lot about yourself,” Rose says, “but nothing is worth a real working experience.” From the age of 13, she longed to become a design director at one of France’s top fashion houses, but last year, she decided that she had waited long enough to be romanced by Chanel or Givenchy, so she sold her car and used the proceeds to launch her own brand.
The international explosion of her It Girl status following the launch of her debut collection, Femme de Chambre, was a complete surprise. “I wasn’t born an entrepreneur but now realize how much it fits me,” she says. “Gaining respect and recognition is extremely hard in the industry, from the public to the suppliers. Nothing is easy, but it is a beautiful challenge.” Rowen Rose was recently picked up by the legendary Galeries Lafayette on Paris’s Champs Elysées, and online luxury retailers such as Net-a-Porter, H. Lorenzo and Moda Operandi are all following suit. “All the production and all my suppliers are Italian, so it means quality, and obviously it comes with a price,” Rose explains. And even though Rowen Rose’s price points may be out of range for the typical 22-year-old consumer, compromising on craftsmanship or design is absolutely out of the question. Emma Rowen Rose knows what she likes—and discriminating taste is the bedrock of her company
The cutting room floor of the fashion industry is littered with the shells of design houses that were hot one season and gone the next (Miguel Adrover, Zac Posen, Isaac Mizrahi). On the other hand, there are the fabled few who started designing frocks and decades later are billion-dollar lifestyle brands (Stella McCartney, Vera Wang, Tory Burch). We suspect that Rose has the moxie and talent to endure the long haul. She sees her company growing into an international brand, with handbags, sunglasses, perfume, and shoes on the roster. “I’d like to be as free as possible in my creative process, being able to create every garment I imagine without limits, designing accessories and even furniture,” says Rose. So stay tuned, fashionistas. There’s no telling where the Rowen Rose storyline will take us next, but it almost certainly will not be boring.