Mafalda von Hessen, The Princess Making Feminine Clothes With A Masculine Edge

Fashion fit for royalty

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Take an ex-costume designer that worked for Bruce Weber, a picture of an ancestor in military dress, fungi growing on a tree in the countryside (hear me out) and an impeccably dressed man with the insouciance of a rock star and the civility of an academic.

Throw them all into a blender.

The result?

German princess Mafalda von Hessen's eponymous SS16 collection.

Her story began where many do: 'I couldn't find the things I wanted to wear, so I decided to make them,' she tells me as she walks me through her collection at the Matches townhouse in Mayfair, London.

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Von Hessen, 50, created the label with long-time friend, the US-born, Italy-based designer, Eric Wright.

They started with the aforementioned photograph of the King of Italy, her great-grandfather.

'It was the perfect military jacket, I'd never found one like it and I wanted exactly that.' 

Wright laughs, recalling their conversation: 'I said, "Well, yes. You and everybody else."'

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The duo gave the jacket a new spin by using exquisite Japanese cotton (heavy enough to produce incredible cuts, light enough to wear come summer), working in contrasting colours and softening the neckline to create a short funnel effect, effectively replacing fustiness with freshness.  

This mannish tailoring runs throughout the entire collection – not too surprising considering von Hessen spends most of her time in 'pants and shirts' and Wright was, most recently, a menswear designer for Façonnable.

'After 23 years of womenswear [under Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi], I wanted to go in the opposite direction,' he says.  

But von Hessen convinced him otherwise.

'I saw what she was trying to do,' he says. 'I loved her vision.' 

She based said vision on a simple idea: 'You get up in the morning, you put something on and you know you will be OK for the rest of the day'.

So the pieces tend to be transitional and multifunctional, like a beige, long-sleeved smock that could be worn as a dress or a coat, and a two-tone Mackintosh-style jacket – grey body, blue sleeves – with grommets punched into the belt.

The nature-inspired colour palette (that aforementioned fungi) adds to an overall sense of quiet understatement.

But there are also unexpected pops of colour (Schiaparelli Pink piping on a dress, for example) and humour in the form of quirky, childlike embroideries.  

It'd be tempting to dismiss this as a vanity project from a blue-blood, but the clothes stand on their own, apart from the name attached.

'It's all about practicality,' concludes von Hessen.

Wright agrees, 'But just because they are practical doesn't mean they can't be beautiful.'

And there's nothing princessy about that.

Words by Funmi Fetto 

All clothes available at matchesfashion.com

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