Alessandra Rich tries her best to hold her hands steady while taking Meryl Streep's measurements in a London hotel suite. The star-struck fashion designer is, in fact, overwhelmed with excitement while fitting the Hollywood veteran.
"She was just so unbelievable, charming and soft spoken," Rich recalls the appointment almost five years ago. Streep later wore Rich's design to attend the 2012 Golden Globe Awards and took home the Best Actress trophy for her portrayal of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher.
Rich has since become one of the go-to designers for A-listers. Her fans include Rihanna, Olivia Wilde and Adriana Lima. Pop diva Beyoncé recently wore a lavish white lace tiered dress from Rich's spring-summer collection in her controversial music video Formation.
Despite her many accolades, Rich remains down-to-earth. The Italian-born, London-based designer meets me at Hotel Marquis - an elegant luxury boutique hotel in the posh Faubourg Saint-Honoré neighbourhood of Paris. The hectic Fashion Week schedule hasn't taken a toll on her. In an all-black-ensemble, the effortlessly chic designer looks radiant.
"Need some sugar and I'm ready to hit the battlefield," says Rich as she grabs a saucer filled with tea biscuits and sits down. "I think when I get to do things that I'm really passionate about, I'm always grateful for what I accomplish. I'm enjoying every minute of it."
Rich has come a long way since she established the brand seven years ago. Before she stumbled upon fashion, Rich helped her husband - a third-generation art dealer - sell artworks. She later got into real estate and home decoration.
"I enjoyed the work but I didn't feel that I was doing it for myself," she says. "At a certain point, I decided to do something just for myself."
Her interest in fashion developed naturally. Rich designed her own wedding dress and most of her wardrobe during her teenage years. But as far as professional training was concerned, she was a novice in the trade. It took her almost eight months to finish the first 10 pieces of her debut collection.
"Challenges? Where should I even start?" she quips. "To begin with, I've always loved challenges. It has been a massive learning curve. I learned so much mistake after mistake."
From sourcing textiles and manufacturers and developing distribution channels to producing her own look books and shows, Rich has been hands-on from the first day she started her own label.
"I was calling stockists to see whether they wanted to see my collections, and most of the time, I got 'no' for an answer," Rich says.
After selling her first two collections at London's Harrods, Rich brought her works to Paris. She joined a group of up-and-coming designers at a showroom in the Ritz Paris in Place Vendôme. Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet spotted Rich's collection while waiting in the hotel lobby and bought the whole collection for the luxury e-tailer.
"It gave me massive exposure," Rich says. "And from there, we grew. I grew."
Today, Alessandra Rich is available in more than 40 stores and retailers across the globe. Rich's husband has joined her to take care of the business side of her label.
The brand is best known for its tantalisingly feminine designs - the floor-sweeping gowns have been a much applauded signature. Rich only started creating mini dresses and flirty playsuits for the spring-summer 2016 season.
Often inspired by a fantasy fashion heroine - Kitty for the autumn-winter 2016 season and previously Dolores, Molly and more - Rich has a special working process.
"From the early fittings, I already knew what I wanted her to be in a collection," Rich says.
"I would style [the model] in hosiery and vintage necklaces for every look. The [fantasy heroine] grew little by little as I created more pieces and eventually I could meet her in real life other than just having her in my imagination. It's more than just [creating] clothes - it's something more emotional."
Kitty, her latest muse for the autumn-winter 2016 collection, is quite a "hot mess", according to Rich. You would find her wrapped in a tangerine slit dress with a Chinese qipao-inspired mandarin collar, in a tiny lingerie-esque mini dress matched with a feminine full-length tweed jacket, or in romantic lace tiered gowns matched with faux fur boleros. Retro, jewel-toned satchels are wrapped around her waist and sexy metallic strappy sandals accentuated her ankle.
The collection is called (Bye Bye) Kitty. "For me, this is a girl who's growing into a woman, so she's saying goodbye to her toys. She's discovering life as a woman now and leaving her innocence behind. She's left home and is exploring the world - travelling to the Far East," Rich says.
"[My heroines] are not so perfect that they are boring," she adds. "They are fully aware of their flaws and that's what makes them beautiful."
Fortunately for Rich, her fans fully support the sentiment that's written all over her creations which ooze unapologetic individualism and characteristics.
Quite a late bloomer in fashion, Rich launched her brand when she was older than 40. She says it was a blessing. "I believe things happen for a reason. If I had started 20 years ago, I probably wouldn't be where I am now. You have to be patient and things will happen."
Rich also found herself through her true calling in fashion. "I think if I can start my own brand, there's hope for everyone to be able to do the things they truly want."
OCCUPATION: Fashion designer
INSPIRATION: My inspirations come from the women that I meet from day to day in real life and also from fantasy women. I think we all have this sort of fantasy women in our [subconsciousness]. I also keep a notebook with me so I can jot down ideas and sketches wherever I go.
CAREER ADVICE: I really admire the motivation and energy of today's young designers. I would say, use your energy to the fullest. Express your ideas and emotions, and observe what's around you and take in different ideas. Of course, it's essential to work hard.