Designer Emilia Wickstead Discusses Business and Fashion at Yale Creative Society Talk

Emilia Wickstead, wearing a black dress, stands in front of a chalkboard and gestures towards the audience. Two women are seated at the table to her left.
Andrea Fleming ’25 (standing) introduces fashion designer Emilia Wickstead (center). At left is Kate Bolick, Yale Lecturer in English.

Designer Emilia Wickstead discussed her career, her business and design philosophy, and her views on the soft power of fashion in a recent talk at Yale Law School.

The Yale Creative Society, a student organization that aims to spotlight nontraditional creative careers for Yale Law School students, brought Wickstead to campus in April, when she spoke to an audience of law, business, art, architecture, and undergraduate students.

Born in New Zealand and trained in Milan, Wickstead built her business from a one-room, made-to-order dress shop to a global fashion brand worn by Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Kate Middleton, Amal Clooney, and Jacinda Ardern. Her seasonal ready-to-wear collections have been showcased at London Fashion Week since 2012, alongside homeware and bridalwear, bespoke and made-to-order services.

At the talk, Wickstead described the beginnings of her brand. She recounted how she started her first collection with a $6,000 loan from her partner. At first, she told the audience, she fit clients in the living room of her apartment building before her landlords caught on. She also described the effort to convince the bank to help her to lease her now flagship store in London, which opened in 2014. (The bank manager’s spouse, who had worn Wickstead’s clothing, advocated on her behalf).

As CEO, Wickstead recounted the difficult decisions she had to make earlier in the history of the brand to accept outside capital, although she has never ceded her controlling stake. She described working with lawyers as she moves into new product lines, launches new collaborations, and addresses trademark and copyright disputes.

Wickstead also spoke about the struggle of women in law and similar professions to convey authority and credibility through clothing while maintaining a sense of expression and personality. Drawing from her experiences dressing some of the most powerful women in the world, Wickstead also advised students on dressing for their emerging careers. She described how to approach corporate attire without being able to afford high fashion.

“As a Yale Law School student with a strong interest in entrepreneurship, Wickstead’s lecture inspired me to contemplate how an unwavering commitment to one’s goals, coupled with the space to exercise unbridled creativity, can pave the way for long-term fulfillment,” Elisa Kong ’25 said. “Wickstead’s story shows how creativity and innovation play an instrumental role not only in design but also in navigating the process of breaking into a cutthroat industry, filling a gap in the curricula to which I’ve been exposed as a law student.”