When Ekaterina Malysheva of go-to festival label Ekat tied the knot with her German prince, she asked Lebanese designer Sandra Mansour to create a fairytale dress, for a truly royal wedding...
This happens not only in a fairy tale. The 31-year-old Ekaterina Malysheva married the Prince of Hanover, Ernst August, the descendant of King George III of Great Britain. The couple tied the knot at the City Hall of the German city of Hanover in a narrow circle of relatives and friends. Now Malysheva - Her Royal Highness the Princess of Hanover and the Duchess of Braunschweig-Luneburg. The bride was in a light silk dress of her own brand Ekat, which she founded in 2013.
When Sandra Mansour was asked to create her friend Ekaterina Malysheva’s wedding gown, she knew it wasn’t going to be any ordinary commission. For a start, the bride is a designer herself, secondly, she needed to produce four completely different outits and lastly, the nuptials just happened to be a royal affair – the groom is one Prince Ernst August Jr von Hanover.
“It was a bit overwhelming,” admits the Lebanese designer with some understatement. “Everything had to be right.” It was more than alright on the day – London-based Ekaterina, 31, who runs her own clothing line Ekat, famed for its festival jumpsuits worn by Mary Charteris, Rita Ora and Sienna Miller – looked the archetypal fairytale bride in a custom hand-embroidered Chantilly lace gown with pearl detail and Russian loral motifs, a nod to her heritage.
She and her banker prince, 33, wed in a lavish ceremony at Market Church in Hanover, Germany, before 600 guests, including the Monaco royals (Princess Caroline is Ernst’s stepmother), as well as thousands of members of the public, who had gathered outside.
For the evening reception at the Hanover family’s Marienburg Castle, Ekaterina wore a graduated off-white and blush pink gown with hand-embroidered bead details inspired by Sandra’s signature Clair de Lune dress from her SS17 collection. And she chose a chic powder pink silk dress from the AW17/18 collection for the civil service at the local town hall, which took place two days before the 8 July wedding. For the pre-wedding party on 7 July, Sandra created a hand and thread embroidered dress also featuring Russian loral motifs.
“It was a dream. Ekaterina really looked like someone straight out of a fairytale. She was magic,” she says of the occasion. “The moment that resonated the most was when the entire look came together – the make-up, hair, her crown, the veil; it was beautiful.”
Here, the Beirut-based designer talks us through her biggest commission to date and how she managed to transport four fabulous wedding frocks from Beirut to Hanover without a hitch…
When did you first start working on Ekaterina’s dresses?
“We started quite early – last September – we were very organised actually. Ekat emailed me with the [wedding] news and I called her straight away. She said, ‘I’d love you to do my wedding dress’ and I immediately said, ‘Yes, we’re going to do something spectacular’. And then she briefed me a little bit about the protocol [for a royal wedding]. We met during fashion week in Paris in September, where I was presenting my collection, and I showed her my sketches for the bridal gown and the reception. Then she told me there was also going to be a pre-wedding party and would I also like to design a dress for that!”
What was the inspiration for each dress?
“The church one was very traditional and timeless but with a Russian inluence to relect Ekat’s heritage. She wanted something dramatic but chic and elegant. For the pre-wedding dress, the embroidered loral motifs were inspired by the matryoshka nesting dolls. I re-watched Anna Karenina – I know it’s a cliché but I feel it puts you in the atmosphere.”
What was it like working together?
“It was really easy; we did two ittings at my atelier in Beirut and it was done. At the irst, she gave me her input and at the second, it was more about adjusting the length and the details. She knew what she wanted and also understands the design process so I didn’t need to explain it to her. She has a really beautiful silhouette.” Tell us about doing the fittings in Beirut… “Ekat had visited me three or four times before so she was already familiar with the country. She came with her father and mother for the second itting and it was very touching to see their reaction. As much as it was a pressure [to produce three dresses], she made it fun and friendly – we were laughing and we cried a bit. Her parents were there for the second itting and when she tried on the dress, it was so emotional. There’s this traditional thing we do in Arabic, whenever we have a inal itting, we get one of our tailors to do an ululation. So, when we opened the curtain and Ekat stepped out and the tailor made this sound, it was very touching. Her mother was crying and her father was speechless. It was the moment she became ‘the bride’.”
How did you and Ekat first meet?
“A mutual friend asked me about ive years ago if I could make a dress for Ekat. I sent her a drawing by email and she loved it and we stayed in touch. A year later, we met up for dinner at Paris fashion week and became friends. She loves the brand but it’s also about trust – we’ve shared the joy [of preparing for her wedding]; it’s been an adventure. Ekat is also very much her own person – she’s a trendsetter.”
How did you transport the gowns to Hanover?
“There weren’t any direct lights so initially we were meant to go from Beirut to Frankfurt to Hanover. We got so worried that something would happen along the way so Yasmina [Layla, business partner] and I decided we’d drive from Frankfurt to Hanover to avoid a stop-over. We joked we might just wear the dresses on the plane!”
Who else do you dress?
“Sarah Jessica Parker wore one of our jackets on the Jimmy Fallon show and loved it so much that we gave it to her. Jessie J wore a two-piece and a bomber for a concert and looked amazing, and Lady Gaga chose a white SS16 dress for an event. That’s the beauty of the brand – you can go from dressing an actress to a rock star.”
How did you become a designer?
“At irst I wanted to be an artist but I had a banker father and a stepfather in inance so when I told them I wanted to be a painter, they were like, ‘That’s not a real job’, so I did business management at university in Geneva. The deal was I could do whatever I wanted afterwards, so I studied ine art for two years. Then I was in Beirut for Easter that year  and realised something was missing. I met Elie Saab and he invited me to do a summer internship – it was an amazing experience. He made me fall in love with fashion. He paved the way for a lot of Lebanese designers; he really gave the name to Lebanese craftsmanship and creativity. I was lucky because he was very generous – I was allowed to go to the haute couture bridal ittings and also to the shows in Paris. Now, we’re very good friends. After that, I did a one-year intensive design course in Paris and then I thought it was important to go back Lebanon and start my own label. My country was calling me back.”
What does it mean to you to be a Lebanese designer?
“I was born in Geneva and have a French passport but I am Lebanese – my father is Lebanese – so I wanted to be recognised as a Lebanese designer because I’m proud of it. It’s given a lot to me and I think Beirut is a very inspiring city. It’s a privilege to wake up there every morning.”