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London-based womenswear designer Emilia Wickstead is a Christmas traditionalist — and she makes no apology for that. Sitting in her Sloane Street store in a bold crimson tartan suit, she looks as festive and delightful as the Sugar Plum Fairy’s colourful sister, and it’s still only November.
Cynicism and seasonal apathy are simply not her style. “I love Christmas rituals,” says the designer known for her chic formalwear, who has dressed the Duchess of Sussex, the Duchess of Cambridge, Pippa Middleton, Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker in recent weeks. “I love going for drinks on Christmas Eve. I love decorating the Christmas tree. I love collecting decorations, which I pick up everywhere I go. I love watching Miracle on 34th Street, which I do every year on Christmas Eve. I love everything about Christmas.”
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Wickstead, who was born in New Zealand, is married to a Brazilian and has Scottish in-laws, has a smorgasbord of traditions from which to choose when preparing the holiday period. Every other year, they all travel to Brazil. “We have Christmas dinner on the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve,” says Wickstead. Christmas Day, meanwhile, is “spent on the beach and everyone has a barbecue”.
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But she has a particular fondness for the Christmases they spend in the UK. “I’ve been in the UK for almost 16 years,” says Wickstead, who lives in London with her husband and two children, aged five and three. “My daughter was born on Christmas Day, so it’s a huge deal,” says Wickstead, who did briefly consider calling her daughter Gloria before opting instead for the family name of Mercedes. “Thankfully she thinks she was born on the best day of the year — and long may it last.”
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While the birthday does bring with it additional responsibilities, Wickstead is only too happy to get into the party spirit. Growing up in Auckland in the 1980s, Christmas meant huge family get-togethers at her aunt’s house. “My mother is one of eight children, so the parties would be big — about 30 of us — and everyone would dress up. It was always very glamorous. And very ’80s. I remember my childhood being filled with tinsel. I still love having lots of people together on the day — the more the merrier. I’m an only child so we try to reel in as many friends as we can. As an expat, you find a huge extension to your family in the place you live.”
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Wickstead is very much a “dresser-upper” when it comes to the day itself. She is normally relieved of kitchen duties, and likes to busy herself decorating the house or the table. She also takes charge of “drinks responsibilities”.
Finding gifts, as with table dressing, is a meticulous process. Wickstead starts shopping early in the year and is extremely mindful of her choices. “I don’t know if it’s about being very organised or that I just like a gift to be symbolic. I want to give things that show I thought of that person as opposed to went shopping one night. I’m a very, very picky shopper.”
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Her dedication can border on the obsessive. “I’ll go to five children’s stores to find the perfect dress for my daughter, or for the perfect set of pyjamas. But I’m like that with everything. It’s a little scary.” Tableware is a weakness: her list features Hermès plates and vintage glasses and cutlery. “I love a matchbox as well,” adds the designer. “I collect those. I love the idea of when you’re lighting your candles that people are looking at your matchbox.” One gets the sense that no detail is too small.
Certainly, Wickstead doesn’t believe in last-minute shopping. “But I do wait until the night before Christmas to wrap up the presents, sitting with my husband with a bottle of wine. I write the cards, and go to town with it all.”
If Wickstead is a devoted present shopper, her husband less so. “In Brazil they don’t really give presents, although they’ll have Christmas stockings,” she explains. “And so my husband never buys me one.” Of course, if Wickstead sees something she really wants, he would get it. But he might balk at the gold Cartier watch she has put top of her 2018 gift list. The watch represents the dreamier end of spousal inspiration, as do the arrowhead earrings by her compatriot Jessica McCormack, which feature emeralds as “big as my eyes”.
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Her other choices are more modest: linen by her mother, Angela Wickstead, Iittala Alvar Aalto vases, a Farmdrop subscription “where you go online and get everything — vegetables, all your fruit, all your meat, all your poultry — straight from the farm to your kitchen bench,” and tree ornaments from Fortnum & Mason. There are experiential gifts, too — tickets to see Bruce Springsteen when he tours the UK next year, for example — and a few throwbacks: Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in the Wickstead house without a box of After Eight mints.
Does she like to give her own designs away? “I do,” says Wickstead of her collection, which this season features traditional tweeds, tartans and sparkle-dusted evening dresses. “Sometimes, if my mother’s mentioned that she quite likes something, I’ll remember that.” She prefers to surprise friends with an item they once admired, rather than give it to them immediately.
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She also likes to give her husband a little something as well, even though she’s not supposed to. “I know,” says Wickstead. “But I love the idea of giving and people opening their gifts so much more than I love receiving them.” Selfless and seasonal. Give that girl a Cartier watch already.
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