When Prince William and Kate Middleton officially announced their engagement back in 2010, the future Duchess of Cambridge sported a stunning 12-carat sapphire engagement ring and matching blue dress from Issa, the label created by British fashion designer Daniella Helayel.
It’s natural to assume that having one of the most photographed women in the world wearing a dress you designed would be a great thing for business, and it was… for awhile, at least, until a series of circumstances led to the eventual collapse of Issa.
Helayel explains in an interview with You magazine, reports People, that her fledgling fashion brand was on the precipice of collapse until Kate wore the dress.
“Only the previous year the label was on the verge of financial crisis; it wasn’t all rose-tinted glasses,” Helayel told You. “Issa was a niche brand, we had a loyal following but in 2008 and 2009 we were in serious financial trouble. When Kate wore that dress everything changed.”
In fact, the dress instantly sold out, says Helayel, and was reordered thousands of times after that, which was problematic for Issa because nobody at the label had any warning Kate would be wearing the dress.
With no time to bolster inventory to prepare for all those orders, the company was instantly forced into expansion mode. “That morning I’d gone to yoga as usual, and then I got a call from a friend telling me about the royal engagement,” said Helayel. “It was all very exciting. We didn’t have a TV at the studio and this was pre-Instagram, but we soon knew Kate was wearing Issa because at four o’clock the phones began ringing and didn’t stop. It was bonkers.”
Unfortunately, the company wasn’t positioned for the kind of rapid growth brought on by the “Kate effect,” which is when the problems started.
“I didn’t have the money to finance production on that scale,” she admitted. “The bank refused to give me credit and the factory was screaming for me to pay its bills. I needed an investor.”
Eventually she found an investor, albeit one with a unique connection to the Royal Family: Camilla Al-Fayed, half-sister to the late Dodi Al-Fayed, who died in a 1997 car crash with then-girlfriend Princess Diana. Al-Fayed bought a 51 per cent stake in the company in July 2011.
Perhaps due to the criticism of the royals levelled by Al-Fayed’s family — particularly her father, Mohamed Al-Fayed, owner of London’s famed Harrod’s department store — Kate began to wear fewer Issa items, which was not a good thing for expansion plans. When a new CEO — with whom Helayel clashed — was brought onboard in 2013, she ended up leaving the company. It shut down two years later.
“I left because I couldn’t take any more,” she said. “I felt so stressed that my hair went white and started falling out. I was broken by the end of it. I had a great business, which I’d built up on my own over a decade. To watch it evaporate was heartbreaking.”
However, Helayel is back with a new brand called Dhela, with the first collection available this month. “Designing is what I do, it’s what I love, and I’m just so happy to be back,” she added.