The world, it seems, is in the midst of a royal moment — given the fervor stirred up by the recent royal wedding, the recent royal birth announcement, and locally, even the newly opened, royal-themed exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Perfect timing, then, for a Houston visit by British celebrity designer Jenny Packham. For the past 30 years, Packham has dressed starlets, Hollywood A-listers, and the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton — who regularly steps out in Packham’s elegant, sophisticated designs.
Packham was recently in Houston as the main attraction of the annual Memorial Hermann Razzle Dazzle “Goes Royal” Luncheon, which raised a kingly sum of $500,000 for early detection and outreach programs at the Bobetta C. Lindig Breast Care Center at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center. Chaired by Houston philanthropist Bobbie Nau, the event honored the legacy of Eileen Campbell, a longtime advocate for breast cancer awareness and education. (Even Packham has been touched by breast cancer; her mother was diagnosed when she 14.) The event drew more than 600 guests to the The Westin Houston Memorial City Hotel ballroom.
“I love the ladies here in Houston because they love dressing up,” Packham told CultureMap ahead of the luncheon. The designer was a guest of Julie Roberts, owner of luxe Uptown Park women’s retailer Elizabeth Anthony. “I’ve never seen evening wear departments like these,” Packham noted of Houston’s fashion showrooms. “Women here love sparkly things. You’ve got loads of things to go to. It’s a kind of a Jenny Packham heaven.”
The adoration is mutual. Houston women have clamored for Packham’s latest line, called “Today is Tonight.” The line was inspired by Hollywood tragic starlet Jean Harlow; Packham became familiar with the 1930s film star during a visit to the Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles. “There was so much to her life. And so much gossip, intrigue and scandal,” said Packham, who added that Harlow, who died at 26, is even more relatable as “I have a daughter who’s now 25.”
After three decades of design life, the easygoing Packham seemed reflective about her impressive career. “In 30 years, you start off and you’re quite happy with some young singer wearing something,” she said. “And obviously as soon as you get an A-lister, you want another A-lister, really.” Packham recalled one of her first big red carpet moments: “Sandra Bullock wore one of our dresses to the Golden Globes,” she said. “I think for us, that was a jump to dressing a different sort of actress, really. And then when Angelina Jolie wore us, that was really exciting.”
Packham noted that she would “love” to dress British actress Tilda Swinton, but added that Hollywood can be a fickle friend. “I used to get so excited. You know, you’re having fittings and you know they might have chosen something, but you never actually know for sure that they’re going to wear it, because there are two or three choices. I’d think ‘Yeah, they’re going to wear it’ — then they don’t.”
Having dressed British royalty and America’s royal celebs, Packham joked that she never feels snubbed if one of her coveted designs doesn’t land on an A-lister. “I know what women are like. I know what I’m like — I change my mind at the last minute. I think that’s fine.”