How Kate Middleton made Daniella Helayel's label Issa the star of London fashion week

The British-based label wasn't front-page news until Kate Middleton wore one of its gowns to announce her engagement to Prince William. Now all eyes will be on its collection at London fashion week

When London Fashion Week opens on Friday, there will be one collection that the fashion editors will be desperate to see. It's not the work of a hot young designer or a famous name – it's the autumn/winter 2011 range from Issa London, a label that has become one of the most talked about in the world thanks to royal bride-to-be Kate Middleton.

She has replaced Lady Gaga as the top online fashion search phrase, according to a survey by Global Language Monitor. Fascination with the princess-in-waiting has made her fashion choices a hot topic.

She has worn Issa's signature "draped" dresses to many public events, but when she chose a £385 gown by the label for the announcement of her engagement to Prince William in November, the company became global news.

"America is obsessed with Kate Middleton," said Amy Odell, editor of New York Magazine's fashion blog The Cut. "Posts about her are some of our most visited, so everyone will be looking at Issa at London Fashion Week. I can see the headline: 'What Kate Middleton will wear from the new Issa collection'."

Brazilian-born Daniella Helayel, the designer behind Issa London, says that Middleton's engagement dress was one of her career highlights. However, she won't be drawn on whether she's making Middleton's wedding dress and is focused on Issa's coming show. "We have had a lot more interest and I have no complaints at all. Pre-collection sales are up 45%, which is really exciting. I'm sure a lot more people have their eyes on Issa, but I just do what I need to do. The pressure is the same as usual."

Helayel studied law in Rio de Janeiro before moving to New York to train in fashion. In 2000, she arrived in London and launched Issa. The label may not have been front-page news before Middleton's seal of approval, but Helayel has had loyal customers since her first catwalk show in 2003. The Duchess of York's daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, are also fans.

"I've known Daniella for years and the jet set surrounding her," said Harriet Quick, fashion features director of Vogue. "She's got a lovely house and it's like a little bit of Brazil in Chelsea. She throws wild parties and cultivates the social set. They're all there on her front row at fashion week – hedge funders, playboys and society girls. That really adds to the brand. It's a lot of fun."

Issa is not as trend-driven as the designers typically associated with London Fashion Week, but Helayel's pretty dresses are loved by women with curves. Helayel herself has put this more bluntly, saying that she designs for people like herself – "people who think they're fat".

"It's easier to make things that look amazing on models than on normal human beings," she said. "I design for real women." Her "Lucky" dress was the summer hit of 2008, with Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank photographed wearing it. In September 2008, Helayel staged a "fashion moment" when she featured models Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn in her show's finale: the dearth of black models had been the talk of that season's fashion week.

Madonna is also a fan and Helayel created clothes for the singer's upcoming film, W.E., about Wallis Simpson. The designs are based on Madonna's favourite Issa dress, and the Duchess of Windsor is the main inspiration for the autumn/winter 2011 collection that Helayel will show on Saturday. "There'll also be beautiful 40s- and 50s-style silhouettes," she said.

Whatever the inspiration, the world's attention will be firmly on the Issa catwalk on Saturday.

"The relationship with Kate is worth more than millions in a marketing budget," said Quick. "I think Daniella is going to really up her game; there'll be the most glittering front row. These are the dresses that helped nice, middle-class Kate snag a prince. What single girl doesn't want to invest in that potential?"


Alice Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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