WHEN Kate Winslet stepped out on to the red carpet at the Academy Awards wearing a floor-length red gown, she drew gasps of admiration from the crowd and sent the paparazzi into a flashbulb frenzy.
Her stunning couture dress was the creation of fashion designer Ben de Lisi, a man synonymous with glamorous evening gowns and fabulous long frocks, who has also dressed celebrities such as Rachel Weisz, Keely Brosnan and Patsy Kensit.
Now Ben is bringing his blend of designer magic to the North East with his new range, Principles by Ben de Lisi, for the resurrected fashion chain.
It will have its official UK launch at the new Debenhams store in Newcastle and his hugely-successful homewares brand will also go on sale.
The frock star has become creative director of the Principles brand which temporarily closed its doors last year after its parent company went into administration.
Famous for his evening wear, Ben has designed BDL by Ben de Lisi for Debenhams for 18 years and approached the store about designing a day wear collection.
Bosses came back and offered him the Principles role.
He says: “I was actually the first designer on board with Debenhams.
“We’d had success in stores with the evening wear, BDL by Ben de Lisi, and I had taken a step back from certain commitments such as shows at London Fashion Week.
“Things were going so well at Debenhams that we moved the brand there in its entirety so I could reach and sell to more people.
“I spoke to the powers that be and said we should be doing far more products and capitalise on the brand. I had been doing international design and product development and wanted to do homewares.
“Now it has become the most requested homeware brand they have. The success of my Ella cushion has been phenomenal.”
Following his triumph with the evening wear and homewares collection, Ben was itching for a new challenge.
“During the American Presidential elections I decided I wanted to do a daywear collection,” he says. “ I’d been inspired by Michelle Obama.
“Debenhams said ‘Show us what you have got’ and I came up with a range which they loved.
“Then they came back and said they had a better idea – ‘How about we buy Principles and put you at the helm?’
“I was like ‘Thank you, daddy’,” he laughs. “They wanted to bring Principles back with a vengeance. It was a great moment and very exciting.”
The new range, which is Ben de Lisi’s biggest ever for Debenhams, features 106 items of weekend, smart day, occasion and evening wear, as well as 46 petite offerings.
The collection will be complemented by handbags and accessories.
With Ben’s direction, Debenhams has created a Principles collection that incorporates great separates with modern tailoring and which will appeal to the discerning fashion lover.
The new collection will be priced lower than previous ones, yet it retains the quality and style the Principles customer expects.
The designer, who will show again at London Fashion Week in September, says: “It started off that we were going to sell it in 40 stores, then it went up to 90 and now it is 129 stores.
“It went on sale on February 1 and the departments will be designed like my home.
“They came and took photographs of my home and then put a large amount of detail in, which is really indicative of me, into the design.
“Principles was a much-loved brand and it was most successful in its heyday. It was a commercial brand, but with a designer feel as well.
“The brand went through peaks and troughs and somehow lost its way. That’s how it failed, but the brand itself always had a strong following.
“By virtue of what went on, Debenhams got 10-15,000 emails asking what was happening with Principles and that was enough for Debenhams to bring it back and put me at the helm.
“It is not just about putting my name to it. I am there every day, I do sketches and I sign everything off.
“It bears my name, I am very much the face of it and the talent behind it.
“I am having an incredible time.”
The launch of Principles by Ben de Lisi comes as Debenhams makes a dramatic return to Newcastle as the jewel in the crown of the Eldon Square redevelopment.
The company received more than 3,000 applications for the 250 positions at the 180,000 sq ft four-floor department store, which will stock 92% of own-brand fashions and homewares.
A huge array of well-known names will be on offer.
New to Debenhams in 2010 is H! by Henry Holland, Butterfly by Matthew Williamson, J by Jasper Conran, Star by Julien MacDonald, Betty Jackson Black and Rocha John Rocha, as well as Principles by Ben de Lisi, his new homewares line, and the BDL occasionwear.
Ben says: “I think the Principles buyer is a very confident woman. Her average age is 40 though the clothes would look very comfortable on a 17-year-old or a 70-year-old. It’s a very rounded collection.
“There are pieces for everyone.
“The buyer knows her body well, is not a fan of mediocre detail and she likes subtle detailing. She likes block-colour and geometry patterning, not frilly flowers.
“There is a lot of iconic pieces in the collection. The mac is a phenomenal piece. It’s about quality, staple pieces you can keep forever.”
Ben was last in the North East in October when he launched his homewares range at Debenhams in the Metrocentre.
“I am delighted Principles by Ben De Lisi is being launched in Newcastle,” he says.
“ I have never been before. I work with some people from Newcastle who have told me about it.
“I am certainly going to be visiting soon.”
:: The new Debenhams store will be at 54-80 Newgate Street, Newcastle. Opening times are from 9am- 6pm Mon-Friday, with 9am- 8pm Thursday, 9am- 6pm Saturday and 11am-5pm Sunday. For more information visit www.debenhams.com