Fashion designer Tamara Ralph is back on red carpet despite collapsed fashion label

Fashion designer Tamara Ralph whose dresses were worn by Meghan Markle and Lily James is back on the red carpet despite her collapsed fashion label still owing millions to former staff and the taxman

A glamorous designer who made a £56,000 engagement gown for the Duchess of Sussex is dressing stars for the red carpet once again – despite her collapsed fashion house owing millions to former staff and the taxman.

Tamara Ralph ran luxury label Ralph & Russo with former business partner and boyfriend Michael Russo before it went into administration in 2021 with unpaid debts of more than £20 million.

The pair have been accused in documents filed at the High Court of plundering millions from the firm to bankroll luxury lifestyles, with Ms Ralph allegedly spending company cash on business class flights, luxury hotels, beauty treatments, yoga classes and lingerie.

But now the Australian designer, who denies the allegations, is again dressing celebrities for red carpet events through a solo fashion venture. Lily James wore an elaborate white cut-out gown from Ms Ralph’s private collection for the Baftas last Sunday.

Questions: Tamara Ralph and former business partner Michael Russo

The designer posted a picture on Instagram of the Downton Abbey actress after the event with the caption: ‘The ethereal Lily James looking radiant in Tamara Ralph couture as she is making her mark at tonight’s Bafta film awards.’

Two days before the ceremony, Ms Ralph started a new fashion company, with the designer listed as the sole director and all shares owned by a Monaco-based firm. The 41-year-old now lives in the South of France with Bhanu Choudhrie, 44, a billionaire financier and Liberal Democrat donor.

After its launch in 2010, Ralph & Russo became one of Britain’s most celebrated fashion houses, with clients including Angelina Jolie, Beyonce, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow.

However, it went into administration in 2021, with Ms Ralph blaming the pandemic. Since then she and Mr Russo have been accused in court papers of using the fashion house to fund their lavish lifestyles, with allegations that the company’s pension pot was raided before it collapsed.

Glamour: Lily James at last week’s Baftas in the elegant gown by Ms Ralph

 Glamour: Lily James at last week’s Baftas in the elegant gown by Ms Ralph

Former Ralph & Russo employees are still owed £364,781 in wages and holiday pay, although it is ‘unlikely’ all of this will be paid, according to the administrators.

The collapsed fashion house also owes almost £10.5 million to 337 creditors, including more than £2 million to HMRC.

Ms Ralph is being sued by the firm via its administrators for £20.8 million in damages. She has strenuously denied the allegations and said she has repaid any money given to her through company loans and that her use of company expenses was transparent.

Investigators are also trying to discover what happened to about £60 million pumped into the company, including a £17 million loan from property developer Nick Candy’s investment firm Candy Ventures Sarl, from 2018 onwards.

This figure has now risen to more than £26 million with interest, according to the most recent administrators’ report.

Last night, Mr Candy said: ‘Celebrities who choose to wear her designs will come to regret their connection with a tarnished brand.’

A spokesman for Ms Ralph said: ‘One hundred per cent of her workforce are reunited ex Ralph & Russo staff whom Ms Ralph considers to be family and who are all very happy to work together again. Ms Ralph is also working with her former suppliers who are fully supportive of her new venture.

‘Ms Ralph did not run the financial and business side, she was the creative director.

‘The company was sold over 18 months ago by its secured creditor Candy Ventures to Retail E-commerce Ventures, who continue to operate the business.’