Breakout star Rita Ora is gaining as much attention for her fashion sense as for her singing.
New year, new girl.
If fashion muses bloom in the dead of winter, as ateliers begin to hum with sewing machines preparing for the Fall 2013 collections, the singer Rita Ora might be a particularly flamboyant breed of English rose. At 22, Ora, the prized protégé of Jay-Z, has been rapidly winning over designers with her carefree style: a blend of hip-hop, designer bling and '90s Gwen Stefani.
"Fashion has been so serious for so long, we're ready to have some fun, aren't we?" said the Pucci designer Peter Dundas, who dressed Ora for several red carpet events last year and admires her "hip-hop and ultrafeminine yet tomboy look." Ora wore a classic cream column that matched her "Jean Harlow hair," Dundas said, declaring his date "a ton of fun."
Ora indeed seems game for mischief. "We went out big time," she said, giggling. Her voice was slightly scratchy from the previous night, when she'd performed her last show of the year at New York's Highline Ballroom in a giant fur coat, which quickly came off to reveal a black sports bra and loose Roberto Cavalli printed silk pajamas. Afterward, she partied into the wee hours.
"I just had to let loose," Ora said. "It was a big year for me."
Indeed. Peroxide blond, and usually spotted with her full lips painted matte red, Ora seems as if she would probably be able to find a spotlight in Antarctica. And this despite the fact that her first album, "Ora," doesn't yet have a firm release date in the United States, though it was released (at No. 1 on the pop chart) in Britain in August and a music video single, "Shine Ya Light," has topped 5.6 million views on YouTube at last count.
Ora is not a figure without controversy. In early December, there was a Twitter face-off with the reality star Rob Kardashian, who was rumored to be her boyfriend, although the relationship was never officially acknowledged.
While such spats are par for the course for budding pop stars, capturing the imagination of the fashion industry is more difficult. Along with wearing glamorous Pucci designs, Ora has proved an able mannequin for accessories, including Cartier Juste un Clou bangles; Birkin bags; mannish suiting; wacky House of Holland outfits (one of which earned her a spot in Vogue's "Best Dressed" selection in November); and Vivienne Westwood corseted creations.
For fashion party bookers, Ora seems to meet all necessary prerequisites. Janjay Sherman, a publicity and talent relations director, said she had recommended the singer for an event because Ora was popping up on the gossip website JustJared.com. "Plus, I like her sound and I like her look, and in order to become mainstream, you need to have the look, the sound and a strong social media following," Sherman said. "She has the three things."
English designer Henry Holland of House of Holland is already sensing a maturation of her fashion choices. "Now that she's become more successful, she's got more of a polish to her look, but it's nice to see that she still adds an urban twist on things," he said. "She'll still pair a gown with trainers. She's not having an identity crisis."
Holland suggested it's because music and fashion often collide in London circles. "These girls have a really strong sense of self and what they want to look like," he said.
Ora attributes much of her fashion education to her surroundings. "It was really mixed cultures growing up," she said.
Born in Kosovo to Kosovar-Albanian parents, Ora was a year old when her family moved to London. Her father, Nick, owns and operates a pub; her mother, Vera, is a psychiatrist. She also has a brother, Don, 15.
When she wasn't playing soccer, Rita was singing. At 14 she started to pay attention to her ethnically ambiguous appearance and curvaceous figure. "I never really had much money. I would buy things for two or three pounds and completely remake them, like rip up two T-shirts and sew them back together front to back. Somehow no one would understand what I was wearing, but I did." Her closet today is still full of market finds, she said, interspersed with labels like J.W. Anderson and Maison Martin Margiela.
And Ora sees more designer clothes in her future, particularly as invitations to fashion shows come flowing in. She's inspired by "what the designer was thinking, how did he choose fabric to how he sewed the embroidery," Ora said, adding: "One day, I want to do a line. But maybe after I do like 11 albums. Music is my first and foremost."
Yet she has sought out a sartorial signature. A photo of Daphne Guinness adorns her living room, focusing on the heiress' ring-covered fingers.
"That's another characteristic to know you by," Ora said, showing off her own assortment of gold baubles on her fingers. "Every person has a signature. Just some people don't know it yet."
And her heels, of course, are usually high, like the nude mesh Christian Louboutins she wore at lunch -- scored at a sample sale, she said.
"Like the kitten heel, I hate," Ora said, cringing. "Either wear a heel or don't wear a heel, OK? I really despise those wedge trainers, too." (Though she loves Air Jordans.) "I understand they want the lift, but I think they're a sin. One hundred percent sin."
And perhaps redemption is to be found on the red carpet. "I am committed to glamour," she said.