From Reformation to Réalisation Par, Rouje to Rotate, there's a host of labels that nail the perfect summer dress. What constitutes a go-to frock for the sunny season? Whether modest or skin-baring, it has to make you feel amazing, work just as well for rooftop drinks as a picnic in the park, and have that throw-it-on-and-go ease. There's no dogma around whether it's printed or plain, cotton or silk – it just has to slip on and take your confidence up 10 notches.
Now, there's a new brand to add to our summer wardrobe: Rat & Boa, founded by Valentina Muntoni and Stephanie Cara Bennett, friends with juxtaposed aesthetics but whose visions come together to create a bohemian-inspired range of Perfect Summer Dresses. "He and I were about as compatible as a rat and a boa constrictor," Stevie Nicks once said of her relationship with Fleetwood Mac band member, Lindsey Buckingham. That's where the brand's name comes from, representing both the "grungy, edgy element" and the "bohemian spirit". "It's a hybrid of our differences, yet at the same time a representation of our togetherness," the founders say.
Valentina and Stephanie met through a mutual friend at a party in Manchester while studying fashion and photography. "I was wearing a lot of black and was very punk influenced with a shaved undercut," Valentina says, "while Steph was very boho. Even though we had differences in personal style we instantly clicked, pairing up to work on uni projects. We look back and laugh at some of the things we have done and the sticky situations we’ve gotten ourselves into over the years. It's been a long and winding road, but the best 10 years to count."
After going their separate ways post-graduation, they came back together to travel and it was while on the road that the concept for the label was born. Perhaps it is these roots in wanderlust that make Rat & Boa feel intrinsically tied to travel, making us want to pack up the whole collection and hop on a plane to hotter climes. The clothes aren't restricted to summer occasions, though; come December, the dresses work just as hard for party season – something that's evolved since the label's launch in 2013.
"We lived in Thailand and Bali during the first few years of the brand, and the pieces were definitely more beach and holiday-inspired," Valentina explains. "Since being based in Berlin we are drawn to women on the street and our city surroundings, which has had a domino effect on the inspiration for our designs." "There will always be a sense of the nomadic lifestyle in the brand's image," Stephanie agrees, "but the silhouettes are now a little more grown up, the fabric a little more luxe."
There's a heavy dose of nostalgia threaded through the brand's DNA, from the '90s Kate-Moss-could've-worn-it slip dresses to the velvet and animal print that feel straight out of the '70s. The latest collection, 'Nirvana' was inspired by the duo's trip to Brazil in 2018. "This collection is a blaze of colours, different textures and prints, symbolic of the energy and attitude of the country." With tie-dyed silk, balloon-sleeved minis, ruched drawstring necklines and ruffles galore, the whole collection is enough to make you want to book a flight to Rio, stat.
Valentina and Stephanie have lived together everywhere from Bangkok to Bali and Berlin, and travel fuels their brand – so what are their essential travel hacks? "A face mask on long haul flights: Estée Lauder foil masks work a dream. Water: stay hydrated always, it keeps the wrinkles at bay and is the ultimate necessity. A wide-brimmed hat: this always adds to a casual outfit and hides unruly hair! We discovered while shooting our AW18 collection in Morocco that if you are in need of an iron but don't have one, hair straighteners do a great job on getting out creases. Also, a good lip gloss (we love By Terry’s Baume de Rose) is excellent used on cheeks and eyes to wake up the face."
While the likes of Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid and Elsa Hosk are fans of the brand, it's the women with a more rock'n'roll aesthetic – like Adwoa Aboah and Jesse Jo Stark – we look to for inspiration when styling the brand's dresses. "We would love to see Zoë Kravitz rocking a Rat & Boa piece – she's our ultimate crush, always managing to pull off that effortless, eccentric look. We'd also love to dress the classically cool women in the industry, whose style never dates, like Kate Moss, Erin Wasson and Sienna Miller."
The brand, which is stocked exclusively on its own site and at Matches Fashion, has extended its size range for the Nirvana collection – with pieces coming in XS-XL, summer's sexiest dress brand is now for everyone. What's up next for Valentina and Stephanie? "We want to expand into an all-encompassing lifestyle brand with an expansive product offering that includes denim, shoes and accessories," they say. "Essentially, a one-stop shop for the Rat & Boa woman. Also, we're planning our first pop-up store in London so that our customer can shop in real life." So watch this space. In the meantime you'll find us on Skyscanner, booking our next flight outta here.