Kate Halfpenny was destined to be a designer. Having always been “obsessed with dresses and fashion”, she completed a degree in fashion with marketing and manufacture in the 90s. She had already seen the potential for an alternative to traditional wedding dresses and specialised in bridal wear for her final show. Then, after an internship at Vivienne Westwood, Kate started styling music videos and TV commercials, while still making wedding dresses on the side. By designing two of Emilia Fox’s three wedding dresses, she soon made it into Vogue. From there, it didn’t take long for Halfpenny London to take shape; from starting in her front room, the business now occupies three buildings in Bloomsbury, London.
Halfpenny London’s USP is its interchangeable separates. “You can wear a skirt from 2005 and pair it with a top from 2020 if you like. This allows my brides complete freedom to express themselves exactly how they want, without constraint,” the designer explains. From simple, elegant gowns with clean lines to dresses with layers of texture, there’s something for every taste and style.
Kate is inspired by architecture, art and nature. “I’m not interested in trends and have always rebelled against doing the same as everyone else.” She admits to being “completely obsessed with fabrics and textiles” and they often provide plenty of inspiration. Her team always tries to keep the pieces as unique to Halfpenny London as possible – and develop lots of their own beading and embroidery. Quality is something else they refuse to compromise on, always choosing the best possible fabric for the garment.
Kate’s fabrics come from all over the world. “It’s physically impossible to get the incredible, diverse fabrics that I use close to home. My ultimate silk, which I use on lots of my dresses, is from Italy. It’s a St Tropez crepe back satin and it’s like liquid gold. I’m obsessed by tulles and silk organza, which is my go-to fabric for all of my mega floaty, ball-gown silhouettes.”
The new collection is a bolder jump into embellishment. “We’ve used a lot of it, with braver silhouettes and great, crafted cutting. The Daydreamer collection sits well within what we do here at Halfpenny London because it’s incredibly diverse and very interchangeable. It works well alongside our existing collection.”
Going bespoke is a great option. “I could design a new dress every hour, so the bespoke process is always so thrilling for me. I’m in the business of making dreams come true, so the idea of bringing to life a woman’s ultimate dream dress – creating it out of nothing – is incredibly satisfying.”
Before Halfpenny London, Kate was a celebrity stylist. She believes these years “forever shaped” the way she views clothes. “I can never have enough choice and just love to experiment with different silhouettes and layering. We have lots of delicious capes and little tops and jackets. One of the most popular jackets is our gorgeous Mikado blazer, which looks so cool and chic over any of my dresses. A cape is a lovely alternative to a veil and can completely transform a simple dress. Some women could never imagine themselves in a dress and they lean towards some of our trouser options. We have a wide-leg jumpsuit too, so if granny is horrified at the thought of you wearing trousers on your big day, throw a sheer overskirt on top of the jumpsuit for the ceremony, then whip it off to dance the night away.”
The Covid-19 crisis has changed so much for everyone. “The main thing for us was making sure our brides and stockists felt supported. As a people-facing business, we’ve been impacted hugely.” Halfpenny London is now starting to reopen – and has a huge waiting list of brides wanting to book in. “There was understandably a lot of panic and upset about weddings being postponed, and we’ve been there to hold their hands all the way through. My mega team have been working from home and been in constant contact with everyone. We’ve been doing virtual appointments and phone consultations, which means we’re ready to hit the ground running when brides come back in.” When the boutique reopens, a revised appointment schedule will ensure social-distancing rules are kept. “It’s going to be different, but we’re doing everything we can to make it magical.”
Halfpenny London has now launched bridesmaid dresses. “We’re forever saying, ‘Be the bride you want to be.’ I wanted to bring some of that ethos into our Sister collection. It’s a small edit of dresses, jumpsuits and interchangeable separates with some gorgeous touches like statement backs and genius removable sleeves. I looked at my team – no two of us would choose to wear the same thing – and thought about what we’d all wear if we were bridesmaids. I wasn’t interested in making pieces that would only be worn once on the day and never again. Everything has been designed with longevity in mind.”
Sustainability is very important to the brand. “Sustainability is a massive word and it can be really intimidating to know where to start. An established business is like a huge ship that will take time to turn, but you can still make lots of small changes while you think about your future plans.” Halfpenny London’s packaging is now recyclable and eco-friendly. When it comes to fabric, there is little waste as everything is made to order and off-cuts are repurposed into new pieces – like little flower appliqués – or donated to schools and universities. “We’re proud to design with a conscience. We’re at the beginning of our sustainability journey but we’re committed to big changes.”
Start your dress search a year before your wedding. Six months is a good timeframe for ordering. Halfpenny London’s dresses are made in London, so it can be flexible with lead times. It’s also working to waive rush fees so it can accommodate brides whose searches were interrupted by Covid-19.
The brand’s first collection with Net-A-Porter was highly successful. Pieces sold out in every size in every territory. “The new pieces are dresses and separates full of clean lines and simplicity – perfect for brides-to-be looking for an alternative to a traditional wedding gown. There are also stunning options for events surrounding the big day.”
For a fitting or to browse the Halfpenny collection, visit the boutique in Bloomsbury. It also has stockists worldwide. The edit on Net-A-Porter is especially good if you’re working to a shorter lead time. A wedding look starts at around £1,500. The average price is £2,500-£4,000. On Net-A-Porter, prices start at £850. Prices for the Sister collection start from £175.