Why might a bride look to make her dress from scratch?
There are many avenues which may lead a bride to go down the bespoke route – maybe they have a strong personal style, an interest in design and detail, or maybe they see their wedding dress as a true personal representation of themselves and want to create a bespoke gown which is like no other. Our clients often say they want to create the ‘dress of their dreams’ which is individual and one that no one else will have.
How is this different to a 'made to measure' service?
The big difference with bespoke is the ability to have a unique and custom-made design developed from scratch. With made-to-measure, you usually select a dress from that designer’s seasonal collections and can make small alterations – time allowing. With bespoke, it’s much more of a journey – it’s often adapted at each one of the various fittings and there are lots more appointments. Plus, the fabrics are sourced or made specifically for that client.
What kind of service do you offer in this regard?
We offer a very personal bespoke service that enables our clients to create a design of their choice. We source the appropriate fabrics and we also offer a bespoke beading and embroidery service where we can design patterns, sentimental motifs and initials, and incorporate this into a client’s dress. The benefit is we have all the necessary technical skills to realise the design from start to finish.
How can a bride find the right designer?
Look carefully at the quality of the designer’s work and construction so you can be sure the finished product will be as beautiful as you envisage. Ideally, it’s also useful to choose an accessible boutique to you, as there are likely to be lots of appointments. It’s always nice to arrange a few evening fittings, too – and this is much easier if you don’t live miles away.
What would you advise budget-wise?
As an example, our prices start from £6,000 for made-to-measure, including VAT and all fabrics and fittings. Each bespoke gown is calculated individually depending upon the fabrics, finishes and the labour time involved. We are more than happy to send an approximate quote by email if a client sends some initial image references and ideas. If there is a great deal of handwork or embellishment involved, the cost will be considerably more. We sometimes work to a client’s budget and then design and source appropriate fabrics with their budget in mind.
What sort of lead time do you generally work to?
Six months plus is ideal – more time is always a bonus. It just gives us the freedom to make tweaks, have in-depth discussions at the beginning and not rush any of the process. That said, we’re always keen to accommodate, so it’s always worth enquiring.
Can you describe the process for us?
We see each of our bespoke clients through from the initial appointment to the dress collection. We arrange an initial appointment via Zoom or at the boutique to discuss ideas and we look at any inspirational materials – Pinterest boards, Instagram saves – to get a feel for your style and ideas. We then discuss where the wedding will take place and any factors that need to be taken into consideration, e.g. the temperature, movement and setting. We discuss all the design details including the silhouette, neckline, sleeve, length of train. Each bespoke gown is then developed through a series of sketches. We also start sourcing suitable fabrics from our wide range of suppliers and gather samples in for each client to look at.
We try on a range of dresses with similar silhouettes in the boutique and drape silks to create necklines, and try on additional straps or possible sleeves to visualise the design. A full set of 40 measurements are taken and then we start pattern cutting. We produce a toile in calico, so the client tries the design in cotton first to check they are happy with the design, and we make tweaks marking up the silk, as well as pinning, to achieve a great fit before embarking on cutting the final silks. Once the paper pattern is updated, we cut the dress and construct it ready for fittings. We arrange three to five further fittings depending on the complexity of the design to ensure a perfect fit and pin the final hemline with the client’s shoes. We then arrange a final try-on and collection which is usually around a week before the wedding day.
EMMA BEAUMONT; EMMA VICTORIA PAYNE; @CHRIS.JELF.PHOTOGRAPHER
And what's possible design-wise?
Design-wise, the client has full control. We do provide design advice and detailing which would work well and make sure the design has overall balance and style – that’s the benefit of working with a bridal designer. The final decisions are ultimately up to the bride, but we do assist them each step of the way to help them make possible tweaks and changes to refine all the details. We also discuss what is possible technically in terms of construction and seamlines to make sure the final design is well considered.
We also take the lead in terms of the process and timescale to make sure the dress is on track and developed with plenty of time for any changes well before the wedding day. Throughout the process, we are more than happy for the client to gather additional reference images or send additional ideas which she may have come across. We then discuss how these details might be incorporated and how they would work with the current design; we also provide them with updated costs associated with these changes.
How would you advise someone to fine-tune their vision before coming to see you?
We often see Instagram saves and Pinterest boards which may have hundreds of images the bride has gathered since or even before their engagement. Often these are along a theme, and we can identify necklines the bride is drawn to, as well as fabric and silhouette. We often also identify a feeling the client is hoping to create and their wedding style, which is a great help when we are advising on types of silk etc. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t come with any concrete ideas – we see it as our job to help them identify what they love and use that as a springboard for the sketches.
What are some common mistakes you see brides make when designing a bespoke dress?
Sometimes a client might gather so many ideas that could over-complicate or overload a design and actually take away the beauty of the silhouette. Often, less is more and the bride may need a little scaling back to achieve something truly beautiful. For bespoke wedding gowns which are not ivory or white, it is important to see more than just a swatch of the shade. It is a little bit like looking at paint colours when a large expanse of colour can look quite different to the original sample card. With any colour other than white or ivory, we purchase a full length of silk to drape the colour with the client before placing the final order. Often, clients end up choosing the slightly lighter shade than initially planned, as with drapery the depth of colour can appear darker.
Is there one piece of advice you'd give all brides designing a bespoke dress?
Allow plenty of time, especially if you are looking for a specific type of lace, bespoke embroidery or beaded design as this can take many months to produce. Don’t feel you need to make all the final design decisions at once; it is a process and part of the joy is the development of the design. You are unlikely to know the exact cut and shaping of the neckline, sleeves and finishes at the first few appointments, so don’t get too ahead of yourself. Let the dress evolve with your designer – they know what they’re doing and what needs to be signed off when.
Any aftercare tips you can share?
Dry clean your dress as soon as possible after the wedding day. Then, store it in acid-free tissue paper to preserve the colour and place it in a breathable garment bag (which we supply) inside a box. Make sure you order the appropriate size box for your dress – often these can be rather large and take up a lot of unnecessary space.
And anything else you think we need to know about bespoke dresses?
Remember, you are designing a dress you want to love for decades to come. Think of the timeless photographs which will be on your mantelpiece and around your home for all those years. Ultimately, the most important thing is to have a dress which you totally feel yourself in and captures your own style. Finally, there’s no need to conform to a traditional bridal style – this is your day and your vision, and going bespoke will make this a reality for you.
Inspired? Here are five of our favourite bespoke wedding dress designers to have on your radar…
Every bespoke design at Blake Ida starts off with an initial £30, 30-minute appointment, which you can book online. That means minimal commitment if you decide the process, or the designer, isn’t for you. That said, this south London atelier couldn’t come more highly recommended, especially if this is your first time designing anything from scratch. You can find a detailed breakdown of the process on their website, so you know what to expect when.
Bringing a fresh approach to the traditional and time-honoured profession of dressmaking, Emma Beaumont promises to come up with a design that is truly you. She and her expert team hand-make in England for modern brides around the world, using delicate shaping and stunning embellishment to craft one-of-a-kind creations that embody your individual style and personality.
Friend of SL Zeena Shah rates Charlie Brear for individual creations that fashion-forward brides are bound to love. “She’s so clever,” Zeena told us. “Everything is ultimately designed to layer together so the look then becomes totally customisable.” Minimalistic and contemporary in their aesthetic, Charlie’s original designs are cut from luxurious fabrics such as silks, feathers and embellished tulles. Plus, Charlie can offer her expertise in both design and the overall styling of your bridal look.
Cherry Williams is a hidden gem in the world of bespoke bridal design. Her dresses are romantic, feminine and elegant, blending British craftsmanship with timeless design details. Her aim is for clients to get exactly what they want – and not have to compromise on fit, quality or experience. She believes she’s here to take the stress out of finding your perfect dress, and whether you go to her with ideas or not, she’ll work collaboratively with you to make sure you get just that.
Fashion fans may well be familiar with the elegance of Emilia’s ready-to-wear collections – which are often sported by the Princess of Wales. If you’ve got budget set aside for the dress, her bespoke bridal design service deserves an enquiry. Mixing old-world glamour with a modern interpretation of femininity, each design is developed with the fabric as the starting point, focusing on architectural elegance, with structured necklines and unexpected design details. Her expert team will guide you through the creative process, from sketches to finished garments, resulting in the creation of a highly personal and unique bridal look.