Everything You Need To Know About Creating A Bespoke Wedding Dress

Anyone who’s looked for a wedding dress knows the options are endless – which is why some might choose to design their perfect dress from scratch. Here, we asked renowned wedding dress designer Phillipa Lepley to share her advice, before rounding up some of our favourite destinations for bespoke dresses…

So, what is a bespoke dress?

“A bespoke dress is totally designed from start to finish. It’s a unique design created for that one person – it doesn’t necessarily exist in our collection – and it’s entirely moulded to the bride’s body, incorporating as many special details as they wish.”

What are some of the main advantages of going bespoke? 

“That the dress is totally personal and unique – from the shape and silhouette to the very personal details. We just had one bride design her own dress, including the veil which is going to be hand embroidered with the couple’s initials all over it. As the designer, we can home in on exactly what is best for you and your shape and colouring, and make sure it’s totally right for you.”

How does going bespoke differ to bespoke alterations?

“A totally bespoke design has never been made before. The dress is created from scratch for you, using a bespoke paper pattern and bespoke toiles. It gives you total flexibility because it’s such an organic process. In comparison, a bespoke alteration is when an existing dress in our collection is altered to your measurements and specific requirements. It’s always possible to look at the collection and incorporate several different elements from each to come up with a bespoke design. Maybe it’s the sleeve from one dress, the neckline and skirt from another, and so on. Many bespoke dresses are based on samples that brides have tried on. That’s the starting point, but they can evolve organically in such an exciting way.”

What are some of the main considerations to bear in mind with bespoke dresses?

“When you create a totally bespoke dress you obviously haven't seen the finished article before or, often, anything like it. Therefore you do need to be prepared to work with the design very closely along the way, to have faith in the designers and work through the process as a team. You need to be very clear what you’re looking for at the first appointment – to help me create their vision, I love working with brides who are very verbal about what they do and don’t like. You should see full-length toile mock-ups to make sure you’re happy with everything discussed. If you’re not, there should be plenty of time from this stage to make changes, so you’re completely satisfied.”

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@PHILLIPALEPLEY

What sort of time does it take to make a dress from scratch?

“At Phillipa Lepley, we like to allow at least eight months, but ideally, you’d have at least a year to work on the dress before the wedding. For example, our order book is now closed if you’re getting married before September. That said, we always try to accommodate everyone, however tight the timeframe might be for them. The pandemic has taught us to be nimbler in that respect. Equally, the more intricate the design – specifically the more embroidery involved – the more time the better as all our embroidery is done by artisans in Europe, so we need time for garments to go back and forth.”

Can you describe the process start to finish for us?

“The bride will typically book an appointment to start with – this can happen virtually if it’s more convenient – to find out more about her wedding and her personal style. Then, we can prepare a fitting room full of options so she can try pieces on and see what might work or what looks good. Obviously with a bespoke dress, we’ll be looking at different elements of different dresses to see what a unique design might look like. I always encourage them to be as open as possible – it’s funny to see how opinions change once we explore the collection.

“It’s about piecing it together and seeing where we end up, but there is such a thing as an over-designed dress. The shape is the most important thing – the mirror doesn’t lie, and it soon becomes clear what is going to work best. I always try to make them focus on one story or style – it’s easy to get carried away and try to incorporate too much. Once you’ve found the basic shape, you can focus on the embellishments, the fabrics and smaller details.

“The next stage, once you’ve finalised the design, is honing the fit. Fit is key – it doesn’t matter how much work goes into the design, if the fit is wrong, it’ll look wrong. That’s what the toile is for. It’s not often that we have brides change their mind right towards the end of the process, but changes are always possible. Then, at the end, we’ll have a couple of final fittings to ensure the end result is perfect.”

There are always MORE AFFORDABLE ROUTES – such as taking a dress from the collection and just making small tweaks or BUYING OFF THE RACK or even at a sample sale – but bespoke services do cost more.

How late in the process can you make changes to a bespoke dress?

“It really depends on time and your budget. Last-minute changes can always be done, but lots of additional work being scheduled in at the atelier will incur costs. That said, we would never say never, and we work tirelessly with each bride to ensure they’re thrilled with the final look.”

How do you go about finding the right accessories for a bespoke dress?

“Bespoke veils made to match a dress can be the perfect finishing touch. The embroidery can be an extension of your design, made with such love, care and attention to detail. Bespoke veils really are a showcase of skilled artisans – the craftsmanship involved is incredible.” 

Finally, what kinds of budget should brides have in mind if they want to go bespoke?

“If I’m being honest, at Philippa Lepley we’d advise earmarking at least £20,000 for a completely bespoke dress. There are always more affordable routes – such as taking a dress from the collection and just making small tweaks, or of course buying completely off the rack or even at a sample sale.”


Here Are Some Of Our Favourite Destinations For Bespoke Dresses…

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Andrea Hawkes

Based in Islington, British bridal designer Andrea Hawkes creates beautiful, contemporary wedding dresses for the modern bride. The choice of SL’s wellness editor Tor West, many of Andrea’s brides comment directly on the excellent customer service and the quality of the natural silk fabrics. Expect simple, classic shapes; each dress is crafted with total precision – fit and feel are at the forefront of all the designs. 

Visit AndreaHawkes.co.uk

Caroline Castigliano

English-born designer Caroline Castigliano has been in the wedding dress business for close to three decades – and her flagship atelier in Knightsbridge is the ultimate location in which to design your dream dress. Known for her feminine and effortlessly glamorous aesthetic, Caroline’s unique ability to cut and construct garments enables her to create dresses that exude confidence and a deep sense of style. Each Castigliano creation is handcrafted in the UK, making the dresses a triumph of British design and craftsmanship.

Visit CarolineCastigliano.com

@EMMAKENNYWEDDINGS

Emma Beaumont

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. Handmade in England for modern brides around the world, through delicate shaping and stunning embellishment, she and her expert team craft one-of-a-kind creations that embody your individual style and personality. Brides can also choose pieces from two current collections of dream dresses.

Visit EmmaBeaumont.com

@ZACHAANDGRACE.CO

Halfpenny London

Whether you want florals, ribbons and puff sleeves or sleek silhouettes and super flattering necklines, Kate Halfpenny does it all. A costume designer, celebrity stylist and Central St Martin’s textile graduate, Kate has become one of the UK’s leading luxury bridalwear designers – she’s best known for weaving Brit cool with a luxe sensibility. It’s no surprise her client list reads like a who’s who of the fashion elite – think Kate Moss, Erin O’Connor and Emilia Fox among others.

Visit HalfpennyLondon.com

@KATYAKATYALONDON

Katya Katya

For fashion-forward brides looking for something truly unique, Katya Katya is the cool new bridal brand from Katya Shehurina. Her designs couple timeless British chic with an edgy attitude to create lasting, elegant pieces that blend tradition with modern romance. Even better, Katya Katya designs are comfortable and easy to wear, so brides can focus on making memories on the big day without feeling restricted or buttoned up.

Visit KatyaKatya.co.uk

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Sassi Holford

Award-winning bridal designer Sassi Holford is synonymous with romance and luxury. Taking luxurious fabrics as a starting point, her designs instinctively blend understated elegance with effortless glamour – resulting in timeless wedding outfits for discerning women. There’s also a range of eveningwear and formal options for your bridal party and mothers-of-the-bride.

Visit SassiHolford.com

@SUZANNENEVILLE

Suzanne Neville

Suzanne’s love of structure and pattern cutting has earned her the nickname ‘Corset Queen’ for her incredibly flattering silhouettes. Based at her London studio – one of only a handful of British-made couture houses left in the UK – Suzanne oversees her very talented team to ensure quality stays high, with only the best fabrics sourced from Italy, France and Switzerland. Recent clients have included Jennifer Hudson, Elle Macpherson and Kate Winslet.

Visit SuzanneNeville.com

@THEOWNSTUDIO

The Own Studio

London-based designers and friends Jess Kaye and Rosie Williams founded The Own Studio to put a contemporary spin on wedding wear. Handmade at its London atelier, the label’s signature styles combine contemporary silhouettes with unexpected vintage details, resulting in considered, minimal styles perfect for the modern bride. Recognised for its impeccable tailoring, sleek silhouettes and exquisite fabrics, the goal is to create bridal-meets-eveningwear pieces that can become luxe wardrobe staples long after the wedding day.  

Visit TheOwnStudio.com

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