Meet The Designer: Kate Halfpenny
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Tell us a bit about your brand, Kate – how was it born and how has it evolved over the years?
I grew up in Derbyshire pre-social media, so it was a joy to be able to get my hands on my mum’s magazines and live the fairytale through all the celebrity weddings that were featured. It was a feeling that stayed with me – all through my studies at art college and later at university where I studied fashion. I spent a year out working for Vivienne Westwood, and my final collection was bridalwear, but I then went into styling and working for various costumer designers – be it on TV or the red carpet – and stayed in that for about 20 years. I decided to launch the brand in 2005 – around the time Emilia Fox married Jared Harris (I made one of her dresses) – and our London store opened about eight years after that. In the last ten years, the brand has gone stratospheric. A lot of that has been down to word of mouth – to this day, that is the biggest driving force of our success.
Is there a typical Halfpenny bride?
There isn’t one kind of Halfpenny London bride. In fact, we pride ourselves on saying the brand is for everyone. The DNA that runs through the brand is quite clear, though. I suppose it’s about a certain mix of fabrics and textures, as well as our fanatical attention to detail when it comes to cut and length. Fit is everything to us – it has to be, especially when brides are making this kind of investment.
How does the bridal journey work at Halfpenny?
We operate by appointment only. Not because we’re stuffy, just because we want each bride to have dedicated time with one of our stylists to browse the two floors of dresses in the boutique and really enjoy being in the space. We don’t always encourage brides to bring lots of people with them – sometimes too many opinions are a bad thing. At the first appointment, we’ll try lots of different options, including plenty of dresses that might be a little out of your comfort zone to really confirm what you do and don’t like. Brides aren’t pressured into putting their order in that day – we encourage them to go away, try on other options and come back. We also don’t encourage brides to take photos as some kind of reference – you need to try a dress on again to be really sure.
At the second appointment, you may well make a decision and we’ll take your measurements. Ideally, this would be about a year out from the wedding, but we can usually work with anything six months or more, without incurring rush fees. Confirmed brides will get what we call a ‘Halfpenny pack’ with all the relevant information and we then leave it until between six to 12 weeks before the wedding to start fittings. We leave it quite close because body shapes change. For an off-the-peg design, it probably takes three fittings to get everything just right. Alternatively, we can sell you the dress and you can use a family or local tailor (which might be more convenient if you’re not local to London). As a brand, we’re probably busy with about 40 fittings a week – but I’m so proud to be able to say everything is made within the M25. Once the bride is happy with the fit, we arrange a collection date that works for them to come and get their final dress.
Do you do bespoke? Or can designs be customised?
We only make a limited number of bespoke dresses every year. It’s such a premium and luxurious experience and while I really want to walk that journey with every bride, I’m only in London two days a week. However, if you do want to go bespoke – the entry level price is probably around £15,000 – we can work together, draw up moodboards and try lots of styles on to design the dress of your dreams. It starts with a simple toile at the beginning, and then we layer on bespoke elements, fabrics, embroideries to arrive at a completely customised look. We also offer a semi-bespoke service, where brides choose an existing design from the collection, but perhaps tweak the neckline or the length to make it more suitable for their day. Each pattern change is just charged separately as needed.
So what kind of budget do you need for a Halfpenny dress from the main collection?
Our dresses are around £2,500 to £5,000 for a standard look from the collection with a simple veil. If brides start adding more ornate accessories, they might be looking at an additional £1,500. Then, our alterations package starts from £475 on top of the dress fee, although this can change depending on how many pattern alterations are required.
What are some common mistakes you see brides make?
It doesn’t happen in our boutique – but I see a lot of brides who are misled into thinking satin is the same thing as silk. It isn’t, but that doesn’t mean hybrid fabrics are worth dismissing altogether. In fact, mixed fibres can behave much better for different reasons (be it the movement or lack of creases) so it’s good to have an open mind and just be aware of what you’re buying. I also see a lot of brides who don’t like the idea of a strapless dress – but it can be very flattering, so again, have an open mind and try on lots of options.
And I know I’ve said this already, but try not to come with too many people to your appointment. You’ll only end up trying to please them instead of yourself. Finally, really do your research and only book to visit boutiques you’re confident have dresses you’re going to like – and share your budget with your stylist up front. It’s the worst thing to find your dream dress and then realise it’s not something you can afford. If that is the case, add yourself to the brand’s mailing list to be notified about sample sales.
Any trends you think are big in bridal fashion right now?
We’re not really a trend-led brand, but the collections have certainly evolved over time to respond to certain demands. I design quite intuitively, and my inspiration might come from a certain fabric or a bride I’m working with – both of which might lead me to think there’s something missing from the collection. There are more than 500 pieces in the collection – we don’t archive anything unless the fabric becomes unavailable or difficult to order – so we’ll only introduce a new feature or silhouette if we genuinely think it’s needed and that brides will respond to it. For instance, the detachable sleeve has existed in my collection for a while, but it’s become a more prominent part of the designs in recent years. Interchangeable separates have become far more popular of late (sustainability is a big driver) but that’s something we’re known for. Minidresses are big right now, too. It’s interesting though, some of our original dresses from 2005, like the Cheryl, are some of our bestsellers to this day.
Any trends you think brides should avoid or be wary of?
Not specifically – because it really depends on your body shape and personal style. But ultimately, the most important thing is not to dress for anyone else. Don’t wear something you don’t feel good in just because someone else thinks or tells you it’s the right thing.
What’s the one thing you like to tell every client?
Do not let any stylist compare your body to a piece of fruit! That sounds odd, but we have a lot of brides coming to us saying things like, “Oh but I’m pear-shaped,” or, “I’m an apple.” It really doesn’t mean anything anymore – we can adjust any pattern to fit your shape and we’re experts in making someone look their best in something.
Tell us about the other collections you have in the atelier…
Our Sister collection has a range of eveningwear options that work beautifully for bridesmaids. I know I said our brand is for everyone, but our bridal dresses possibly aren’t given the entry level price. Our ready-to-wear collections – which include things like the Be Colourful edit that’s exclusive to Harrods – make our designs more accessible. A lot of the pieces mimic the hero pieces from our core bridal collections, so it’s a great way to meet the demand.
Finally, what do you think has changed most in the bridal world over the years?
Brides – like all consumers – are much more knowledgeable today than when I started the brand, and they’re far more conscious about where pieces come from and how they’re made. Using quality fabrics and making garments locally is so important. Also, brides are so much more confident – a lot of them take far more control over their look and really don’t follow rules when it comes to their big day. We probably have the pandemic to thank for that. They want something that makes them feel phenomenal – and that doesn’t have to mean a ballgown. It could be a cool pair of trousers with a beautifully fitted top. It just depends on your style, your vibe, and what you think is going to help you be the best version of yourself. It’s great to see the world as a whole coming round to that idea.
Weekday appointments at Halfpenny London cost £30, with weekend appointments priced at £45 – both fees are non-refundable. Visit HalfpennyLondon.com to book or for more information.
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