Words by Emma Langman
One of a kind
We all know that terrible plummeting feeling of arriving at a party glammed up in our favourite new dress only to spot someone else wearing exactly the same thing – not the recipe for an ideal night out! It might seem a bit extreme to get a bespoke gown designed and made for your Christmas do, but when it comes to your wedding day, every bride wants to make sure she looks and feels truly special. “The idea of uniqueness is appealing,” says renowned bridal designer Joyce Young. “A lot of brides like the idea of having the most special dress of their life designed especially for them, one that no one else has worn or ever will wear.”
At Charlotte Grace (01786 842424), the Doune bridal boutique, owner Carol Hutton helps brides organise their uniquely designed or altered gowns: “With a bespoke or customised gown, the bride can have exactly what she wants with absolutely no compromises.”
Many brides-to-be are attracted to the idea of a bespoke dress as it’s the most secure way to guarantee a totally personal look. It is also a surefire way to get the most flattering and comfortable fit possible. Ailsa J. Rendell of AJR Designs is an expert at creating bespoke gowns. “Custom-made is the perfect option for the bride who doesn’t want a standard gown,” she explains. “If you’re looking for something personal or if you have a unique body shape and know you’ll struggle to get a good fit, the custom-made route will provide you with a gown that fits you perfectly, looks exactly how you want and is a one-off – no one will have a gown like it.”
Before you rush into a bridal designer’s studio, take some time to consider the different options so you can form an idea of the type of gown you’d like to wear. “I would suggest that every bride starts the process by trying on a wide range of gowns,” says Ailsa J. Rendell. “Try on a full tulle princess-cut gown, an A-line, a fishtail and a straight dress. You’ll immediately get a feel for what shape suits you and what size of skirt you like. Even if you think you already know what style you want, it’s worth doing this – you might be really surprised by what you discover!”
Once you’ve figured out the best type of shape to suit your figure, it’s time to talk to a designer who can turn your dream dress into reality. “We usually start off with a meeting where we discuss the venue and what is important for the bride,” explains award-winning dressmaker Mette Baillie of Freja Designer Dressmaking. “If you’re getting married in a cathedral, for example, you’d have more need of a ‘big impact’ dress than if the ceremony is in a small conference room in a hotel. It is really helpful to have a think about how you picture your day and what you see yourself wearing.”
But don’t worry if you’re not really sure where to start; ask the designer for their expertise and they’ll be more than happy to help. “Sometimes the bride brings in her favourite dress or her mother’s wedding dress, and asks us to do something to resemble that,” says Mette Baillie, “but some girls have no idea what they’d like. We have a small range of dresses here which they can try on and that gives us a feel of how different fabrics hang and how different constructions look on the body.”
Ailsa J. Rendell agrees: “At our first consultation, we talk about the bride’s likes and dislikes, what suits her and what she’s looking for in terms of colour, detail and fabric. If she doesn’t know, we’ll discuss options and what I think would suit her. We’ll look at a selection of images and I provide a wide range of fabric samples as well, so that the client can feel the fabrics and imagine wearing them, and we’ll discuss which ones work for different styles. After our first meeting, having got to know the bride better, I can provide her with designs and samples for her to browse and we’ll begin the process of narrowing down the design from there.”
Hit the books
Any bride-to-be who is unsure where to begin should start off with some research. This will help you get to grips with which styles you like, highlight any particular designer whose work suits your tastes and help you work out whether going bespoke is the right route for you. “Do your homework – ask friends who’ve been through the whole process about their experiences; look at bridal boutiques’ websites for dresses you want to try on so you can narrow down the search to just a few stores,” Joyce Young recommends. “Check out the reputations of the stores and designers before making an appointment, and find out ballpark figures for a bespoke dress.”
This last point is crucial: while many fear a bespoke dress will burst their budget, this needn’t be the case. “Your wedding dress is probably the most expensive garment you will ever own but it doesn’t really cost any more to have a dress made than it does to buy one – so why not go for a gown that is personal to you, that you have been part of creating and that no one else will ever have,” says Mette Baillie.
As well as going completely bespoke, there’s also the option of having an existing gown customised. This works well if you’ve seen a gown in a magazine or online that you really love the look of but would prefer with a different neckline or longer sleeves, for example. “If we don’t have an exact style that suits a bride, we can change elements of an existing style for her – it’s something to discuss during the consultation,” advises Joyce Young.
Carol Hutton works with bridal designers to create bespoke or customised gowns, ensuring that a dress still looks gorgeous once it has been altered to the bride’s specifications. “Once I’ve spoken to my client about how she’d like a dress to be altered, I liaise with the brand’s design team to come up with the final look. That way, we can make sure that technically the dress will hold its beautiful shape and remain comfortable all day, despite the design changes.”
Work in progress
The process for having a bespoke or customised gown created is a little different from purchasing an off-the-peg dress, so be sure to give the designer enough time to do their best work. “A year is the norm for brides starting to look at gowns, while
anywhere from six to nine months beforehand is very common and certainly still allows enough time to design and make and fit the gown,” says Ailsa J. Rendell. But even if your big day is fast approaching, it doesn’t mean you have to rule out this option, as she explains: “I’ve had brides ordering two years in advance, as well as last-minute brides who come to me with just three months to go. If the schedule allows it, I always try to accommodate them.”
Once you’ve worked on the look of your dress with your designer, it’s time for them to make up a sample for you to try on. Mette Baillie explains how this process works: “We start the dress off by making a toile. This is a mock-up dress made in sheet fabric. At this stage, we will look at details such as the neckline and the fullness of the skirt. We then make the alterations to our pattern and cut ‘The Real’ dress. We then have another fitting, and perhaps an additional two, depending on the complexity of the style and the amount of detailing in the design. Each time we will make small changes and adjustments.”
It’s the first chance you’ll get to try on your gown and, as this version is usually made up a little more roughly, it also gives you the opportunity to alter any detail that doesn’t look quite right. “The fittings are your opportunity to have your say, to change anything that isn’t working for you and to make sure that I am creating that dream gown for you,” says Ailsa J. Rendell.
The perfect gown
Your dress is an essential part of the wedding and many brides base the rest of their day around it, so it’s crucial to take your time and make sure you’ve chosen the one that suits you best. “Very often, it’s not until the dress is chosen that everything else starts falling into place,” agrees Joyce Young. “Once the bride knows how she will look, she can then choose the bridesmaids’ outfits and a theme for the décor and style of invitations.”
The most important part of finding your gown is ensuring it’s perfect for you in every way, suggests Carol Hutton: “Take your time and consider all the possibilities – and don’t forget to try on dresses in different fabrics as well as different shapes, to see which gives the best luminosity against your skin in the daylight. When you look in the mirror, you should see the best version of yourself, so don’t settle for anything less.”