Struggling to find ‘the one’? It might be time to consider a bespoke wedding dress

What you wear on your wedding day has to be something special – like a completely unique gown you’ve had a hand in designing

Joyce Young Swan
Swan couture gown by Joyce Young Design Studios

If you’ve carried around a detailed drawing of your dream dress since the moment you said yes, you’re probably already halfway down made-to-measure avenue. But what about the rest of us? “I find that brides who want a bespoke dress fall into one of two categories,” says bridal couturier Joyce Young.

“The first has always known that she would have a dress designed uniquely for her. The second has already tried on many gowns but hasn’t fallen in love with any of them, so has decided to have her ideas translated into a dress.” In other words, there is light at the end of the changing-room tunnel if nothing on the rail has won your heart.

But what if you’re short on artistic talent and your inner Vera Wang is more like Very Wrang? Fear not – there are people out there who’d love to help. “It’s always good for the designer to have some input in the gown,” says Rowan McIntosh of Edinburgh’s Rowanjoy Bridal. “One reason brides come to us is our style and ideas.”

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Azura gown by The House of Oscar Lili. Photo: Ryan White Photography

Work on your bespoke gown begins at home. There’s no need to become a fashion aficionado overnight, but compiling samples, swatches, colours and images of existing gowns you like certain elements of, whether they’re bridal or not, all build a picture of the dress you’ve got in your mind. 

Devour magazines and find your fashion influences: these could be rooted in a particular era or a specific designer’s back catalogue. If your chosen maker shares these influences, all the better. “I’m inspired by Ralph & Russo, Alexander McQueen and old Hollywood – classic glamour at its best!” says Liliana Dabic, founder of La Novia and its new sister brand The House of Oscar Lili.

Rowan also looks to fashion designers for pointers. “One of my absolute favourites is Erdem, who works with the most exquisite fabrics,” she notes. “I love Valentino and Elie Saab too, and the ethereal aesthetic they both have.”

You have some thoughts on what your dress might look like – now what? Step in, your chosen designer. “At the initial consultation, we’ll chat about the dress and the wedding,” says Wendy Harman of Flossy & Dossy. “If I have a sample dress you like, you might try that on to get a feel for the design. We’ll also look through fabric and lace sample books and talk about how different fabrics might look. Then I’ll do a sketch of the dress and provide a quote.”

For Liliana, the first meeting begins in a similar way: trying on existing gowns to help alleviate any anxieties and to encourage an open mind. “I’m a firm believer in the client trying different silhouettes and fabrics before we design a bespoke gown,” she insists. “Many brides find it pretty scary to work from just a sketch and fabric charts, so my existing made-to-measure collection allows them to try dresses on. We can easily take ideas from each sample, finally piecing together the perfect gown. We will then look through fabrics and embellishments.”

As soon as the design is in two-dimensional form, production can begin. “I usually need around five to six months for a bespoke dress,” Wendy warns. “After the consultation, brides will come back for measurements. I then do a toile fitting and on average two to three fittings after that.” (Tip: a toile, for those who don’t speak fashion, is a mock-up of the gown, made in lightweight cotton or lining fabric.)

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Delicate lace gown by Flossy & Dossy. Photo: Jo Donaldson Photography

A unique pattern will be created especially for the process and the final garment is often crafted by a team of people. This, of course, has a major impact on the price. “There are hundreds of hours of work in each gown – it takes three dressmakers to complete just one dress,” explains Liliana.

Treat your bespoke fittings as you would a fitting for an existing gown: while it will be made to suit your exact shape and may include extra support, such as corsetry, it is as vital as ever to wear the right under-wear. In the initial stages, a strapless bra and nude knickers will suffice (and are a must), but do aim to choose your bridal lingerie as soon as possible, so that it can be allowed for in the design.

So, after months of hard work on the part of your designer and a lengthy waiting game by you, it comes down to this: your completely unique gown. Enjoy it! “Your dress can be whatever you want it to be,” smiles Rowan. “That is the joy of bespoke.”