28th June 2012 . The Dress Weddings

The Case for Going Bespoke… Part One

For me The Wedding Dress dilemma rumbles gently on.

Working in a bridal boutique (and a blimmin’ brilliant one at that), I’m very lucky in that I can try on dresses as they come in and really get a sense of what I like and don’t like, what suits my body shape and what makes me feel how I want to feel on my wedding day.  The downside of this is that, in a way, I am almost over-exposed to the industry, to the vast array of choice and quality that is out there, and to the beautiful dresses that I handle and sell on a daily basis.  It would be foolish of me- both financially and from a loyalty sense- to go anywhere else for my wedding dress, and yet the dresses I do love are no longer special to me once I’ve put them on 10, 20, 50 other brides.

The truth is I know exactly what I want my wedding dress to look like, and with such a clear idea it’s looking more and more like I should just bite the bullet and go bespoke.  But there are niggles.  Niggles that say, what if I don’t like the finished dress?  What if  it doesn’t work out quite the way I hope?  What if it ends up costing waaaay more than I’m budgeting for?

Eager to speak to and pick the brains of brides who had their dress made just for them, I put a call-out on Twitter and was delighted to hear back from a whole host of ladies who were keen to share their stories.  Bouncing up and down a little bit and marvelling at the wonder that is Twitter, I emailed back some questions and waited patiently (only a couple of days- these ladies were ON IT) for the answers and pictures to come back in.

I’m very excited to share with you today the first two experiences of these ladies brave enough to go bespoke, starting off with the lovely Hannah- friend of the shop and founder of the über-chic online wedding directory, The Ebury Collection.

The lovely Hannah in her bespoke dress. (Image by Contre Jour)

Hannah says… “I made the mistake so many tell you not to do, and tried on too many dresses. I became what I call ‘dress blind’ and just couldn’t settle on anything. I think I was waiting for that moment where you can say ‘this is The One’ but it just never happened. I was also looking through magazines at so many beautiful and totally unaffordable dresses that it actually got me down. So I considered the option of having my dress made and met up with Reggie from The Bespoke Wardrobe and decided that this was going to be the best way forward for me.

 Once I’d decided that I was going down the bespoke route, Reggie suggested I gather some clippings of dresses, or elements of dresses that I liked and we could start from there. I did go a bit mad with the clippings and probably had somewhere in the region of 100+ which Reggie understandably found a little overwhelming initially! However it became clear that I liked silk, tulle, lace and nothing of the ball gown nature. Many of my clippings were of Vera Wang dresses so I think it was very inspired by her designs.”

Image by Contre Jour

It was definitely a very collaborative affair. After we decided that I  wanted a combination of silk, lace and tulle, we played about with the idea of layering. Champagne silk as a base, with a layer of lace covered with several layers of very soft silk tulle. The softness was very important to me as I wanted the dress to float rather than look stiff. I was able to choose the type of lace, the colour and even the type of tulle that we used.  Even down to the flower embellishments which were actually hair clips from Gillian Million.”

What I find incredibly interesting about Hannah’s story, is how she went about deciding on a concrete dress design when she didn’t have that clear vision in her head prior to the start of the process.  But with Hannah, it seems it was a continual work in progress…

“Other than knowing the fabrics I wanted and that I didn’t want anything too stiff or ball gown-y, I didn’t really know what I wanted. Part of the bespoke process is to get a toile made. This is a basic cotton garment that is pinned exactly to your body shape and is used by the dressmaker as the basis for your dress. Once this was done and the initial silk dress was made (with corseted structure), we were able to play with layering and shapes. We looked and were able to pretty much try out different necklines: sweetheart, straight, a bit between the two… all on the same day, just by pinning and playing around with the dress. It was over the course of the fittings where we were just playing about with tulle and straps and satin sashes that the dress eventually started to take shape.”

Image by Contre Jour

Yikes!  I imagine it’s the not knowing that can put a lot of people off going bespoke, although with such a beautiful dress Hannah clearly had nothing to worry about.  Were there any regrets or concerns during the process?

“I’d never been through the process of having a dress made for me before- let alone my wedding dress- so I was getting a little concerned that time was running away with me as the wedding day crept up but Reggie didn’t seemed worried at all.  I think my concern was based on the fact that most wedding dress shops want 6+ months to get your dress… but I needn’t have worried and have absolutely no regrets. It was great being able to design a dress that was just for me and made to fit me perfectly.”

Image by Contre Jour

And I have to say, it is an incredibly beautiful and unique dress.  From the cascading tulle straps to the exquisite layering of fabric and colour, it is most definitely something both Hannah and her dressmaker should be proud of!

Joanne Hutchings had a similar experience of trying too many dresses on and not quite finding the right one.  What’s different about Joanne’s bespoke journey is that the final  product was a collaboration between her and designer extroadinaire, Suzanne Neville!

Joanne explains… “I always knew that when the day came to choose a wedding dress it would not be the magical, fun experience that most brides have. I consider myself to be a ‘plain Jane’ but my friends describe my style as ‘no frills, classic’. I like simple designs- no sparkles or beading- and beautiful fabrics.  Add to this equation the fact that I don’t do strapless dresses. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a beautiful, sparkly, strapless number on other beautiful brides but my body shape and personality simply cannot pull it off.

 I started my hunt for a dress in Oxfordshire. There are a plethora of bridal boutiques in Oxfordshire with dresses to suit all shapes, sizes and styles…..except this bride. I widened my search to Berkshire, Hampshire, Buckinghamshire and London. I tried over 50 dresses all of which made me feel hideous. The hunt for a dress was turning me into a Bridezilla.

 At one bridal boutique the assistant asked, ‘Do you have an idea what you’re after’. I said ‘Plain. Plain, plain, plain… and not strapless’. She produced a beautiful gown which was covered in beading. I said, ‘It’s too fussy for me, I’m afraid’. She replied, ‘If this is too fussy then you’re not going to find your dress here’. With that I left in a flood of tears.

 Every dress I tried on was strapless and every shop said I could have straps added. But I did not want to look like the straps had been added.  I wanted the sleeves to be part of the design of the dress but I simply couldn’t find anything I liked. I went to a bridal shop in Marlow which happened to stock Suzanne Neville. I loved the simplicity of Suzanne’s designs but I still hadn’t found ‘The One’. The shop assistant recommended that I contact Suzanne who would be able to make me a bespoke dress. A few weeks later I attended the Suzanne Neville boutique in Knightsbridge and all my problems were solved.”

Joanne in her Suzanne Neville creation.

Joanne loved one of Suzanne’s designs called Mirabeau and used that as a basis to create something entirely unique to her.  I was curious as to how much input Joanne would have had when working with such a well-known designer but Joanne says she had lots, particularly with the all-important straps which were folded to tie in with the detail of the bodice and not look separate.  She also opted for satin-covered buttons rather than a lace-up back. (Although this she regrets now as she was at her smallest on her wedding day and a lace-up back would have allowed her to wear the dress again- even just for special occasions ;))


Joanne may have called herself a ‘plain Jane’, but over the last year or so I’ve met a fair few brides looking for something utterly simple and utterly classic, and not quite being able to find it in bridal shops.  Suzanne Neville is a fantastic designer for such designs, as is Beverly Lister and Stephanie Allin.  But ‘plain Jane’ aside,  Joanne’s figure looks absolutely sensational and her dress is classic, elegant… and competely unique to her.

Fascinating stuff so far, is it not? And I’ve got two more generous (and talented!) ladies sharing their dress stories tomorrow.  Will I go bespoke? Would you go bespoke?? These two ladies did and they don’t regret it.

See you tomorrow, folks!

Sama xxx

Sama x

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