"The dress is made to fit you, you're not fitting the dress"
For a bride, one of the most important aspects of a wedding is likely to be the dress. With so many styles, fabrics and even colours available it still may be difficult to find that one dress that you like. If this is a problem for you, then considering a bespoke gown may be the solution. I’ve spoken to Helen Rhiannon, a wedding dress designer from South Wales to get the answers to those burning questions.
1) How far in advance do most brides start looking at wedding dresses?
Helen: “Some brides are super prepped and can get in touch 2 years before, if not before that and others can be around 8 months, and others last minute. I take most on if I can, but there’s not really a right way to do it.”
While two years sounds like a lot, it makes sense to me. People book their weddings so far in advance and personally, the dress would be high up on my priority list!
2) How long would it take for you to make a bespoke gown from start to finish?
Helen: ‘It’s kind of a question of how long is a piece of string. It depends on the style of the bride, if they’ve got an idea of what they want. The longest process is sourcing the correct fabrics and finding what one will work best and then making up two or three different samples to make sure it’s right. Making the actual wedding dress is the quick bit because you’ve done the hard bit of designing it already! It’s quite a drawn out process, as I’ll make up a sample, have the bride come in, tweak it and then make another and see her a month after. This is the bespoke route and so it can be however long a bride wants it to be and they can have as many fittings as they want and need.”
Before speaking to Helen, I hadn’t thought that samples would be made – but that totally makes sense. With all the planning, I don’t see how someone could walk down the aisle without the dress of their dreams!
3) What is it about having a bespoke wedding dress made is so special in your eyes?
Helen: “You have a dress at the end of it that is totally unique, that nobody else has in the world. A bespoke dress is made to fit you absolutely perfectly and all the little design details mean that you are having a dress that is absolutely unique to you. If you look on the highstreet, there are so many other brides that could be wearing the same dress as you. I stock a small ready-to-wear collection at a boutique in Penarth, and so there are brides that have shopped there that have worn the same design, and that’s only a small collection of 10 or 12. Your money also goes a lot further. If you are going to a designer to have a dress made, you are having that designer’s full attention, time and energy. The budget that you have is fully spent on the dress that you end up wearing, whereas if you go down the boutique route then you have your cost being spread to a third party. Personally, I think having a bespoke dress made means that you get something that you truly want and love every part of it.
A unique relationship is formed between the designer and the client. This is a very trusting process, which may not be for everyone because some people like to try something on and know what they want for their special day. Others, however, may know what they want but just can’t find it.
I always say to brides, go and try dresses on just so that you can see yourself in whatever you think you might want. Go and try something on that’s similar, just to make sure that you love it because equally you may find that it isn’t for you. If you haven’t got a creative imagination, you kind of have to trust me and know that I’m not going to put you into a silly dress. It’s a very unique process.”
This is another excellent point. Often, you may not consider where the money that you are paying for a dress goes. By getting a bespoke dress, you are ensuring that your hard earned money is going to the person that is putting all of their energy and time into. Even more important is the idea of having an idea of what will actually suit you.
4) How does the design process normally work? For example, consultations, fittings etc.
Helen: “A bride will come to the studio and have a very informal chat. I don’t have huge design premises, I have a small log cabin that I work from but I’m hoping to move to a bigger location next year. Because it’s me that makes the dress, people buy into it for me rather than the location that I’m making it in!
It’s all about people coming down and feeling welcomed, seeing the work that I’ve done before and understanding that myself, as a designer, is an absolute perfectionist. A good fit is really important to me and I want them to see what I can offer them.”
This is a lovely way to do it, it allows the bride to make sure that they are going to be working with someone that they trust with their vision and that they believe is the right match for them in regards to styling.
5) Do brides normally come to you with a (mental or physical) image of what they want, perhaps that they couldn’t find in the shops?
Helen: “They might come with an idea themselves and if I see that it’s something that I can take on then I give them that option, but will always encourage them to go away and have a think and a chat. If they come back then that’s great, and it’s often a specific reason why they haven’t gone to a boutique, maybe they don’t want that experience, or they’ve been put off it. This is especially if you are told that your body shape isn’t right for dresses, which happens a lot and is horrendous. I will very much make a dress designed for you and encourage my clients to not crash diet because this is about you, to find a design that works for you, that will help compliment your figure. It’s a bit about getting across my personality and after the consultation they can go away and think about it. My strapline is, ‘the dress is made to fit you, you’re not fitting the dress’ – the dress should fit you perfectly and you’ll feel comfortable.”
What a fantastic strapline – and so important when designing or choosing a wedding dress, I think. This is the dress that will be featured in so many memories and pictures and so you want to be sure that you’re not going to look back and regret making a choice or worry that it didn’t fit you properly.
6) Do you only design more traditional wedding gowns, or have you ever catered for more unique needs, for example a bridal suit, jumpsuit etc.?
Helen: “I don’t tend to attract people looking for different styles, but because of my personal style, I look for quite timeless and classic dresses. I don’t feel a need to keep up with the trends so much in regards to options such as jumpsuits, but there are plenty of people out there that are doing that, which is great. I’m all about having a beautifully fitted dress, that will hopefully be timeless and you can always look back on and love.”
Timeless and classic dresses are called this for a reason and I really don’t think you can go wrong with this style. When choosing a designer, you’re buying in to their own style as well, which is obviously something to consider when making your choices.
7) What is your favourite style of wedding dress to design?
Helen: “Well my absolute favourite is 50s, I think it’s because I’m curvy with a waist and hips and I think every designer designs for what they know. I love when you can accentuate a waist and hips and really show a woman’s figure beautifully, without having to show too much. I absolutely adore 50s and when you’re in a 50s dress, you can’t stand still and have to start swooshing it around! But I also love a full length dress that is just classic and stylish. I love an open back, but it’s just all about showing that figure and wearing what you want and what suits you.
I love this style too! It can look great on any body shape and will definitely get the attention when on the dance floor. Having a dress that moves with you instead of holding you back is definitely a good plan!
8) At what stage does a client normally bring their friends or family to a fitting and how many people would they normally bring along?
Helen: “It changes, I’ve got one bride now that brings her two friends every time. I think that’s because she likes to have the support, as she’d been elsewhere but I think that her friends gave her the confidence to tell her what looks good. Other people come on their own, others come with their mums, it really changes. I’ve only got a small space, so I can’t fit 10 bridesmaids in here, but that’s generally not the type of client I attract. You also don’t want a lot of different personalities trying to give their two pennies worth in. So when going down the bespoke route, people often bring one or two people.”
Bringing along people that are going to fill you with confidence seems to be the way to go. After all, you don’t want people there that don’t like the same style as you or have too strong an opinion.
9) How much does a bespoke gown cost in comparison to a boutique or highstreet dress?
Helen: “It’s actually not a huge difference. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them how much dresses can be. Yes, it is possible to buy an off the rack dress for £800-£1,000 and I think that’s what a lot of people look for. The dresses that I stock in the boutique range from £1,500 for the short dress and up to £2,500 for a full length. However, for those who are coming direct to me, a wedding dress starts at £2,000 for a full length dress, if you want a 50s dress it can be around £1,500. But what you get is as many fittings as you want and no added costs. I think a lot of people would be surprised that the dresses don’t cost around £5,000. You are paying more than if you go to the high-street, but you get something a lot more for your money. If you want silk, beaded fabric, you want the most detailed details, and hand sewing then the price creeps up and up.”
You really get what you pay for from Helen, and other bespoke wedding dress designers. Of course, it may not be the option for those looking to keep to a smaller budget, but if you can afford it, I do think it’s worth considering. Even more so if you already have a higher budget, because, as Helen said, if you get a dress from a boutique you might end up paying the same price!
10) What is your favourite part of a wedding?
Helen: “I don’t know actually! I think I enjoy the weddings that are a little bit different and more unique. A lot of weddings can be a bit of a ‘tick box’ style with people feeling as though they have to meet certain requirements. So I think the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most are the ones that are very different. My brother got married last year and had a small ceremony with family and friends, in a small venue but it was such a personal wedding where everyone really knew the bride and groom. We had a lovely lunch and a party in the evening and those are the ones that I prefer and are more intimate.
As a designer, when the bride walks in and there’s that gasp that’s always lovely and even better if you made the dress yourself!”
I can only imagine the pride that a designer would feel seeing her creation being worn so beautifully. It must be a very rewarding job because you get a final product that has made someone else so happy.
11) As part of the something old, something new wedding rhyme, have you heard the last line “and a silver sixpence in your shoes” and what do you think of it?
Helen: “It’s a lovely quirky little idea and I’ve seen it where people have the sixpence in their shoe. It’s quite a cute little thing and I really love those old traditions that you can do without everyone knowing that you’ve done it. Having them sewn inside the dress or in a pocket even, I love those traditions where they are just thought about nicely.”
I agree, having these tiny traditions that aren’t necessarily for other people, and are just for the person wearing them to know about.
Thank you Helen Rhiannon Bespoke Bridalwear
I’d like to thank Helen for taking the time to speak with me – she’s a very busy lady! Getting to talk a bit more about bespoke gowns was an absolute pleasure and I really think that it’s something that’s worth considering for people that, like me, are picky about what they wear. The idea of knowing that when you walk down the aisle you will have a dress designed precisely for your body shape is so comforting and means that a bride can really wear the dress with confidence.