Even at the couture end of fashion, we want value for money. Buying a designer dress is an investment and the natural desire to justify the expense has created a demand for multi-purpose pieces that can be worn more than once. This is an added dimension to challenge my creativity as it requires me to think like a stylist, not just a couturier. Though I’m best known for creating killer outfits for that one-off occasion, I’m also constantly thinking about how my designs (or elements of them) can be jazzed up or toned down to suit a different occasion. Clients love the idea of detachable elements – a jacket, belt or hat – that can completely transform a look and make a dress wearable in a different way. Women want the WOW factor for their big day, but when the dress is something they look and feel incredible in, it’s a crime not to wear it again.
One of my favourite pieces in ‘Le Jardin’, my latest bridal collection, has a traditional full skirt with a belt and box pleats. It is a classically romantic dress with delicate petals on – perfect for a formal wedding. What you can’t tell by looking at this particular gown, is that the skirt comes off to reveal a sexy, fishtail evening dress. What better way for a bride to make an entrance at an evening reception? It’s a real showstopper; such a dramatic contrast and so unexpected. Two dresses in one is definitely what you call value for money! My aim with each new collection is to cater for all different personalities and body shapes. ‘Le Jardin’ has something for everyone; full length and shorter style dresses, big dramatic numbers vs. plain and understated. The designs need to reflect my signature styling and at the same time offer something different, new and exciting. I try to keep pushing forward the boundaries without losing the sense of me and what I do best. The need to be multi-functional extends to accessories and influences what we choose to stock at my flagship London store, The Blewcoat. The jewellery, shoes and bags by other designers are carefully selected to perfectly complement my dresses, but they also have to be beautiful in their own right to make them a good buy and likely to be worn again and again. A boutique owner who sells my occasion wear told me recently that sometimes women question how they can possibly justify buying an Ian Stuart dress for themselves. Her standard response is: “Put it on and you will have the answer”. I love that one of my dresses can boost a woman’s confidence to such an extent that they have to have it. It’s an investment that can’t be quantified in monetary terms but is worth every penny. Enjoy feeling fabulous, Ian x
I feel inspired when I visit my flagship London store, The Blewcoat – mainly because of the women I meet there – but also because the exterior is a living work of art created by Danish florist, Jens Jakobsen.
Jens is a trailblazer in the field of floral construction and has worked on my catwalk shows and photo shoots for many years. I can come up with any theme and he instinctively understands the vision and builds on it to create a stunning backdrop to my gowns.
The Blewcoat is a beautiful National Trust building made all the more exquisite by Jens’ living and breathing, outside installations. The flowers constantly evolve with the seasons, reflecting my latest collections and events in the year, such as Valentines Day.
Jens describes it as creating a fairytale as the perfect overture for what is coming next as you enter the store. This all fits with my dream of an unforgettable shopping experience for visitors to The Blewcoat.
Since these incredible floral creations adorn my place of work, it won’t surprise you to hear that my latest bridal collection is called ‘Le Jardin’. The dresses are undeniably whimsical with lots of pretty meadow flowers and butterflies – very different to some of my edgier, sassy designs. The collection will be available in boutiques from October so more on that nearer the time.
Back to The Blewcoat and why it inspires me…..the store has been open for three years now but still feels new and exciting because it enables me to spend time with the women I am designing for. Interacting with them and hearing their stories helps me to understand what they want from my designs and has taught me a lot about body shapes and how they can change.
I love it that my clients are so open about what they like and dislike about themselves. They tell me what they want to cover up and what they want to show off. All my dresses are made to order which means they are customised to the individual. Clients get EXACTLY what they need to feel incredible in my designs (which of course, is why they keep coming back!)
I wasn’t able to engage with women so directly before we opened The Blewcoat and I think my designs have become more wearable as a result.
Shopping at The Blewcoat is by appointment in order to guarantee a truly personalised service, although drop in visitors are always very welcome too. Seeing it for yourself will help you understand why, three years on, I am still buzzing about The Blewcoat and the opportunities that have come with it.
For me, it’s all about dramatic shapes and impact, although I spend a lot of time thinking about the finer detail too.
I’m finding more and more that women want me to design the whole outfit. It’s not just about the dress; they want the jacket/hat/hair piece/shoes to all tie in together to create the Ian Stuart signature look.
Some women want simple and elegant, whereas others want the ultra-feminine touches, particularly for their wedding day. I’m talking beautifully intricate, beaded belts, delicately embroidered flowers, a lace trim on a veil, sparkly jewels on a hair piece……you get the idea.
These subtle enhancements reflect the individual’s personality and make the dress completely unique to them.
We are also increasingly being asked to customise accessories such as fascinators and stoles with elements from the dress as this gives the outfit a more exclusive, ‘special occasion’ feel. Veils in particular are very much a thing at the moment. They are such delicate, feminine pieces that detailing is key.
I’m asked all the time about the best length for a veil and I think it’s a personal choice, dependent on the style of wedding. I recommend a shorter veil for an informal wedding and something bolder if the setting is more dramatic, for example a big church with a longer aisle.
And let’s not forget about the men. If the big occasion is a wedding, we often get asked to create accessories for the men too – for example a necktie or handkerchief, to (literally) tie them in with the theme.
For women who shop at The Blewcoat – my flagship London store – customisation is all part of the service. We have exceptionally talented seamstresses in-house and they can turn their hand to anything.
Once the client has chosen their dream dress (or dresses!), we experiment with different accessories and send them away with a swatch of material so they can co-ordinate the colour with whatever they need to – whether it’s the flowers, bridesmaids’ dresses or their partner’s outfit. It’s the little things that count, as they say.
Back to the detailing,
What was the inspiration for this dress?
I noticed a growing trend for revealing wedding dresses. My dress have a lot of structure and support inside because I want brides of all figure shapes to be able to wear the design they fall in love with. So I wanted to create something that had a low back and front with full support enabling a bride who needs support, but wants the sultry, sexy, slinky, low-cut look, to wear with confidence.
Any interesting stories?
We felt like this was a bit of a party girl dress, but still with an immense amount for grace and style, so we names it after a family who instantly came to mind.
Reminded of the beauty…
I’m busy right now adding the finishing touches to my 2017 collection (which is looking utterly divine – I’m already thinking about fashion show music! I’m feeling a gangster rap/Barbara Steisand mash up…).
Working so far ahead has its downsides though. My excitement for the new collection has often dwindled by the time it hits the boutiques. I started designing the current Runway Rebel collection in 2014 so you can appreciate there is nothing new about it for me any more. I liken it to when you have just decorated and, for a few months, you bask in the newness, your own creativity, vision, and beauty of it but, after a while, it just becomes normal to you. It’s only when a friend pops by who hasn’t seen it yet, and is blown away, that it reminds you that the same beauty still exists, you’ve just forgotten to appreciate it.
The same happened for me this morning, not for my Llewelly-Bowen imitations, but for the Runway Rebel Collection. We collaborated with creative duo Katherine Gwen and Sebastian Pons for the photo shoot last June. They have written a blog post about the shoot. The out-takes reminded me of all the hard work and passion, and the mood boards reminded me of how beautiful and cool the collection is. It truly felt like I was seeing it again for the first time!
Read the full blog post here: Ian Stuart Blog Post
What was the inspiration for this dress?
I wanted to design a beautiful classic and timeless wedding dress, which still had that Ian Stuart touch. I focused on creating a beautifully draped bodice and neckline that would flatter any bride and make her feel sensational.
Any interesting stories?
For the Runway Rebel collection, I introduced a beautiful new silver colour to my silk satin range specifically for this design. The first women to ever wear it was my friend and longstanding Ian Stuart runway model Tope, which was during our line-review. When she came out of the changing room, we all gasped. The combination of the silver and her skin colour was breath taking! I decided immediately that she would open the show in that dress.
How did it get its name?
I wanted a name that captured the timeless appeal of the gown and which would make a lasting impression. No, it wasn’t name after the Beauty and the Beast character, although he is described on DisneyWiki as kind-hearted, charismatic, yet rebellious, which is an apt fit for the collection! It is actually named after the Lumiere brothers, inventors of motion picture camera, the Cinematographe. Their invention pioneered an exciting new form of art (and entertainment): cinema, have anything else made such a lasting impression on the world, and allowed us to witness so much beauty?
The bodice is so beautiful and would enhance any figure, I wanted it to appeal to more brides, and give them the choice of wearing it as a mermaid or A-line. It’s worth trying both to see how they each make you feel, you might be surprised by which silhouette you prefer.
I also couldn’t help showing you this behind-the-scenes shot of the mermaid version, it’s such a beautiful still moment!
Winning an award feels a lot like receiving a gold star at school, when you’re the only one in class who did! Expect as a child you can gloat and show off without knowing any better, you can’t really get away with that as an adult… and that’s not for want of trying. Sadly the fluffy cloud nine ‘I’m the winner’ euphoria doesn’t last long. However, the feeling of achievement definitely helps your motivation and encourages you to be the best that you can be.
We are up fro some awards, and I need your votes if I’m going to get my next euphoria hit! However instead of political style campaign speech, I thought I’d tell you some stories of how awards have played a part in my career, then you can decide whether to give a jaded designer a motivational boost or not!
MY FIRST AWARDS
Awards have played a significant role my life. I won a couple as a student, one for young milliner of the year, where the winning three hates went on sale in Debenhams (ooh the original Designer at Debenhams!) And a swimwear competition sponsored by Piz Buin, I designed a chocolate swimsuit covered in crystals and a floor length taffeta pool coat with a big bow on the back! Not practical but f*****g fabulous!
These awards gave me confidence early on that I was in fact a good designer, without which, who knows, I might not have had the guts to pursue my dream.
SUPPORTING OTHER STUDENTS
For this reason, I’ve been a long-time supporter of an industry award for young student bridal designers. Giving these awards is really special, as I know the impact and possibility that opportunities like these bring, as well as feeling like the Father Christmas of fab frocks.
GLORY MOMENTS, LASTING ANCHORS
I’ve won over 20 awards during my career, in the US & UK, for my bridal collection, MOB collection and most recently in 2015 for our flagship store. I’ve got some wonderful, although patchy memories of the ceremonies, and each one has played a part in giving me the confidence to push myself creatively.
When I launched my label in 2002, there was nothing in the industry with my style – it was risky, uncharted taffeta territory. Brides slowly got on board with my theatrical, quirky diva look and the industry responded to my innovation by awarding me Designer of the Year 4 years in a row, 2004-7. It was this encouragement in the early days that anchored my loyalty to myself and my signature handwriting.
I was then honoured the following year with a special contribution to the industry accolade. It’s a shame that Harrogate, home of the awards, doesn’t have a Chinese Theatre where I can narcissistically cement my hands outside. Alas, when the struggles, frustration and insecurities, aka ‘diva designer demons’ creep their my into my life, I look at this award, and knowing that somehow I have helped shape the modern bridal landscape gives me armour to cope.
Awards aren’t just a change to get the gladrags on and fill a display cabinet, they are symbols, reminders and a safety blanket for many who achieve them, and I’m getting a bit cold.
Vote here: www.hitched.co.uk/awards
The story behind my designs can be very interesting, some exceedingly more juicy than others.
I thought I’d start answering the popular questions brides have about their dresses…
What was the inspiration for this dress?
I just fell in love with the laser cut leaves, even I can get bored of looking at lace, but these leaves just caught my eye and immediately got my creative juices flowing.
Any interesting stories?
My original design had an illusion neckline, long sleeves, and no belt. But it just wasn’t working, perhaps (raised eyebrow) I had overdone it with the petals? So I got my shears out and stripped it back. A glorious dior-esque 50’s ball gown emerged from the whirlwind of applique, (picture Edward Scissorhands sculpting ice!) Adding a belt was the finishing touch to capture the new mood.
How did it get its name?
I felt it needed to be French and sexy, cool but still classic, and embody a powerful feminine essence. So we named it after Vanessa Paradis.
I designed a matching veil for this style, both a long and short, to enhance the impact of those fabulous leaves, so I’d keep it simple with your jewellery, and wear a flower in your hair for the reception when you take your veil off. If you choose a colour, pick this out with a darker shade in your flower.
To find out more about Paradis please click here: Paradis
To find your nearest Ian Stuart Boutique please click here: Ian Stuart Boutiques
Two weeks ago, I was invited to speak on the consumer affairs programme ‘You & Yours’ on BBC Radio 4.
I’m presuming you missed it, so I’m going to discuss the topic here, because I think it’s important and relevant for the modern bride.
The programme wanted my thoughts on ASOS announcing it was launching a bridal collection. This was the first I had heard of it. I raised my eyebrow when they told me, and I felt as if I’d prematurely slipped into the older generation bracket when I muttered to myself ‘what is this world coming to?’
My knowledge of ASOS is cheap.fast.fashion. Not exactly the words I associate with a wedding dress. To me, they look exactly that, and scream fad trend. Now, I’m no Mystic Meg, but I do have visions of brides looking back on their wedding photos and cringing. A crop top, seriously?
GETTING THE RIGHT SHAPE: going to a bridal shop allows you to try on shapes you wouldn’t have even considered. Many brides end up wearing a gown that looks nothing like what they originally thought they wanted.
SETTING THE SCENE: lots of lighting, big full length mirrors and space to practice walking, boutiques are equipped to help a bride see herself fully. Unless you’re rich and have a big house, getting your dress through the post and trying it in your bedroom won’t give you an honest reflection of how you will look and move on the day.
THE EXPERTISE: for any big first time purchase, expert guidance is definitely required to get the best product of you. I brought my first proper kitchen a couple of years ago, and it was only because of the adive from the consultant that we ended up with the perfectly designed and fucntioning ‘triangle’ for us. (Kitchen lingo I didnt know before, highlighting my case and point!) Bridal stylists have the expertise to guide you to the perfect dress that is right for YOU.
ADAPTING AND ALTERING A DRESS. A few points for this that only a boutique can offer:
1. Expert pinning; showing how a dress can be contoured to your body, and what a big difference altering it will make.
2. Design changes; because your dress is made to order, the consultant can advise you what can be done to the dress to make it even more special for you.
3. Alterations from a seamstress familiar with the dresses make all the difference to the final look.
ACCESSORISING: trying on veils, jewellery, headpieces, gloves, boleros, wraps ect can really transform the mood of a gown, help you realise its potential, and how a gown can work for you. Look at my gown Neptune, completely different looks with accessories!
“A bridal gown is likely to be the most important dress a woman will own nd choosing the perfect one is a unique and special experience. We love sharing the ‘it’s my dress’ moment with our brides and celebrating with a glass of fizz and lots of excitement and talk about their big day. Buying from a boutique is much more than a purchase, it’s a service and an experience that brides won’t forget. Bridal stylists are trained to offer you advice on the best shapes for your body, the best fabrics for the look you want to achieve and the perfect complimenting accessories. Buying online you simply don’t get the special one to one advice you can expect from an experienced boutique. ” The Bridal Collection, Harrogate.
“This type of experience, knowledge and care simply does not exist when buying on-line and is not the type of journey one dreams about as a little girl becoming a bride! The experience of choosing your gown is about so much more than buying a dress and is something that should be treasured and remembered fondly long after the wedding has taken place.” Anne Prisilla, Glasgow
“Why would anyone risk buying the most important dress they will ever wear from complete strangers over the internet, knowing they could end up with a fake and no chance of getting their money back, when they can buy from specialist stockists approved by the designer himself?” Limelight occasions, Huddersfield
“I think buying from a boutique gives the bride the real experience of being treated as special and making the whole experience a memorable and amazing time. You cannot buy that online !!” Truly Madly Deeply, Surrey
QUOTE ME: And if the day comes when you can pick up a wedding dress in Primark… I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t think I could see the wedding dress bastardised in such a way.
Being a well-known designer within the wedding world, (not quite a household name yet like those designers at Debenhams), I’ve been regularly approached to make an array of TV appearances.
Most are ridiculous and I turn them down straight away. As much as I fancy myself as the Gok Wan of bridal, I’m not prepared to commit career suicide for my 15 minutes of fame.
OH NO… MY DRESS IS ON MY BIG FAT GYPSY WEDDING!!!
I learned the negative impact of TV when on of my dresses appeared on My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. Imagine my horror when I was indulging in every wedding dress designer’s guilty pleasure, secretly watching Britain’s latest reality TV craze, bitchily critiquing each gown as if I were a judge on ‘Project Runway Bridal Special’, only to be faced with my beloved Dauphine ready for roasting.
And whilst she was probably one of the most reserved brides on the show (ever!), due to the stigma of the show, we had brides calling our stockists the next day cancelling their beautiful dresses!
OMG…MY DRESS IS ON THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS!!!
Across the pond was a different story. I received a call from our American office to tell me that Pandora, daughter of ‘Beverly Hills Housewife’ Lisa Vanderpump, was getting married in one of my dresses, it would be broadcast on American TV, and that it was Dauphine, yes, the very same dress! She looked jaw droppingly sensational, and thanks to several mentions of my name, brides went mad for that gown, and it became our US best seller and also ended up being very popular in the UK!
These parallel instances taught me the ‘make or break’ power of TV. Understandingly, I’ve been very wary ever since.
‘IAN STUART…WOULD YOU LIKE TO APPEAR ON THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF…’
The Vanderpump wedding spawned my obsession with the whole ‘Housewives’ franchise. So when I was asked by the TV company making the UK version of The Real Housewives of Cheshire, if they could bring Magali in to my shop to look for a wedding dress, I almost burst.
I know Cheshire isn’t exactly the UK’s answer to Beverly Hills. McArthur Glen Cheshire Oaks is hardly Rodeo Drive but I do love a glamorous, sassy, diva no matter where she resides! I think you can tell that I don’t get inspired by the latest boho barefoot folk singer…NO! I’m Dolly Parton, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Beyonce… MEGA DIVA GLAM all the way!
I didn’t hesitate to say yes! I couldn’t wait to welcome some housewives into my shop.
But I must say, I was surprised (and slightly disappointed) at the lace of Diva Tantrums. I was quite looking forward to witnessing some behind the scenes dramas, and having something to gossip about. I was quite hopeful at first as walking in they all looked like super sex Glamazons who could go all Naomi in a flash!
INSECURITIES… LOOKING LIKE THAT… SERIOUSLY??
Magali was wonderfully down to earth, we hit it off straight away. Sharing Dutch heritage, we bonded over a love of the salty liquorice from our homeland! And, despite her gorgeous body, face, nails, skin, hair, boobs, once in the changing room, like any other bride, she had her own insecurities that she wanted to hide on her wedding day.
I couldn’t get over how someone so fabulously diva glam could be insecure about anything. I learned that no matter who the bride is, or what she looks like, the story is always the same.
DON’T WORRY, A WEDDING DRESS WILL FIX THAT!
And so… the beauty of the wedding dress… it is designed to remove those insecurities for one day and make you feel as beautiful on the inside as you look through the eyes of others.