As owner of the largest bridalwear shop in Cheshire, Emma Kendrick was spoilt for choice when it came to planning her own wedding.
Originally from Yorkshire, she has since settled in the North West, close to where her now-husband Jeff grew up. They were together 10 years (after meeting on a pub crawl in their student days) before getting hitched in her parents’ local church, followed by a glamourous Black-Tie reception at Rudding Park Hotel near Harrogate.
Disenchanted with her former career as a solicitor, Emma turned her back on commercial law in 2015 and bought an established bridal shop in Macclesfield. She was already running a wedding and events business part-time and this convinced her to take the plunge.
Since taking over as sole director at Maria Modes, Emma has significantly expanded the business, which now offers eveningwear and menswear alongside the extensive bridal collections. The shop’s three floors make it more department store than bridal boutique.
One of her early decisions was to introduce Ian Stuart as one of the designer ranges to give brides a higher end, more luxurious option: “You only have to look at the Ian Stuart section of our shop to see that there is a lot more colour, a lot more detail and effort gone into the dresses. And obviously the price reflects that. You definitely get what you pay for,” says Emma.
Ian’s designs are so distinctive that it is not uncommon for women to visit Maria Modes specifically to try on his gowns. “These are women who want non-traditional and perhaps something with colour,” according to Emma. “There are also brides who come with an open mind and end up falling in love with Ian’s designs, purely because they are so different.”
Brides often know instantly that they have found ‘The One’ – that just wasn’t how it happened for Emma. There was no heart-stopping moment, nor did she set her mind on any one designer, despite all her industry contacts.
She buys around 80 wedding dresses a year and stocks 200 styles in her store, which enabled Emma to take a rational approach by trying on lots of styles by different designers.
But as it turned out, Emma and Jeff’s wedding became an Ian Stuart affair, with bride, Mother of the Bride and bridesmaids all wearing his designs.
Emma had attended one of his fashion shows in her capacity as a buyer and the finale dress made a lasting impression. Mont Blanc was not yet on sale at Maria Modes so Emma and her mum travelled to Ian’s flagship London store a few months later.
Once at The Blewcoat, Emma tried on several dresses, but it was Mont Blanc that resonated most and was best suited to the Black-Tie dress code. Her technical knowledge also helped her to make an informed choice: “Ian is well known for using heavy, metallic fabric. I knew that the weight of the ruffles on Mont Blanc would keep them stiff and looking perfect all day. Some fabric can flatten, bunch up or crease and I didn’t want to have that worry.”
Ian was on hand to advise and suggested some alterations to suit Emma’s body shape. The waist was dropped and an internal corset fitted. Although relatively minor changes, it meant that Emma’s version of Mont Blanc was completely unique to her.
As an Ian Stuart stockist, Emma is appreciative of this willingness to adapt designs to suit the individual: “Ian is always game for customisation and will happily sketch up different ideas on request – for example changing the style of skirt or adding shoulder straps to a dress.”
Brides are usually guided through the alteration and fittings process by the boutique they purchase their dress from, most of which have their own “in house” seamstress. Ian will still approve the changes to ensure the end result is nothing short of perfect. This gives Emma absolute confidence that Maria Modes customers will get exactly what they want with an Ian Stuart gown.
While at The Blewcoat, Emma spotted a sequinned evening gown in burnished silver which is exactly the look she wanted for her bridesmaids. They all wore matching versions with cowl neckline and thin shoulder straps.
Meanwhile, Emma’s mum Rachael had her eye on Ian’s Occasion Wear collections and came away with not one, but two, Mother of the Bride outfits.
The Blewcoat team customised a hat to tie in with Rachael’s first choice and then re-customised it when, at the next appointment, she saw a dress that she loved even more! The original choice has not been wasted as Rachael has since worn it to several dressy occasions, including the races.
Being an industry insider may mean that Emma didn’t get overly emotional about buying her wedding dress, but she readily acknowledges that her Blewcoat shopping experience was special. Her professional experience means she understands how important it is for women to feel relaxed and at ease while trying on dresses.
The privacy afforded by personalised appointments at The Blewcoat is something Emma strives hard to emulate in her own shop. There are three distinct areas of Maria Modes (bridal, menswear and eveningwear) and the changing rooms are deliberately situated as far apart as possible.
Eighteen months on from the wedding, Emma still feels that Mont Blanc was the right choice for her (even though it was not what Jeff was expecting to see her in!) “I usually go for fitted dresses so he was very surprised, but definitely in a good way. He was so happy that I went for something big and extra special. The whole experience was just perfect.”
Images by Lawson Photography.
While at university, Caitlin took a summer job at the Edinburgh Fringe festival but could never have foreseen that she would meet her future husband there.
Fellow student John was also tasked with tearing tickets on the door at The Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh. Fast forward a decade and this is the venue they chose for their wedding – it couldn’t be anywhere else under the circumstances!
The bride looked exquisite in Savanna by Ian Stuart. The tulle and lace ball gown has a mystical, enchanting quality with its sequinned under-layer that subtly glistens in the light. The romance of it appealed to Caitlin and the colour combination of Gold and Oyster perfectly complemented her pale complexion and hair colour.
Interestingly, this was not the dress that Caitlin had set her heart on. Having seen Ian’s Le Jardin dress in magazines, the excited bride-to-be was drawn to its pastel colours and was convinced that it was the one for her.
Le Jardin was the first dress Caitlin tried on when she visited The Blewcoat and she loved it as much as she thought she would, believing that she had found her dream dress.
Ian was insistent that she could not make such a big decision without at least trying on a few more dresses. Caitlin was happy to oblige and to her complete amazement, the second dress was even more perfect.
“I could not imagine loving any dress more than I did that first one, so when I walked out of the changing room for the second time, I cried. And that was it, I’d found it. There was no reason to go to the appointments I had booked at other shops.”
The future Mrs Robertson was blown away by the whole Blewcoat experience because Ian’s designs were all so well suited to her. “I would honestly have been happy to choose any one of the five dresses I tried on, but it was Savanna that I had the biggest emotional reaction to,” she says.
Caitlin is self-conscious about her shoulders and the backs of her arms so Ian showed her how the dress could be customised with some gold-coloured tulle around her shoulders. This was intended to be a detachable element, but Caitlin knew she would not want to take it off so it was sewn in as part of her dress.
What Caitlin valued most about her Ian Stuart experience was that she had a personalised appointment with his undivided attention. She’d previously been to two other bridal boutiques in London. On both occasions, she was there with another bride which she found unnerving and distracting: “It’s only natural that you feel self-conscious around strangers when you’re trying on different dress styles and figuring out what suits you. It wasn’t a great experience for me,” she explains.
Caitlin’s visit to The Blewcoat, accompanied by her mum, was far more of an occasion. She loved everything about it; the building, the flowers, the champagne to calm her nerves and the relaxed intimacy she enjoyed being the only bride there.
On the wedding day itself, guests were “gobsmacked” by the dress, according to Caitlin. “It wasn’t conventional, it wasn’t white and it wasn’t what they were expecting. But it was classic, stunning and very me.”
John was equally surprised: “I think he had pictured me in something completely different, although admittedly, his knowledge about wedding dresses is limited! I know he absolutely loved it. He was way more teary than I was!”
The corsetry inside the dress and its boned bodice enhanced Caitlin’s shape and posture. Guests commented on how slim she looked which meant that she didn’t have any concerns about unflattering camera angles.
“I felt completely comfortable and at ease in my dress. As soon as I saw all my friends and family, the nerves went and I could totally relax and enjoy myself. We had a traditional ceilidh so the layers of the dress looking amazing as I was swirling around.”
Caitlin’s favourite part of the day was the ceremony itself: “It was very personal to us. It felt like we managed to tell our story as well as looking forward to our future.”
Images by Elemental Photography.
Bringing out a new collection is such a lengthy process that it seems like an age since I actually designed this season’s bridalwear. It’s wonderful to see Folie Frocks finally available at Ian Stuart stockists nationwide – and of course at our very own Blewcoat store.
There is no theme as such. We just made a conscious decision that this collection would only include pieces that carry my signature styling and scream Ian Stuart loud and clear!
They are structured, high fashion gowns that create a dramatic silhouette – a strong contrast to my last bridal collection, Le Jardin, which is more dreamy and romantic.
I’m always asked what the inspiration was for any given collection and on this occasion I can honestly say it was the real brides that I meet at The Blewcoat. I love chatting to them face-to-face to understand what they dream of for their big day and it was such an honour to be recognised for Best In-Store Design at this year’s bridal Bridal Buyer Awards.
The current trend is for ethereal, boho-style wedding dresses so I like the idea that Folie Frocks is a sassier, more glamourous option for brides who want an alternative to the vintage look. This new collection offers a wonderful palate of colour options, luxurious fabrics and as always, the potential for each gown to be customised to the individual.
Folie Frocks has options for brides that are marrying in a cathedral, on a beach, in a town hall or at a woodland festival. I have to bear in mind that we have brides who are in the 60s getting married for the first time. Not everyone wants a Cinderella ball gown which is why diversity is so crucial.
When we first released images from the Folie Frocks photoshoot, the reaction was amazing (particularly to the more dramatic dresses like Flamingo Flair, which is the one that looks like it’s covered in feathers!) It means we can all breathe a sigh of relief after months of hard graft. I sincerely hope that the reaction to Licence to Frill, my lastest Occasion Wear collection, is just as encouraging.
I hope you enjoy the Folie Frocks gowns, whether or not you are getting married!
Alex and Toby’s wedding photographs caught our attention because the style of Alex’s bridal gown was so perfectly suited to the venue. The dress is unmistakably Ian Stuart, so we wanted to know more about how and why it made such a statement on the day. Alex generously agreed to tell us more…..
Set amid 250 acres, Buxted Park is a beautiful Palladian country house in East Sussex (think grand staircases, high ceilings, wide terraces and Venetian-style columns). The building dates from 1722 and is undeniably grand. Having driven past it by chance, Alex knew that the style and location would work perfectly for the wedding.
But she also knew that her dress could easily be overshadowed by such an imposing setting. “The current trend is for boho or slinky, ethereal dresses and I just knew that wasn’t going to work for my figure, or for the venue,” says Alex.
She was honest enough to admit that, despite being massively excited about the idea of marrying Toby, she had gained weight since meeting him and was therefore not thrilled about the idea of trying on wedding dresses, or being the centre of attention on the day.
Women are supposed to have this magical experience of shopping for THE dress and yet the reality is often very different because there is such enormous pressure to look their absolute best on their wedding day. Alex looks every inch the radiant bride in the photographs, so it was a surprise to hear that she found the whole thing quite daunting – until of course, she found the perfect dress.
Alex recruited her mother and two close friends to go shopping with; one of whom was to be her Maid of Honour, the other a close male friend (who just happens to be a wedding planner – more about that later).
Although she didn’t set out to buy Ian Stuart, Alex does recall that in her younger days, her and her friends would look at his website and daydream about their future weddings! Alex says she has always been drawn to Ian’s flamboyant, theatrical elements, his attention to detail and the quality of the fabric with its sparkly embellishments.
Alex worked as cabin crew for 12 years and despite those early aspirations for a dream wedding, it wasn’t until she changed career that she met the dream husband. On her first day working for a new homes developer, she ran into site manager Toby who had a “cheeky twinkle in his eye” that attracted her immediately. Although it took him a few months to ask her out for dinner, they were engaged within the year.
Dress shopping was in Tunbridge Wells, with appointments at Pantiles Bride and its sister store, Go Bridal. Conscious of her body shape (she is quite large busted), Alex was nervous about being on show, even in front of such close confidants.
“I wanted a dress that would make me stand out amongst all the grandeur. Some were beautiful but reminded me too much of a 1920s theme, others just looked ridiculous because I am quite top heavy,” Alex explains.
Her doubts were cast aside when Go Bridal stylist Laura suggested she try Ian Stuart’s ‘Frederique’. Everyone instantly knew it was the one and Alex recalls there being an audible gasp when she walked out of the changing room. “You just know when it’s right. I didn’t want to take it off. I loved the metallic feel to the fabric and how it embraced my curves,” she says.
Wedding planner Aidan Flynn was on hand to advise on all aspects of the wedding. He recalls that Alex tried on lots of lovely gowns, but it was only when the Ian Stuart came out that the ‘wow’ factor entered the room. “I could see from Alex’s gleaming smile that it gave her confidence. I loved it too; full of glamour, detail and such an unusual cut,” he remembers.
Glamour became the theme for the wedding and to avoid it being too twee, Aidan came up with the concept of ‘modern glamour’, inspired by the silver tones of the lace. “This fabulous dress opened up so many options for me to style the day and to maximise the décor, confident in the knowledge that Alex would still stand out and take her guests’ breath away,” Aidan says.
When Toby finally got to see his bride at the altar on a particularly hot day back in May, he immediately commented on how much he loved her dress. And that’s all that matters.
Images by @mystyledshoot
One of the most memorable and touching moments of The Posh Frock Shop was when Army Captain Hannah saw herself in a wedding dress for the first time.
As a transgender woman, Hannah has been through a different journey from most brides-to-be and many viewers of the Channel 4 show were moved to tears by her honesty and optimism:
“I’m going to marry the man I love, looking like the woman I am. And I can’t wait,” she said on episode 4 of the show.
Hannah knew she wanted a figure-hugging dress and something to accentuate her waist. “I definitely didn’t want anything A line because my figure is straight up and down and I needed something to give me curves,” she explains.
‘Neptune’ from Ian’s ‘Runway Rebel’ bridal collection was the first dress Hannah tried on when she visited The Blewcoat just six weeks before her wedding to fiancé, Jake.
The classic, strapless gown made her look curvy, elegant and feminine which is exactly the look she wanted to achieve. Hannah was clearly overwhelmed when she first saw herself in the mirror and was surprised by how beautiful she felt in the dress.
“It was an emotional moment because there was a time in my life when I thought I could never be loved. Any woman can relate to the dream of finding love and having the fairytale wedding, transgender or not,” she says.
Although Ian encouraged her to try on some of his other designs by way of comparison, it was ‘Neptune’ that Hannah came back to because it felt right and gave her butterflies in her stomach. Ian encouraged her to go with that gut feeling.
“Hannah is beautiful and her story touched us in a way that is difficult to describe. I’m honoured that she chose one of my designs for her big day. I wish her and Jake all the luck in the world,” says Ian.
Hannah describes her experience at The Blewcoat as “amazing”, although admits to being nervous about entering such a stereotypically feminine space. She feels more comfortable buying clothes online.
Store manager Carrelyn was able to reassure Hannah that it is normal for women to feel that mix of nerves and excitement as they try on wedding dresses for the first time. For Hannah, the emotions were heightened and magnified given what she has been through to feel entirely comfortable with who she is:
“I have always been a woman, I just had to do something to align my body with that,” she says.
Lots of women have body hang ups and Hannah is no different; she was very open about what she describes as the ‘emotional baggage’ that comes with being transgender.
Reflecting on the dress fitting, Carrelyn says: “Hannah is a confident and articulate woman, yet she has this vulnerability. I felt a real warmth towards her and was privileged to share such a special moment with her.”
31 year-old Hannah was assigned as a male at birth and only transitioned five years ago. She became active within the LBGT community which is how she met Jake, who is also transgender.
As early as the first date, Hannah knew that she had found someone she had a future with. “He impressed me straightaway and is all the things you want in a partner,” she says. “I never thought love and marriage was on the cards for me. I had genuinely prepared myself for being alone.”
As Jake and Hannah are both high profile advocates for LBGT rights, the couple’s March wedding received a lot of press coverage. They opted for a small, intimate ceremony at Chelsea Town hall, followed by a reception at an Italian restaurant.
They now share married quarters at Sandhurst, where Hannah is based, with Jake living part of the week in London due to his work commitments. They look forward to their big next adventure which is to have a family.
Jake and Hannah’s wedding photography is by Paul Grace.