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.