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.
Coloured silks, taffetas and laces are to me what his oils were to Monet. I’m not suggesting that I’m making masterpieces, (although… I think a few dresses have come close if I do say so myself!) simply that there is an essential elements to creating your greatest work, and for me, that is colour.
Looking back, it was seeing this very picture as a design student that sparked my love affair with soft colours and ball gowns. There is something very MGM, very Dior and very Princess about the combination. When I started by own label, it was this unashamedly romantic mood that mystified me as a teen that I wanted to re-create with my dresses. Colour became my trademark.
Make it Pink! Make is Blue!
Can you remember that fabulous scene from Sleeping Beauty when Flora and Merryweather are fighting over the colour of Aurora’s dress? I will confess, I can relate to those fairies much more than a man in his mid-forties should be able to.
I use my signature colours and fabrics in each collection, and offer a designer in around 4 colour-ways, so when it comes to deciding what two colour ways to make the sample dress in, those damn plump little fairies take residence on my shoulders. For days I toy between pale lilac, rose, powder blue, gold, taupe, honey, porcelain, the list goes on.
I’ve illustrated some examples for you below, to better understand my pain! You can see how dramatically different, and distinctively beautiful the same dress in a different colour can be.
The moral of the story: if you find a great style but aren’t keen on the colour in the shop, don’t disregrd it yet! Ask the boutique if they can loan an alternative colour option, it could be your dream dress. Learn from Flora and Merryweather here, they both adored and despised the same gown due to their penchant for pink and blue!
A strong colour is a fabulous way to express your unique sense of style, and really go again the traditional grain. Do you think Gwen Stefani and Dita Von Teese would’ve been able to stay true to their alternative looks in an ivory dress? Me neither.
And I come baring good news if you don’t happen to have Galliano of Westwood in your contact book. I have a big repertoire of diverse fabric colours, so you are not limited to a bridal spectrum of colour with me!
Think Bigger Picture
As a crusader for colour, I love a well thought out colour story.
A coloured dress takes centre stage for building your colour story, but it does require you to think a little more about your wedding party photographs. Here is my advice for avoiding a colour clash that will haunt you forever.
– Match men’s ties/cravats/waistcoats with your gown, consider having them made in the same fabric as your dress. Your boutique can help you with this. Unless your future hubby has frequent “Llewelyn-Bown-isms”, giving him a colour swatch and asking him to ‘tone it’, is a risk I wouldn’t take. May ‘Don’t Tell the Bride’ serve as your warning.
– Tone in the matriarchs. God forbid your gorgeous pastel blue gown is stood next to Debenham’s latest hot new shade of sludge brown for the rest of your life. She will understand why a subtle silver was gently suggested!
– Invite your guest to carry the colour story through, give them several suggestions that will enhance your vision. They don’t have to adhere to it, they just need not complain when the wedding photos come out and they don’t seem to be in many, or ask how on earth their fabulous coral dress is now slate grey!
If you are already familiar with my designs, you’ll know how much I love big wedding dresses! It is my passion and my forte. The theatrical nature of them is what got me into bridal in the first place, and why I’ve stayed designing them for over 25 years!
What is it about a big dress that I love? The DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA, and did I mention the drama!? And I don’t mean ‘Drama Queen’, I mean ‘so jaw droppingly beautiful, powerful and iconic that you almost choke on your own gasp’ kind of drama. And I truly believe you can only get that with a big wedding dress.
I’ve still not come to terms with the fact that I will never get to walk down the aisle in a big, ‘F’ off wedding dress, and feel that magical feeling that so many of my brides have felt. I’m sure my secret envy is palpable whenever I go to a wedding and the bride rocks up in a big dress!
What is that “Princess feeling” anyway? I do wonder what chemical reaction is going on in the brain and what emotion is flooding the body that makes someone embody a feeling of being royal. And God I’d love to know what it feels like!
Myth of the Meringue
OK, we all saw and loved My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but I doubt anyone has a picture of Toula on their Pinterest board. I actually think films and shows depicting ‘meringue horror’ scenarios have put a lot of brides off wearing a big dress. The fear of looking like a 80’s throwback, cheap Diana knock off is very real, but darlings, don’t fear big dresses today are much more stylish than you think.
I’m on a misson to bring back the #BigDress love. I want to see your big dress inspiration, whether it’s from bridal, the red carpet, costume from film or theatre!
Take a look at some of my favourites from my archive, I hope they inspire you: ianstuart-bride.com
Top tips for wearing a big dress:
1. Make sure the bodice fits like a glove, the last thing you want is to be constantly pulling the dress up because of the weight of the skirt.
2. Get a bustle put in for the evening so you can dance within 3 feet of your guests!
3. Wear shoes you are super confident to walk in, no one will see them anyway, you are having to contend with a mammoth gown.
4. Then practice walking in it, you should NOT have to touch or pick up your dress when you walk. (Biggest bugbear on a bride)
5. Bigger is always better!
MY SHOP IS IN QUITE A FAB LOCATION
A little off the beaten track, hidden away beneath modern skyscrapers and surrounded by some quite impressive Victoria architecture, you walk through London’s past and future simultaneously.
However, this is not the reason I think it’s such a fab location. The Blewcoat is quite literally a stone’s throw away from several of the most beautiful 5* hotels in London. (We are neighbours with the queen after all!) To me this means being a stone’s throw away from several of the most fabulous bars to have after work drinks in!
AFTER WORKS DRINK = TIME WELL INVESTED
In a concerted effort to get to know my neighbours, I have dutifully frequented them, and have built up quite a rapport. (I suspect I’m known as the eccentric designer in the grand old building across the road!)
In these ‘dutiful efforts’, I’ve become well acquainted with Marion at The Taj, who organises special events at the hotel, (we actually used their beautiful courtyard for our most recent occasion wear photo shoot. Sneak peak below – you can see my PA recreating the shoot!) So who do you think she called when she needed to dress the hosts for a Mad Hatters Tea party she was organising? The mad eccentric man across the road of course!
I was so excited about it when she asked me, anything to get a little theatrically creative (if you have read a bio on me you probably know that I wanted to be a costume designer). It felt very Project Runway-esque!! With only a two week turnaround and 8 girls to dress, my pattern master stayed tucked firmly away in its draw, the scissors, hot glue and haberdashery came out. We did some serve customising of old samples and on off gowns. I’m not sure Tim Gunn would’ve approved!
But with the addition of some wonderlandy tights, and fab hair by stylist Dar, I think we rose to the challenge! And the girls did indeed look like they had gone down the rabbit hole.
I also think I may have been inspired with a mood for the next collection!
I always take a risk with my fashion shows and designs, I did too many ‘traditionally romantic’ shows and collections when I worked in NYC for a big mainstream bridal label. After 10 years, it got rather boring. There are only so many times you can use ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You, by Marilyn Monroe’ before it becomes a tired cliche, and only so many commercial looking gowns a designer has inside of them before it drains the life out of you.
When I started my own label, I vowed I would never present a cliched bridal show or collection again. Since then, I have pushed boundaries with my collections, and created exciting, unexpected shows. You could say I’m a bit of a ‘Runway Rebel’.
The risks haven’t always worked, sometimes people don’t get my music choices, personally, I think Dolly Parton is fabulous fashion show music! And I look back at some dresses and say ‘what was I thinking?’ but that’s part of the fun isn’t it!
My approach to bridal wear is quite rebellious in itself, I experiment with unusual fabrics and colours, I exaggerate silhouettes, I like messy, untamed textures as well as retaining that essence of 50’s Hollywood glamour.
I take risks so brides can take them. I’m unconventional so brides can be unconventional, and I’m a rebel so brides can be one.
RUNWAY REBEL is an embodiment of this tenacious attitude.
I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!
When I finally caved in to my social media queen Sian, after months of incessant ‘anyone who is anyone has a blog’ I agreed, on one condition; I could be myself, much to her horror. I can be quite unpredictable, especially if I were to take to the keyboard after a glass of wine. Although I am sure she won’t give me the passwords needed to actually post myself.
So there will be no sickly sweet stuff, I’m not pretending I sketch on the back of bus tickets (mostly because I don’t do public transport!) and look at flowers and vintage lace all day. It will be a mix of practical advice, inspiration, celebrating my brides and things about me! This was because if I actually read blogs, I would be nosy, and want to know about the life of that person, namely John Galliano… does he have a blog?
I also thought it would be a fun way of getting free stuff… (we all know how it works, endorsement for a honeymoon in Bali anyone!?)
So in this vein, I thought I’d give a mention to my favourite places to eat and drink in London, hoping they might read this and I will at least get 10% off my bill!
1. My work local, The Rosendale in West Dulwich, is dangerously close to our studio. ‘Shall we have a quick drink after work’? has many times turned into one to many. We have been thrown out, been banned, but nothing a sincere apology won’t fix. Tracy Barlow also drink’s there, as a Corrie fan, one did get a bit star struck.
2. Around The Blewcoat, my flagship store for those who don’t know, is 5* Hotel city, which means 5* bars and restaurants. My favourites for dinner are The Goring, the classic eggs drumbilko starter is world renowned and Quilon, the pan fried lobster is fab! For drinks, The Taj Courtyard is amazing, I feel like I am in a foreign country when I am there.
Ari Shapiro, China Forbes (from Pink Martini) and I at The Taj Courtyard
3. Italodeli in Vauxhall, it is the coolest neighbourhood deli, serving the best brunch in London. You would most likely catch me there at some point over the weekend!
4. Pizza Express, they do the best pizzas outside of Italy! And is it just me who has the same thing every time?
Let me know if you go and try any of them, and tell them Ian Stuart sent you, increase my chances of a freebie! Ha!
Lots of love,