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,
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
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
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!