It was obvious from a young age that I would have a career in fashion. What I didn’t anticipate, is becoming so tuned in to the female psyche! It’s not just how a dress looks that I’m concerned with, but what it says about a woman and how it can make them feel.
I’ve been in the business for almost 20 years and my designs are sold in boutiques around the world. It’s only in the last few years, however – since the launch of my flagship store in London – that I’ve been able to interact on any meaningful level with the women I am designing for.
For this reason, I try and spend at least one or two days a week at The Blewcoat as it helps me better understand women’s body shapes and what they really want from my designs. It gives me that edge, ensuring that my collections are highly coveted and desirable, yet wearable.
The combination of Bridal, Special Occasion and Evening Wear collections means that my clients span a wide age demographic. It’s a thrill to be able to dress both the bride and her mother; each being at a different time in their life and wanting different things from my designs.
Personal shopping at The Blewcoat can feel a bit like being in therapy (though far more enjoyable obviously!) Clients feel so at ease that they really open up about their lives and how they feel about their bodies. It’s a privilege getting to know women from so many countries, cultures and walks of life – over the years I’ve heard SO many interesting stories about the women I dress.
Alongside the glowing brides-to-be and the ball-breaking diva types, there are just as many women feeling a bit down on themselves, perhaps because they no longer have the figure they once had, or because they’ve lost their way in terms of their personal style.
Our appointment service enables us to get to know the client and give them a different perspective on who they are and what works for them. Some can’t wait to try on my latest creations; others come with deeply ingrained ideas about what will or won’t suit them. They may need a bit of gentle persuasion to step out of their comfort zone and try something new.
It goes without saying that every bride wants to feel at her most beautiful on her wedding day. What is much less understood is the way the mother of the bride/groom feels about such a momentous family occasion.
Although mothers of the bride are usually happy and excited about the forthcoming nuptials, deep down they are often terrified about being “on show”. They feel under pressure to look fabulous without taking the limelight away from their daughter. They don’t want to get it wrong or feel like they have let their family down.
In the other camp, the mother of the groom can feel that she is somehow less important than the bride’s mother. It is all very British, not wanting to upstage anyone or draw attention to themselves. I find women can be anxious about committing a fashion faux pas such as colour clashing with the bride or bridesmaids, or wearing something too short/showy/shiny. It can all be a bit of minefield without help from the professionals.
My team at The Blewcoat have a wealth of experience and are highly skilled at finding what works for an individual (both visually and psychologically – it’s about looking AND feeling good). They are adept at making the whole shopping experience relaxing and fun. What’s not to enjoy about taking time out for yourself in such a beautiful, historic building?
We love having drop in visitors, but it’s much better to make an appointment to really get the most out of the experience. We need make sure the bubbles are on ice ready for you!
Although I joke about being a pseudo-therapist for clients, for now at least, I think I will stick to the designing.
My latest collections ‘Move Over Darling’ and ‘Le Jardin’ are available to buy in stores as of this month so I’m excited to see how they will be received.
Did I mention that ‘Move Over Darling’ won the award for Best Occasion Wear at this year’s Bridal Buyer Awards?! I’m best known for bridal wear so I was super happy to get this recognition for another string to my bow (although I did win Best Occasion Wear back in 2012 too).
People always want to know what inspires each collection and a lot of the time I can’t put my finger on it as I am always subliminally taking on new ideas. I get inspiration from everyday things like wallpaper, or a ceramic tile and of course, I’m always checking out what other people are wearing. It can be the tiniest little detail that gives me the gem of an idea.
Launching a new collection is a mammoth amount of work for my team although the actual designing stage only lasts a couple of weeks. Generally, I sketch out ideas at home so I can listen to different types of music and be surrounded by things that inspire me. I’ve got loads of books that I like to look through and I’m really into this idea that music can alter a person’s mood and influence the creative thinking process. With ‘Le Jardin’, I had been listening to lots of 1960s French music which is frivolous and fun as opposed to something with diva-style attitude!
I sketch anything up to 50 designs for each collection. These are all made up as samples and then we have what is known as a ‘line review’ to decide which ones should make the final cut – usually around 25 pieces.
Even after the line review process is complete, I’ll still be making adjustments to the patterns as I’m liable to change my mind once I actually see the design in the flesh on a real body. There is still time to make tweaks before the dresses hit the shops and I’m an absolute perfectionist as you can imagine.
For each collection, there is an industry launch before the focus turns to the photo shoot; the models and backdrops are all carefully chosen to emulate the overall vibe of the collection.
As the name suggests, ‘Le Jardin’ is very floral and whimsical (think butterflies and meadow flowers). Veils are very much a thing at the moment and they perfectly complement the dreamy, romantic dresses.
It’s not all sweetness and light though. Have you seen the black bridal gown from ‘Le Jardin’? It’s not one for your traditional bride, although it looks sensational on. I think the black is stunning and makes a real statement for a woman adventurous in her style. I’m known for experimenting with colour as I don’t think brides should be restricted to just white or ivory.
The reaction to ‘Move Over Darling’ has so far been great. It has a retro feel with lots of mid-length dresses, hence the Doris Day theme. Mothers of the Bride/Groom have traditionally worn a short jacket over a dress so I wanted to give them a bit more choice. For those who prefer to have their arms covered, this collection has lots of lace sleeved options and also some frock coats as an alternative to the conventional shorter jacket. There are sleeveless dresses too and some with a matching shawl which fits with the retro 60s look and is particularly flattering on the arms without being too covered up.
As you would expect from me, ‘Move Over Darling’ has a lot of colour – mainly pastel shades but also some metallic colours which can really lift the dress from every-day to special occasion wear. In contrast to the pastel tones, there are some bolder print fabrics, including an all over floral dress which is one of my favourites and a polka dot print which is fun and frivolous – perfect for a day at the races or to stand out from the crowd at a wedding.
Until next time,
Summer is officially over and it’s time to get those layers back on. I’m sure you’ve already put the sandals and sliders away and started wearing socks again!
I love the summer and miss it already. It went by in a flash this year after a busy few months at The Blewcoat. The season kicked off in early June with the industry launch of my 2018 Occasion Wear collection.
‘Move over Darling’ was revealed to fashion buyers in a series of catwalk shows at my flagship London store. This is the culmination of over a year’s worth of work, stretching back to when I first started sketching out design ideas. You won’t see it in the shops until October, so more about that next time.
People find it hard to believe that, even after all these years, I still get nervous about how a new collection will be received. I suppose it’s a good thing; if I were to get complacent it would mean I was playing it too safe. Sticking to a formula is not what excites me – I have to keep pushing those boundaries and trying new things.
Many of the buyers are like old friends as they’ve been supporting me for years and come to all the shows. One of them likes to remind me that she came to my first ever show and when we were introduced, I was shaking like a leaf!
Fashion buyers know the business inside out and are completely tuned in to current trends. Their innate understanding of what women are looking for means they can tell instantly if something will sell. Their reaction to a new collection is crucial. There seems less demand for jackets in the Occasion Wear market at the moment so it went down very well that ‘Move over Darling’ includes a lot of sleeved designs.
There were lots of frank conversations about how the dresses accentuate/cover/hold in/lift in all the right places. We all know that underwear is crucial to make or break a dress (thankfully, us men don’t have to worry about that) and my trademark is to have the bra built in to ensure a perfect fit with maximum support. A lot of work goes into the construction of the dresses. The exterior fabric needs to be fluid enough to move with the body, but the interior structure has to be more rigid to hold the curves and to create a beautiful profile. One buyer likened it to creating suits of armour that women feel invincible in!
These industry types are very straight talking and say exactly what they think which makes them great company. They come to London for my shows from all over the country. If there’s time I’ll take some of them to lunch or for a cheeky cocktail so we can catch up on all the industry gossip. One of them was telling me how she had dressed women for the Trump inauguration which was fascinating for me as I’ve been loving some of Melania’s outfits. I was also most interested to hear that a certain competitor has been slipping on quality control resulting in a lot of his designs getting returned as faulty. That would never happen on my watch – ha ha!
Bye for now,
If I was a bride, which I have imagined many times, a Designer Day from the label that I love would be on my wedding dress shopping hit list. Why? Aside from more dresses to choose from, boutiques tend to run special promotions for the day, and there is usually a little more champagne going around to mark the special occasion (simply my own observations!).
WHAT IS A DESIGNER DAY?
If it was in the dictionary, it would probably read:
Designer Day: [dih-zahy-ner dey] a special event in a bridal boutique, where a larger range of a designers collection is in store for a limited period, typically a weekend.
You may not realise if you are new to the wedding world, but bridal boutiques only carry around a 3rd of a labels collection. But for a designer day, they will loan a large selection of samples, and turn their store into a mini mecca for the said designer.
You’ve fallen in love with a designers work, but the nearest stockists for your favourite dresses are located in all four corners of the country, and long motorway drives with greasy breaks at Little Chef was hardly the glamorous vision you had when dreaming of wedding dress shopping. A designer day is your saviour, booking an appointment is your golden ticket to enter a romantic wonderland, and escape out of truck driver hell.
DON’T GO IF
The designer is out of your budget. Do your research first, and find out if your favourite styles are within your budget. For example, my gowns range from 1,500-4,000, with most styles sitting somewhere in the middle, If 1,500 was your top end, darling don’t go. Book an appointment for a different day where you can try numerous labels, working up to your max budget. I’ve seen brides visibly upset when they see other women in the gown they dreamed of wearing, from their favourite designer and its not within their budget. Don’t do it to yourself!
SERIOUSLY LISTEN TO ME
There are a few golden rules that I have learned in my decades of doing designer days. The list is not long, but its vital. Brides that are unprepared might as well have not shown up, they flap about, get overwhelmed and generally turn into a frustrated hot mess. Brides who do their homework, and bring the right things tend to have a wonderful day, leave buzzing from all the champers and filled with blissful serotonin from finding their dream dress.
REQUEST THE DRESS YOU WANT TO TRY ON: Don’t presume that your favourite style will be in store, ring ahead and check if it will be there, if not, request it in, just don’t do it the day before!
BOOK YOUR APPOINTMENT EARLY: The boutique will only have a limited amount of appointments available during the event, so make sure you have one of them.
PREPARE A SCRAPBOOK: This doesn’t have to be Monica Gellar style bride bible, a few tear sheets will do! A few of dresses you immediately like will give the consultant an instant feeling for your wedding dress style, and take a few images of the venue, this helps to visualise the dresses in the setting.
DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT GOING WITHOUT…
So, you wouldn’t go to beach without your bikini, sandals, sun lotion and towel, there are basic things you need or face disaster, embarrassment and pain. The same can be said for things to take to a bridal appointment:
SHOES WITH THE RIGHT HEAL HEIGHT: you know what height you walk in comfortably, stick to that, no one wants to see a wonky bride. You can take your trusty clubbing stilettos that you’ve had since you were 18, it really doesn’t matter, trying your dress on with the right heal will give you a better idea of how a silhouette will work on your body, and you can practice walking (by walking I mean strutting), seeing how it moves, and if you carry it well.
UNDERWEAR: Don’t turn up wearing your old lady pants and old comfy t-shirt bra, unless you are going commando and will take them off. Wear what you expect to wear on the day, particularly if you are bigger busted. Buy your bra first, one that feels great, so when you try a dress on, even if your bra is showing, you can order the gown with a raised back or neckline, better to know this before than after.
HAIR ELASTIC- how you wear your hair makes a big difference to how a the top of a dress looks. Have something at the ready so you can see what a dress looks like hair up/down, believe me, it makes the world of difference.
IF YOU FORGET ALL OF THE ABOVE, PLEASE, TRUST ME ON THIS ONE
Don’t take to many people with you!!! one passive aggressive comment from your third cousin twice removed who recently gained 10lb who you felt obliged to invite because she’s seen every episode of Don’t Tell The Bride and now thinks she’s Gok Wan to the wedding world, could ruin what should be a wonderful day, and potentially deter your from your dream dress. Take one person that you trust impeccably, you’ll both have a fab time, and you’ll build a closer relationship with the consultant as she doesn’t have to play mediator to Coronation Street style dramas!
I hope this helps you!
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,
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!