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.