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.
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
We want to know your story; how did you meet?
Ben and I have known each other for around 14 years. We met when we were in our early teens at a local carnival. We dated on a couple of occasions over the years but it never seemed to be the right time for either of us. We bumped into each other for the final time in 2012 at a mutual friend’s party and we have been together since.
How did he propose?
Ben whisked me off for a 2 night stay to Newcastle and we stayed in a gorgeous penthouse apartment. Although it’s so close to were we live, it has always been one of my favourite cities. I had no idea he was going to propose though, he just kept saying it was a treat for how hard i’d worked within my business – especially over the busy festive period. As it was a few days before Christmas, he had small gifts wrapped up which he gave me throughout the days while we were there. On the second night we were getting ready to go out for a meal to the Baltic Flour Mill (Six). He told me to open the gift on the table which was a set of Swarovski champagne flutes. When I turned round he was down on one knee and I was gobsmacked! Little did I know the flutes were for a toast, and the meal was for our engagement. I liked how confident he was that I’d say yes! He proposed with the LeVian ring I’d pointed out around a year prior, I had said If I ever got engaged I would want something like it – rose gold, distinctive with coloured stones. It still baffles me how he remembered, as it was only said in passing!
How did you know that your Ian Stuart Dress was the right choice for your big day?
I knew I wanted to be an Ian Stuart Bride as soon as I laid eyes on his designs. Run of the mill dresses just didn’t appeal to me and I love how unique his style is. Whether they are your taste or not; each of his dresses are timeless and a work of art in their own right, nobody can deny that. The closest stockist to where we live is Y.A.P Bridal Boutique in Newcastle. At my appointment I tried on only four of Ian’s gowns and I loved them all, but there was just something missing from first three I tried. The final dress I tried was La Fayette. Before my bridal consultant (Danni) got the zip half way up, I burst into tears. I knew I had found my dress instantly. When Danni pulled back the curtain for my Mam and Auntie to see, they both had the exact same reaction! I didn’t think the ‘bridal moment’ was a real thing, but it clearly was for me. I opted for the matching cathedral veil and I purchased my headdress from here also. The three of us had the most magical time at this boutique. I also decided to have the dressing experience that Y.A.P offers. The girls came out to dress me and my bridal party on the day and honestly, I couldn’t have managed without them. I would highly recommend it to anyone, even more so if if you have a big dress.
Was there a theme/colour theme at your wedding?
The theme for the wedding seemed to evolve as time went by. We knew we wanted something glamorous as it reflects our personal taste both as individuals and as a couple. I’ve always loved really bright, punchy colours and I was getting so bored of seeing the usual anaemic colour schemes in bridal magazines. When I looked at La Fayette, I saw mix of say – Marie Antoinette & Southern Belle. So I decided to run with that… you could say the theme was very much centred around the dress. The only way I could describe our theme is – Parisian Sophistication and New Orleans Colour Pop, with a hint of British Etiquette. The fabulous Kat from ‘The Whole Sch-Bang’ in Gateshead created the full decor including the flowers, our guests were simply blown away. They said it was so different to anything that they’d seen before.
Did you incorporate any specific traditions in your wedding, such as ‘something old, something new, borrowed and blue’?
Although the wedding itself was quite a modern affair. We still tried to do all of the usual wedding traditions. Myself and Ben stayed in separate houses the night before on Rockliffe grounds and didn’t see each other till I walked down the aisle towards him. My something old was also something borrowed, my mam’s white handkerchief that belonged to my great grandma Annie. It is over 60 years old has an A embroidered on it. This was so relevant with my new surname being Anderson and was perfect for dabbing away the few tears I had on the day. Most of the things bought for the wedding were new and my Aquazurra Bridal Booties had powder blue soles. My Dad also placed sixpence in my shoe for the ceremony.
Do you have any advice to share with women who are about to embark on this incredible journey of planning their wedding and selecting their wedding dress?
Just try to enjoy it as much as you can. I spent far too much time stressing about minuscule details, that on the day I didn’t even notice. In hindsight, planning a wedding is very hard work – especially along with all of your usual daily tasks. I found it especially difficult trying to juggle running a house and two businesses, whilst also planning our dream wedding. Constant email threads, phone calls and questionnaires from suppliers became the bane of my life, my only regret is that I found it more of a hindrance rather than looking at the bigger picture. They were all just trying to make sure the day as seamless as possible; which is what it was. Now I can’t believe it’s all over and would love to have the planning time back and re-live the day again. Select your suppliers wisely and most importantly, trust your venue. They will have likely done hundreds if not thousands of weddings before yours and they know exactly what they are doing. Oh and delegate… if someone can help you, let them!
With regard to choosing the dress, try and look at it more like the dress choosing you. You need to feel utterly beautiful & absolutely unstoppable in your gown while being the best possible version of yourself. Ian Stuart Bride certainly does that…