Interview with Sarah Willard Couture
Grab a cuppa (maybe some cake), put everything on hold for five minutes and come with me as we delve into the world of beautiful bridal dress making and I share my interview with Sarah Willard Couture. An award winning designer who also happens to be a friend of mine as well as us both having studios in the gorgeous estate of Sugnall. She is a true master of her craft and I asked her all about it. Enjoy!
Interview with Sarah Willard Couture
• How did you get involved in the dressmaking industry?
I grew up in a family where for generations mothers taught their daughters to sew and still do! As a teenager, I often made clothes from fabric bought in the market to wear out on a Saturday night. I studied Couture in London and was able to draw upon the hours spent in my youth studying shape, line, elegance and the human form ( I’d initially trained to be a ballerina, but it wasn’t to be!)
As a student, my flatmate and I would sew dresses for our friends, with our machines often whizzing into the small hours. Back then we had a kitchen table business to supplement our student grants!
I continued to make dresses and wedding dresses for my friends, and when I had enough work to give up my regular job my business was born. My daughter was tiny at the time, so I worked from home. Very quickly the business grew and a studio and staff soon followed.
I became renowned for simple and uncluttered elegance and subtle detailing. Old fashioned couture techniques were used to handcraft heirloom dresses to be treasured forever.
I still have a love for dance and the theatre, and working in the bridal industry brings all this back to me; striving for excellence, the perfect line, a dress that flatters, and the theatre of weddings.
•How many bridal dresses have you been involved with?
Two hundred and fifty and counting! My dresses have been worn all over the world, from London to America and Asia and I’ve won several fashion awards along the way. Winning Wedding Dress Designer of the Year 2017 at The Wedding Industry Awards was the icing on the cake.
•What is the best thing about your line of work?
I’m a “people person” and I absolutely love offering a personal couture service to our brides – in an increasingly pressurised society brides really appreciate the experience and the special journey of having a dress designed and created for them.
It’s a huge privilege to make perhaps the most important dress they will ever wear. I love being creative, designing something that is so special and then making something so beautiful that it’s treasured forever.
•How many brides do you have a year?
Between twenty to twenty-five, depending on the complexity of the dresses.
•What process do you typically follow when working with a new bride?
I work very closely with our clients, listening very carefully to what their ideas are, and aim to encapsulate and interpret these to create a dress that fits and flatters perfectly. Our brides are involved in the creative process from start to finish, and we love creating bespoke dresses for our brides, it keeps us fresh, happy, creatively inspired and motivated.
The first design consultation with our brides lasts for about an hour and a half brides have the exclusive time of myself and the studio. We’ll have a cup of tea or coffee and sit down and talk about their ideas, plans and dreams for their wedding day. We also ask them what their worst nightmare would be, it helps to know what their anxieties are too!
Brides then have an opportunity to try on sample dresses and vintage dresses from our collection. This helps them to convey their ideas and expectations, find out what style suits them, what fabrics are best, what colour, and what would be their preferred look.
We then make a toile (a mock-up) of the dress, and remember during this fitting that this is the beginning of their wedding dress, not just our design. If needed alterations to the style to make the silhouette is perfect take place. We don’t start the actual dress until we are all excited about the toile, (our client is so happy that they want to wear it home and we’re completely satisfied and not pinning and altering anymore!)
We aim to start work on a wedding dress as soon as we all feel confident in our ideas. We like to complete the toile stage early, as we find our clients are much happier when they can visualise the end result. It also takes away the anxiety when people ask a bride whether she has seen her dress yet… she has!
When the dress is completed we organise a final fitting. We suggest that the bride brings someone who is going to be there on the day, so that they can learn and feel confident about how the dress is put on. And all their accessories so that they can visualise how everything will look together on the day. We are able to store the dress until the bride is ready to collect it, often just before the wedding day. We also provide a dress packing service for brides traveling abroad, and a dressing service on the day. We often find ourselves helping to arrange dresses and veils at the church door, a real honour and privilege!
•Is it better for a bride to know exactly what she wants, or for them to be open-minded and flexible? How much should they trust you?
Some brides are well versed in their own sense of style, others feel daunted by the whole process of choosing a dress that will take centre stage on their wedding day. If so we’ll ask them whose style they aspire to, or to bring a favourite item of clothing from their wardrobe. We have a room full of our sample collection dresses for them to try on, as this really helps them to illustrate what style of dress is their choice.
•How much time should a bride budget for when making a custom dress?
For a collection dress a bride would need to set aside time for three or four appointments. We don’t fix the number of fittings, some brides need more than others to feel confident that everything is progressing smoothly, but on average four or five appointments. Usually, brides love the dressmaking process and are happy to spend time with us, chatting as we fit and sew.
•What should a bride bring to a fitting?
Themselves in underwear that fits well!
And a trusted family member or friend who can act as an advocate for their sense of style. Sometimes too many people can mean that the bride feels lost and confused as not everyone has the same taste, (and there are those who don’t have the bride’s best interests at heart too!)
I don’t suggest brides panic buy their wedding shoes before they have found their dream pair. I have known them to end up with three or four possible pairs and that’s money down the drain!! I don’t need the actual bridal shoes until the hem is levelled, so just an idea of the sort of heel height they will wear on their wedding day is helpful to begin with.
When the dress is completed we organise a final fitting and suggest that the bride brings someone with them who is going to be there on the day, so that they can learn and feel confident about how the dress is put on.
•Do you have any tips for a bride on a tight budget?
I tell them not to worry, there are plenty of options. There are ways to cut the costs of a wedding dress and still achieve the same “look”, whether that’s customising a vintage or sample dress, or using fabrics that don’t break the bank instead of the most expensive silks and laces.
And also for couples to decide which aspects of their wedding are the most important for them to invest in; you don’t have to have everything, it’s not a competition! The guests are there to celebrate with you and not to judge, they won’t remember all the details after the event, ( e.g. whether you had expensive favours or not), but they will remember how happy you were.
Some of the loveliest weddings are the simple ones. For some couples the flowers would be important, for a fashion conscious or creative bride perhaps a designer dress, for a petrol head perhaps a ride in a lavish car, for foodies a wonderful meal, but it doesn’t need to be everything.
Several things will stand the test of time, a dress that fits and flatters you, but it doesn’t need to be extravagant, hair and make-up that makes the best of you, and invest in photographs to record the event as these you will treasure forever.
•What was the most memorable dress you ever made?
I’ve made so many dresses that are memorable for different reasons such as intricate craftsmanship, creative design or pure simplicity, and I’d struggle to single out one of them. When they stand out in my mind it’s because there’s a story behind them that makes my heart sing, such as remodelling a grandmother’s dress for her granddaughter to wear, or a dress I made for a seventy-year-old lady who had found her childhood sweetheart again after many years and who was finally marrying him.
So there you have it, a wonderful insight in to the world of bridal dress making with my Interview with Sarah Willard Couture. If you still have questions about bridal dresses then I’m sure that Sarah would love you to get in touch.
If you’re here because you want to talk about wedding photography then please do get in touch using my contact form.