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War and Weddingwear ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

Helping brides whose wedding dresses were being made in Ukraine, AND their Ukranian dressmakers.

While Putin’s troops attacked Ukraine this week, two british brides contacted me. Both had ordered wedding dresses that were being made in Ukraine. Now this can no longer happen, they asked if I could make them instead.

I could have rubbed my hands with glee and snapped up the extra orders. But I shouldn’t profit from a loss of business from someone potentially losing everything, just because they happen to have had their country invaded this week, and I haven’t.

So I *think* I have figured out a way to help both the brides and their original dressmakers in Ukraine. I will make what they had ordered, for the same price. Then, after hard costs (fabric etc), I would donate the rest of the price to the ukranian dressmaker (if it was a small, independent operation like mine) or to the Disasters Emergency Committee (if it was a factory contracted by an international brand).

The first bride has just agreed and we tracked down her original, ukranian dressmaker on Etsy. Her name is Vera. She leads a small team and, her shop’s announcement tells us, is currently living in an underground shelter with her family.

Part of Vera’s heartbreaking Etsy shop announcement, which can be read in full here

As a stroke of genius, Vera created digital, downloadable postcards so people can donate directly. So I did.

I’d been wondering how the hell I could offer practical support in a war zone from the UK, with my skill set limited to making wedding dresses and writing the odd blog. I know what I’m doing* is a drop in the roaring ocean but it’s something. I hope.

๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ’™

If you or someone you know is in the same position as my two brides, please get in touch and I will help if I can.

To my fellow wedding industry pros, if you’re able to help by doing something similar, let’s work together.

*For what it’s worth, I have also donated to the DEC and encourage those who are willing and able to do the same.

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Couples in Co-ordinated Clothes

I received a press inquiry this week asking whether couples should coordinate their wedding outfits. This question both resonated with and rankled me.

It was a well timed question; this week alone I’ve been working on coordinating outfits for three couples and it’s certainly something I’m seeing more of, for different reasons.

A traditional Ghanaian wedding (in LA). Credit: Kwame Agyei Jr Weddings

That said, my couple planning their traditional white wedding are also incorporating the same fabric for elements of their outfits. In this case, the bride is wearing a hooded cape and the groom a bowtie in the same pale pink velvet. 

A black bride and groom in coordinating pink wedding dress and pink suit sitting on outdoor painted stairs
Pretty in (matching) pink. Credit: Leesha Williams Photography via Unique Rebels Union.

It can be a cultural, which is true for my bride and groom planning their Ghanaian-British fusion wedding. In Ghana, the bride and groom’s outfits are made from the same fabrics, which is what I’m doing for the them, making the bride’s dress from the same traditional kente fabrics as the groom’s outfit.

The third couple are both wearing black with custom embroidered motifs that tell each of their stories.

Now for why the question rankled. First, being for a western publication, it was inherently western-focused but this excluded the cultures and traditions of other countries that are honoured here, such as my British-Ghanaian couple.

I also (politely I hope) asked the journalist not to forget weddings involving two grooms, two brides or non-binary couples who I also see coordinating their outfits, probably more so than heterosexual couples.

Two white grooms in matching brown suits and glasses with coordinating red details on their wedding day
Credit: Binky Nixon via Unique Rebels Union

And finally, the classic word “Should.” I don’t like to see “should” in any question about weddings, other than that the couple should love each other and should wear whatever the hell they want, matching or not. ๐Ÿ˜Š

A white male and female couple on their wedding day wearing dungarees
Credit: Emily Steward Photography via Zane & Willow Zarecki

NB photos are not of my work or couples; their weddings are still to come so the details are top secret!

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2022 – a bumper year for weddings… or postponements?

Today, my first 2022 bride called me to say she is postponing her wedding to 2023.

The uncertainty about new strains, new restrictions and new red-list countries (they’re marrying abroad) had become too much. It buoys me to say that she and her fiancรฉ are happy to have made the decision and can get back to enjoying planning their nuptials.

I’m taking predictions that 2022 will be a bumper wedding year with a pinch of salt.

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Why White?

How Queen Victoria, new-fangled photography and rubbish laundry facilities created the iconic western tradition

Ever wondered why western brides wear white? Queen Victoria sparked the trend in 1840 and actually raised eyebrows by choosing white, which was usually only worn by debutantes for their presentation to court.

Victoria & Albert on their wedding day, and her trend-setting dress displayed at Kensington Palace.

Before then (and for a while after), brides would wear their best dress, whatever colour(s) it happened to be. There wasn’t even a concept of a wedding dress as something you wore just for your wedding day. It was expected that you’d wear your wedding dress again for other functions ans indeed, Queen Victoria did.

A bride and groom in Chicago in the 1890s

This expectation helped make the white wedding dress aspirational as it was only really practical to wash and maintain white fabrics, especially silk, if you were mega-rich. Ideally, you had staff to take care of that for you. European royals and nobility did of course and so the white wedding dress became associated with wealth and high social standing.

Simultaneously, photography was becoming more advanced and accessible and white dresses looked good in the early sepia photographs. Even nearly 200 years ago, we were all about the ‘Gram.

All of this means that you can still consider yourself a traditional bride if your dress isn’t white. This week, I took delivery of this stunning lace-satin-glitter (yes, all of them, in one fabric) fabric and I am ridiculously excited about it.

Satin, lace AND glitter all in one fabric. BIG plans for this beauty. HUGE.

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Typical!

My brides and dresses are all so different. Do I even have a typical customer?

What do a pink glittery ballgown, a satin ivory shift mini-dress, and a two-piece embroidered lehenga have in common? Or a backless, barely-there lace dress with a long-sleeved, high-necked, satin-twill number?

Some of my 2021 brides in their bespoke gowns on their wedding days. L-R: Emma, Steffi, Gemma, Isobel and Immi

I mean aside from the obvious, that they are all wedding dresses. And made by me.

The answer is in why I made them. Or rather why I had to.

UK brides are spoiled for choice whatever their budget with independent bridal boutiques, concessions in Harrods and Selfridges, chain stores like Wed2b and David’s Bridal, second-hand dresses and hell, even Asos is getting in on the bridal scene. If, and that’s a big if, they want a traditional ivory dress.

Not all brides do. Some don’t want ivory. Some don’t want a dress.

The very variety of styles I’ve made in the last year might suggest I don’t have a typical customer. But I have found that my brides tend to have some common traits:

1. All of my brides have a strong personal style. They know what works for them, what looks dynamite, and what doesn’t;

2. They know exactly what they’re looking for. Some had mood boards, others had lists of elements such as neckline, silhouette, embroidery details, etc, some had even produced sketches.

3. They couldn’t find what they were looking for ready-made in any shop. It didn’t exist.

That’s when they looked into going bespoke and found me.

So, do I have a typical customer? Yes and no. Do the traits above sound familiar to you?

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Is the make-up-free Miss GB contestant empowering women and girls? What about brides?

One of the top ten most read BBC News stories this morning concerns Elle Seline, a contestant in Miss GB, who plans to appear without make-up at this year’s competition. Ms Seline, who was bullied about her appearance in her teens (as I was), says she is doing this to challenge patriarchal standards of beauty and to empower other women and girls.

But does it? And why does it have anything to do with me, or weddings?

What I find more interesting than the story itself is that a woman choosing not to wear make-up on a particular day is such big news. I often don’t wear make up; when I’m working, I usually end up inside wedding dresses between layers and don’t want to leave marks. Sometimes I just don’t want to wear it. Hardly hold-the-front-page stuff though, right?

The difference is of course the context, i.e. an event at which a woman would be expected to wear make-up. Weddings, specifically being The Bride, are another example. So here’s the relevance to us.

Some brides (like me, a natural extrovert) relish the attention on their wedding days while they, as tradition dictates, look their best. But this pressure to look “your best”, what your best self actually looks like, AND being the centre of attention makes many – maybe most, in my experience – feel very vulnerable. Judged. Absolutely bloody terrified.

So I believe Ms Seline’s message for brides is empowering: (with apologies to my make-up artist friends), you can go without make-up when you’re expected to wear it and still be beautiful. Your best self. Stick THAT to the patriarchy.

However, let’s not get carried too far away from the feminist track. Ms Seline is taking control of her own narrative to stick one to her former bullies, yes. However, entering a competition that judges and ranks women on their appearance, whatever standard employed, is a massive self own in this narrative. It says: how women look is still the best way to judge us.

You don’t defeat bullies who think you’re ugly by changing their minds into thinking you’re beautiful; you slay them by demonstrably not giving a shit what they think of your appearance. And that can’t include entering a competition to be judged on just that. So her message is NOT empowering for women and girls generally.

For brides, wear the make-up, don’t wear the make-up. Just know you are giving your best self to the person you love the most, whatever that looks like.

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Thank you, NHS (and sorry I forgot to clap)

Holly Winter Couture with NHS bride Immi Warren in her bespoke designed and made to measure wedding dress.
Me with Immi at her final fitting in July 2021

In the bewildering days and weeks of the first lockdown in March 2020, I wished there was something tangible I could do to help. But I make wedding dresses. And weddings were cancelled. What help could I actually be?

I considered making facemasks but didn’t know the first thing about the antimicrobial properties of different fabrics. There was a call to make hospital scrubs from donated duvet covers, but my daughter was coughing and I was terrified garments from our home might infect entire hospitals.

Then at 8pm one Wednesday in my studio, I heard the town erupt in cheers. Guilt. I’d completely forgotten we were supposed to be at the end of the drive for the first weekly Clap for Carers. I realised that, just like my brides who’d had to postpone their weddings, there must be NHS staff doing the same AND doubling down on the front line against the virus.

Usually when (if) I have spare time, I’ll dream up some new designs and create experimental samples to put in photoshoots and display at wedding fairs. With my peak season cancelled, I’d committed to spending money on fabrics and time on making new dresses, so why not offer them to NHS brides instead, as a small way of saying thank you?

With no real expectation, I made my offer public. Suddenly, I was in The Guardian, the Observer, the Metro, the Telegraph and more, and the requests poured in. Boom. I was helpful.

I’d love to help everyone who contacted me (even the cheeky feckers who admitted they already had a wedding dress but could they have a going away outfit? Or a second dress for the evening?), but there were scores. I committed to three: one, a GP, for 2020, occupational therapist Immi in 2021, and nurse Sameen in 2022.

NHS bride in Holly Winter Couture bespoke designed and made to measure wedding dress
My first NHS bride in her bespoke dress at her wedding in September 2020. ๐Ÿ“ธ Ross Holkham

This year, it was Immi’s turn. She and Jai postponed their wedding last year to 2 September this year, at the beautiful Polhawn Fort on a cornish cliff top.

After poring over design inspiration together, Immi and I came up with her perfect boho-style wedding dress over a year ago. It included dropped flutter sleeves, a plunging neckline on a sheer backless bodice and a full, floaty tulle skirt embellished with lashings of lace.

Real bride Immi Warren in bespoke designed and custom made to measure wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
Immi on her wedding day at Polhawn Fort

Working remotely, all our consultations, including taking her measurements and fitting her toile (the mock-up dress I make to test the measurements). Despite first speaking in April 2020, we only finally met in person for the first time in February 2021.

Lace detail on bodice of custom bespoke wedding dress for NHS bride by Holly Winter Couture
Back lace detail of Immi’s gown

I made the wildflower lace for her bodice myself and cut, arranged and stitched on the motifs by hand.

Bespoke lace featuring wild flowers on custom wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
Bespoke wildflower lace adorned Immi’s sheer wedding dress bodice.

The skirt had multiple layers of tulle,ย  satin crepe, and glitter net to represent the oceans this surfer loves.

Creating the lace peak on Immi’s train

The lace on her skirt had to be cut and pieced together by hand to create the peaks at the front and back.

Lace chapel train of bespoke wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
The lace chapel train of Immi’s wedding dress

Immi was an absolute joy to work with and there were plenty of hugs and tears at Immi’s final fitting (which included Immi’s mum and soon-to-be mother-in-law).

Real bride and mother of the bride at final bespoke wedding dress fitting at Holly Winter Couture
Beautiful Immi and her lovely mum at her final fitting, July 2021

Most of all, I am so grateful to Immi not only for putting her trust in me to make her wedding dress but for making me feel useful in a pandemic.

Thank you NHS embroidered in bespoke wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
My thank you embroidered in Immi’s lining
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To Infinity and Beyond! ๐Ÿš€

To Infinity and Beyond Disney space shuttle Toy Story custom embroidered veil by Holly Winter Couture
Emma’s custom space shuttle veil

I’ve had to keep schtum about this custom creation since November and I’m so happy to be able to share it now, not least as it means that the bride has finally tied the knot after all the covid-related postponements and uncertainty.

Emma Haigh from Rotherham contacted me nearly a year ago with her idea of having a bespoke veil embroidered with a silver space shuttle and the phrase ‘To Infinity and Beyond’. We then had a chat via videocall and she told me that her fiancรฉ is a big fan of Toy Story and that they had visited Cape Canaveral together to watch a shuttle launch.

Bespoke veil embroidery design by Holly Winter Couture
3…2…1…Liftoff! Creating the embroidery design

I sketched some ideas and tried different fonts and we settled on having our silver shuttle lifting off from its launchpad in a whirl of smoke, into twinkling stars above. I added some metallic blue into the latter as a subtle ‘something blue’.

To Infinity and Beyond font samples for bespoke custom veil embroidered lettering by Holly Winter COUTURE
Experimenting with embroidery fonts

After postponing the wedding from 23 December 2020, Emma finally tied the knot on 10 August 2021.

Real bride Emma Haigh on her wedding day wearing custom embroidered veil featuring space shuttle launch and To Infinity and Beyond lettering by Holly Winter Couture
The beautiful bride in her bespoke embroidered veil
Real bride customer Holly Winter Couture
The bride and groom (plus their siblings and their partners)
Real bride customer Holly Winter Couture
Emma on her wedding day. Damian Jackson Photography
Real bride and groom with bespoke embroidered veil by Holly Winter Couture
The bride and groom
A glimpse behind the scenes

Infinite love to the bride and groom and their growing family. ๐Ÿ’• ๐Ÿš€

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What is Pelling Pink? ๐Ÿ’—

Forget Pantone, this is ‘Pelling Pink’. It’s not a single colour but shifts and changes shade and intensity with movement and glitters in the light.

Emma Pelling had always wanted a pink wedding dress but finding the perfect shade, not to mention style, proved problematic. The main problem was that we simply couldn’t settle on any one shade of pink. The solution then was to simply not settle for a single shade and create a dress that subtly changed shades as Emma moved.

I designed a bespoke princess-style dress with multiple layers of silk, tulle and glitter I’m shares ranging from ivory to lilac to a hot dusky rose. We experimented inside and outside with great swathes of fabrics a spectrum of variations until, five hours later, we had the perfect combination. When layered just so, they would shift and slink and gather and flare to reveal all the different shades. I’m calling this Pelling Pink.

The skirt section featured the softest ivory tulle layered over a pink glitter tulle and a lilac-pink silk satin. The latter I just happened to have picked up in an eco-sale of designer dead stock with no plan for it but it was just too beautiful to leave. I’m so happy I got to use it for Emma’s dress.

LAYERS of silk and tulle create the perfect wedding dress shade for real bride Emma in this bespoke pink wedding dress by Holly Winter Couture
The many shades of the layers that made up the perfect Pelling Pink: lilac silk satin, dusky rose glitter tulle, two layers of ivory tulle, over several further layers of netting and lining. (Sidenote: the lace shown on the neckline here wasn’t used in the final version)

The bodice included an additional extra-sparkly pale pink tulle layer and I created custom lace to embellish the illusion panel. A keyhole back and a corset fastening provided interest on the back, and a closer look at the corset lace ends revealed that I’d personalised them with Emma and her fiancรฉ Sam’s names so they could literally tie the knot.

Personalised embroidery by Holly Winter Couture
Personalised embroidery on the corset ties meant Emma and Sam could literally tie the knot.

We made the front slightly shorter to show off Emma’s stunning pastel pink and blue shoes while the back dipped to a chapel train.

Emma’s layers and Cinderella shoes

With Covid-19 wreaking havoc on wedding plans, this dress has been over a year in the making. I am absolutely delighted that Emma and Sam finally figuratively tied the knot on Sunday 13 June 2021, followed by a celebration with friends and family on Sunday 11 July. Loads of love to you both, Mr & Mrs Sullivan!

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From “Help!” To ๐Ÿ”ฅHot๐Ÿ”ฅ- an alterations story

“I need help,” began Catherine’s first message to me. “I got swept up into buying a wedding dress. I love it on the hanger but on me, I just don’t feel right.”

Worse was to come: “I wonder whether it’s more me that is the issue rather than the dress. I’m just so worried I haven’t found the right dress and have wasted my grandmother’s money. Please can you help?”

That’s a lot of pressure for a bride, especially the belief that the reason your dress isn’t fitting is somehow your own fault (it’s really not).

I hear what Catherine said very often. It can be utterly overwhelming to be planning a wedding, making big (expensive) decisions and feeling anxious about being the centre of attention.

It’s a very common concern to second-guess your dress, especially before you’ve had it altered to fit you properly. It can feel like it’s not your dress and that you’re playing dress-up in someone else’s clothes! Of the hundreds of brides I’ve worked with, I’ve only known one actually change her mind and buy another dress (and she was already on her second when we met!).

It can make a world of difference just to have it fit you properly so that it feels like it’s your dress, it flatters you and it moves properly as you move rather than dragging on the floor under your feet, slipping off your shoulders, digging in in some places and gaping in others.ย 

It’s MY job to make your dress fit and work for you so delegate that pressure to me.

Today, I received the loveliest message from Catherine, who married last month wearing her dress after I’d altered it to fit her. She ended it: Thank you. You really did make me feel like the bride I wanted to be.”

Real bride Catherine Carini in her wedding dress with alterations by Holly Winter Couture. 2021 wedding. Real customer.
Catherine before I altered her dress and on her wedding day, 15 June 2021. ๐Ÿ“ธ Pippa Carvell Photography