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RIP Ian Stuart

I am utterly stunned to learn this evening of the death of my favourite wedding dress designer Ian Stuart, at 55. You can read more about Ian’s illustrious career here, but I want to record what his work has meant to me personally.

Wedding dress designer Ian Stuart

Ian’s designs caught my eye years before I was even engaged; his website was the one I least wanted my then boyfriend (now husband) to spot in my search history.

Once I was engaged, I coveted his pale green Bellini dress for my own wedding but, before I could even find a stockist (or my bridesmaids try to tell me the swirl lookes like a cat’s bottom), my mum vetoed the green.

Green wedding dress Bellini by Ian Stuart from his Strawplay collection
Ian Stuart’s Bellini in palest mint green

In the early noughties, his was the rare voice in boutique bridal proclaiming, “You  CAN wear colour,” and his work has massively influenced how I approach my own.

Ian struck that elusive balance between veering from the beaten bridal track – where I go – with mass appeal and therefore phenomenal international commercial success.

Ian Stuart’s Pompadour in coral

He remains the only wedding dress designer whose dresses I have actually bought, just to study and admire. I own three. One – Pompadour, in coral pink – I actually wore once I’d restyled it into a cocktail dress for a friend’s military Christmas ball (the dress code wasn’t clear on dress length so I went with both long and short).

Me in my restyled Pompadour at the Moulin Rouge ball, Artilliary House, London, 2018

Another, his beautifully opulent, silk Flower Bomb, featured in the V&A’s retrospective exhibition of wedding dresses through the decades. Mine, acquired just this summer, hangs in the window of my sewing room, where I learn something new on fabric manipulation, pattern cutting and structure from it every day. I will never wear it – it’s four sizes too small for me for one thing – but it remains my favourite.

Ian Stuart’s Flower Bomb at the V&A in 2014

I would eagerly await each new collection from Strawplay onwards – Belle Epoch, Runway Rebel, Killer Queen and more – and would pore over each dress in every colourway until I could recognise any of them in the wild (autistic much?). I’m still not over the brand’s sudden, quiet liquidation a few years ago.

I continue to check my saved search I’ve had on ebay since 2005 every day. I’d still love to get my hands on Gainsborough, Crazy Daisy (I can’t even find images any more), Bluebird and Sevruga, and I’d LOVE to study how Harlequinn is constructed.

My heartfelt condolences and all my love go to Ian’s family and friends.

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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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What is Pelling Pink? πŸ’—

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 fiancΓ© 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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The UK’s First Wedding of 2021

Microwedding 2021 in lockdown. Wedding dress alterations by Holly Winter Couture
Microweddings: When daffodils replace guests

Just look at the love and joy! These beautiful pictures are of, I believe, the very first wedding to take place in the UK this year, and I am so thrilled to have had a (small!) hand in it. Featured on BBC News, Jess and Jonny finally tied the knot on Monday 29 March, the first day that weddings were allowed in 2021, as lockdown restrictions started to ease.

Microwedding 2021 BBC News Jonny and Jess. Wedding dress alterations by Holly Winter Couture seamstress dressmaker Surrey Hampshire Berkshire
Guest list reduced from 180 to four but Jess and Jonny tied the knot anyway.

Coronavirus had forced them to postpone their original 2020 summer wedding and cut their guest list from 180 to just four (plus the bride and groom themselves) to comply with the latest regulations but they leapt at the first opportunity to tie the knot they had.

Microwedding 2021. Wedding dress alterations by seamstress dressmaker Holly Winter Couture Farnborough Hampshire
They did it!

Jessica’s beautiful beaded mermaid dress had been under wraps for over a year and I last saw her for her final fitting in December 2019 (she arrived in full Mrs Christmas costume on her way to work with children!). Jess came to me for wedding dress alterations when the dress she had bought turned out to be a classic case of expectations vs reality.

Wedding dress expectations vs reality saved by couture finishing by Holly Winter Couture alterations
Expectations vs reality vs couture finish

Jess fell in love with the dramatic waves around the hem of the dress when she saw it online. Trying it on in the shop however left her feeling a little flat, just like the waves which fell over into a messy heap when she walked. I reassured her there was a solution (there is ALWAYS a solution 😊) and gave her glorious waves some extra staying power with a little couture magic. We also added some sparkly straps and shortened the length at the front.

Wed2b Osiris dress alterations Camberley Holly Winter Couture
The glorious waves of Jess’s hem.

I am over the moon for Jonny and Jess and love their style of staring down the restrictions and doing it anyway. They are planning a celebration with friends and family in 2022 and, oh my goodness, I cannot wait to show you the dress we have in store for that! 😍

Holly Winter Couture studio with bride customer Surrey Hampshire Berkshire wedding dress alterations
Mrs Christmas and me (an elf? 🧡πŸͺ‘) in my studio, December 2019. 🀢

Wedding photos by the very talented Rob Burress at Shooting Hip.

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Shooting cats

πŸ’œ Amethyst Moon πŸ’œ

Opportunities for photoshoots are scant during lockdown so I endeavour to do the best I can on my own. At least I thought I was on my own.

Silky just reminded me why I usually hang things on a wall to take product shots rather than lay them out on the floor. She waited until I was teetering on the edge of a chair of course.