I’ve decided to start a new series called The Wedding Smashers where I’ll be interviewing some of the ‘best in the business’ for the blog. I’ll be asking them questions about how the’ve carved their prominent places in the wedding industry (as well as how they began) and how they’ve managed to build their soaring businesses to where they are today.
I’m kicking off with wedding dress designer extraordinaire, Stephanie Allin who creates beautiful contemporary yet classic couture bridal gowns, or as she puts it, romantic designs with modern sensibility.
She designed my wedding dress which I couldn’t have been more thrilled with. It was a total hit and even landed up in an article in The Times. I went to Stephanie’s flagship London boutique in Chiltern Street to interview her, and not only does she reveal lots of anecdotes, her inspirations and the the story behind her latest collection, she gives some really great business advice to budding entrepreneurs, and tips to brides searching for their dream dress too.
So Stephanie, what’s the ‘Stephanie Allin’ story? How did you start your company and what’s happened between then and now?
I’m fashion-trained and worked in London for 10 years before I got married. Once I got married, I wanted to immediately start a family, and as many working mothers know, sadly combining a young family with a full time job is really quite challenging.
So I thought about starting my own line of bridal dresses and called a contact I had at Liberty’s to ask for some advice. I was really lucky as she helped me to gat an appointment with the buyers of Harrods’ bridal department. I made six wedding dresses, showed them to Harrods, and they ended up buying two of them and they did really well with one of them. They received lots and lots of repeat orders and that was how I got my foot in the door. Then I was able to start showing at the wholesale shows, and slowly and surely I started building the business.
Now more than ever, standing out and having something unique or different to offer is really important in this industry. How you do feel you’ve done this, and do you have any advice for people who want to do the same?
Being original is the hardest thing – when a girl gets married she wants to be different, but she also wants to be traditional, and there’s always that warring between the needs and the desires.
Additionally, with the rise of Chinese manufacturing it’s been very difficult for people like myself who only manufacture in the UK because of course in China they can do things a lot less expensively. These days there’s just a few of us who are really fighting to keep our manufacturing in the UK and I think that that makes me fairly unique because that’s something truly important to me.
We have the flagship store in Marylebone and the original boutique in Mumbles on the Gower in South Wales. Having my workrooms in Mumbles too enables me to offer a highly flexible service and I prides myself on knowing the name of every bride. Each dress is made from start to finish by one of my expect dressmakers, trained by myself.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Well I’ve made every mistake in the book (!) but the best piece of advice is something my husband said to me at the beginning when I was first setting up the business. He said, “don’t buy things if you can’t afford them, and never put the house up as a guarantee for anything”, and throughout my career I’ve stuck to both of those things – I’ve never borrowed a penny and never had an overdraft.
What are you most proud of to date?
Staying in business for 22 years! I love the fact that people are interested in what I do. I know that I have respect in the industry and I have a good name and a good reputation.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your latest collection
It’s called ‘The Look of Love’ and the design process starts with the fabrics. I’m quite instinctive about it – I try to think commercially but I’m not too driven by those thoughts as I don’t want to stifle the creative process.
This year I very much wanted that feeling of luxury and in fact, right at the beginning of the process I thought to myself that if we’re doing luxury I want to do the collection’s photo shoot at The Ritz! They agreed to it and that really informed the whole collection in the end!
Do you have any advice for women who are just starting to look for their wedding dress?
Just relax and try not worry about it. Try on a few dresses, then go away and don’t think about it too much. A lot of girls become extremely anxious… it’s a huge spend and it’s supposed to be a wonderful time of your life, but we all judge ourselves incredibly harshly. We judge ourselves according to what we dislike about ourselves most… not what we like about ourselves the most! It’s really important to remember that on the day, your friends are not there to judge you, they’re there to celebrate with you, so try to enjoy the process as much as you can!
Also don’t try on too many dresses. It can be very difficult as there’s so much expectation on what you wear and how you’re going to look, but at the end of the day you’re getting married surrounded by your nearest and dearest who are absolutely not there to judge you. It’s your day surrounded by those that you love – it’s not a theatrical performance.
How would you define the Stephanie Allin bride?
She’s an independent thinker and into fashion but she’s not a slave to it.
How do you want a bride to feel when she wears one of your designs?
There’s only one way I want them to feel and that’s trembling excitement!
Can you give some examples of celebrity wedding dresses that you’ve loved?
Grace Kelly’s bridal look was beautiful, discreet, exciting and feminine. She looked incredible. I also loved the dress that John Galliano made for Kate Moss – it was about her as a bride.
And finally, I am not just a bridal fashion designer I’m also…
…a great cook! And I’m learning baking at the moment. My life is about my friends and family – I love a crowd around my kitchen table on a Sunday.
Stephanie, thank you so much for entertaining me in your gorgeous Chiltern Street store and for chatting to me about your business, your brides and your baking!
All collection images courtesy of Stephanie Allin