Welcome to Wedding Week! All this week I’m going to be sharing details from our winter wedding weekend which took place on the 21st and 22nd of November in Scotland. I’ll be showing you how we pulled our day together, relaying all the emotions from the occasion and hopefully providing you with some inspiration and tips.
I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to share all the details of my wedding dress design with you. In fact, that’s a lie, I can tell you how long. Ever since my very first meeting with the lovely and talented Charlotte of Wilden Bride, that’s how long. And that meeting took place in December 2014.
Yes, a year a bit later, I am finally at the stage where I can divulge the story of how my wedding outfit came to be and lament to you all about how wonderful an experience it was to be part of its design creation and spend every few weeks in dress inspiration overload with Charlotte. The problem is, now that I’m at this stage, I feel a little overwhelmed to actually sit down and write it all and really don’t know where to start.
So I guess all I can do is start at the beginning…
It will come as no surprise to those who know me, that the dress was one of the first things on my mind when we initially got engaged. Being a lover of all things fashion, clothes and shoes, I knew that choosing a dress for, as people kept reminding me, one of the biggest occasions of my life, was going to be no easy task.
I wouldn’t describe myself as having a ‘signature’ style. Yes I think there’s a style of clothing (mainly things which are pink, girly and pretty) that people might associate as being my kind of thing, but I wear a different style of clothing almost every day and jump from loving masculine tailoring one minute to tulle maxi skirts the next. I’m a fairly eclectic dresser and don’t have one key look which is undeniably ‘me’. I wish I did, honestly, but I don’t. And that’s what was probably most tricky when wedding dress hunting.
Pretty soon after getting engaged I started a Pinterest board (as you do) to collect ideas of dresses I loved, and began scouring wedding magazines and blogs almost immediately. I was pretty taken aback with just how much choice there was out there (especially as I think we see the same styles represented so often in the media) and how many dress designers there were which I had absolutely no knowledge of (despite having worked in fashion for many years). It quickly became apparent that the wedding world was a whole different kettle of fish to any sort of fashion or clothing sector I’d been privy to in the past and I realised I was essentially completely clueless as to where to start looking. But despite knowing nothing about the industry or the designers in it, I did, it seemed, know what I wanted. Or at least, what I didn’t want. I knew that I wanted something unique, something different from the norm, and something I felt like my eclectic self in. My Pinterest boards very quickly became filled with similar sorts of themes and looks, and my inspiration slowly began to get whittled down.
The problem was, that it became clear early on that there were two very different sides of my personality that wanted to be represented in my wedding outfit, and I couldn’t seem to marry (sorry no pun intended) the two. On the one hand the Carrie Bradshaw loving, pink wearing, pouffy skirt adoring, side of me couldn’t help but fall for giant polka dot tulle dresses with huge bows at the back, and I was constantly pinning adorable 50’s style full skirts and pictures of Carrie Bradshaw in Paris and Olivia Palermo on her wedding day. But then there was another side of me that pined for those elegant long floaty chiffon dresses, that hugged a brides figure in all the right places, and left an endless train flowing behind her as she walked. I was drawn to soft embellishment and floral applique and sheer silhouettes that looked ethereal and romantic. I would show friends and they would describe the former as more me, but the latter as more bridal. I was stumped.
By this point we were starting to get a feel for the type of wedding we might have and visions of an outdoor ceremony and romantic setting were coming into play. As much as I loved those pouffy skirts, I knew that I wanted, at least for the ceremony, to evoke that elegant bridal look and walk arm in arm with my Dad in a dress that would be worthy of a wedding and not just a party. It was then that the idea of seperates came into play. I’ve been describing my wedding outfit as a dress, but really it wasn’t. It was a top and two seperate skirts, along with a whole bunch of accessories which switched the look up more than a few different ways. I suddenly had the epiphany that while I might want that elegant skirt with a huge train for the ceremony, I probably wouldn’t want it for the party when I’d be keen to join in with the ceilidh and strut my stuff on the dancefloor. The Pinterest boards were immediately divided into two – ceremony dress and party dress -and I started looking into brands and designers that offered seperates, adding the likes of Charlie Brear, Kate Halfpenny, Sally Lacock and Rue de Siene, to my ‘try on’ list. But still as much as I loved their looks, nothing was jumping out at me as ‘the look’.
It was at this point that the girl formerly known as an art student came out in me once again and one day I simply felt compelled to pull out a sketchbook and draw the idea of a dress (or two dresses) that I had in my mind onto a piece of paper so that I could visualise it better and hopefully get closer to finding it. I’ve included a snapshot of my very first drawing above, because although I’m not much of an illustrator or artist, what you see which was sketched back in November 2014 is not very far off the creation I wore in November 2015!
As soon as I’d started drawing, I couldn’t stop and suddenly everything was making a lot more sense. I phoned my Mum almost immediately and told her I’d drawn my dream wedding outfit and I was really worried that now that it was in my head, I’d never find anything like it in a shop. My Mum, who was absolutely brilliant the whole way through my dress journey and from the very beginning always maintained that she wanted me to have exactly the dress I wanted, simply said ‘well in that case, maybe you should look for someone who can help you create it?’
And so I did.
I found Charlotte, in the same way I found many of our wedding suppliers, through a blog post on Love My Dress (I was slightly obsessed) and immediately felt a connection with her description of designing romantic, ethereal wedding dresses with a vintage appeal. I also loved that every one of the brides on her website looked completely different and had clearly been encouraged to create the dress that was truly them. I fired off an email with all of my thoughts and ideas, a whole host of my Pinterest images and a half pleading request that she help me figure it all out. She replied almost straight away, beyond excited by my ideas and we scheduled a date to meet.
That date was the end of December 2014, about a week before (you may remember) we were visiting the two venues that would become ours. And by this point I had an issue. We knew that the barn had very few dates left in 2015 and that if we liked it we could potentially be looking at a VERY quick turn around for a wedding (remember that March date?). Suddenly the dress search felt extremely pressing and when I turned up at Charlotte’s studio one of the first questions I asked was ‘How quickly can you make a dress?’. (The answer by the way was one I was pleased to hear – turns out she has made a dress in only three weeks before, although she’d prefer not to have to do that again!)
Of course, you all know what happened next, and in the end we didn’t go for that March date and instead chose November meaning I had plenty of time to mull over my dress decision. That initial meeting with Charlotte had been on my mind ever since though, as I’d felt genuinely excited when she hadn’t dismissed any of my crazy ideas as I thought she would, and instead added a few of her own!
Knowing that I now had more time however, and with a bit of friendly pressure from my Mum and Best Women, I decided to do a bit of dress shopping before I committed to anything, just to make sure that my dream dress wasn’t sitting waiting for me somewhere and also to get an idea of what suited me and what didn’t. You all know how that went as I’ve spoken about the trials and tribulations of dress shopping before. But ultimately no matter how many dresses I tried on (and there were a fair few) and no matter how many I loved (surprisingly a lot) I just couldn’t shake that initial sketch and Charlotte’s enthusiasm from my mind, and knew in my heart that I’d never replicate that image in my head with something from a shop. So in February 2015 with nine months to go, I went back to Charlotte and we started creating a real life outfit from that first sketch.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Elie Saab, he’s my all time favourite couture designer and his pieces featured heavily in my Pinterest boards. So the beginnings of dress creation very much started with a little Saab inspiration. I was drawn to sheer elements and especially Poppy Delevigne’s Chanel wedding dress and decided I wanted the skirt to be subtly sheer and show off my pins. By this point of course we knew a woodland ceremony was on the cards and that ‘winter woodland wedding’ idea was key in creating my look. Even from that first drawing I knew that I wanted to evoke a woodland nymph on the day – with something ethereal, flowing and very much with nature at the heart of it (much like the ring!). Temperley’s floral applique kept making an appearance as did even more of Elie Saab, in particular the soft textured adornment he does so well. Sparkle and sequins were still playing a big part but I knew I wanted it to be subtle, and it was decided almost instantly that my dress wasn’t going to be white (I know! I’ve got that picture of Blake Lively in the dusky pink gown to thank for that!). Then of course there was the cape. Oh the cape!! Undoubtedly my favourite accessory of the day and the part I was most excited to debut. Before I even knew what shape I might want the dress to be or what detail might be included on it, I knew there was going to be a cape. You can’t be an ethereal woodland princess without one right?
The party skirt started to come together too – the inspiration there being, of course, Olivia Palermo and Carrie Bradshaw, with thoughts of polka dot tulle and wide black velvet bows (a la Chanel).
The process of creating a wedding dress, or two skirts and a top, from scratch was one that I loved. And I’d happily do it again and again (in fact I’m a little sad I can’t!) but it was also a long, arduous, stressful at times, and worrying at others, process. With my Mum being up North and me not wanting to give too much away to friends until the making had begun (those initial stages I think it’s hard for people to imagine what will be from a square of material and a few sketches), I visited Charlotte mostly on my own and was tasked with making all of the decisions primarily alone, which was sometimes tough. I would come home, look endlessly at the snapshots I’d taken on the day or the material Charlotte had sent me samples of and have sleepless nights worrying I’d made the wrong decision. Choosing the colour and fabric from a pile of tiny swatches was THE most difficult thing and I let out the biggest sigh of relief when I saw my ceremony skirt material in the flesh for the first time and it was the exact ‘dusky pink’ I’d been trying and failing to describe for the last few months.
Whenever I told people I was getting my dress made for me, their first question was often; ‘but aren’t you, you know, kind of worried you might not like it when it’s finished? And then it will be too late?’ and while I laughed those remarks off, of course I was. Anyone would be. Despite having every faith in Charlotte’s ability I didn’t have every faith in my own. I was taking a huge risk. I was choosing to essentially ‘buy’ a dress I’d never tried on and wouldn’t see the finished result of until about a week before my wedding. I worried I’d make the wrong decision on everything from the lace to the length to the shape. And you know what? I probably did make the wrong decision on some parts and if I did it again I’d choose differently – but that’s all part and parcel of what it made it my dress and my experience.
It’s not the right path for everyone I know that. It takes a very long time before you see anything that even resembles a wedding dress and there were months and months where my fittings would consist of me standing in what is essentially a piece of cloth (hence the leggings) while Charlotte moved and tweaked and fitted around me. For many this might be disheartening or frustrating but I actually loved this part. After so long with just drawings, pin boards and inspiration, seeing a real shape come to life (even if it was made from basic fabric) was amazing. In fact the scariest part for me was when we had to move on from that basic fabric to the real fabric as then it all felt very real and I panicked I’d made the wrong choices. There was a point when the dress still wasn’t even near to being completed about two weeks before my wedding that I did indeed almost lose myself with worry, but on the other hand I know that had I chose a dress from a shop a year before my wedding I would have had those same worries, if not more, because I’d have no doubt changed my mind or not felt like me in it anymore. This ongoing process, where one month I’d choose fabrics, and the next I’d try on the toile and adapt the sleeve length or change the neckline, was the one that worked for me, and seeing something I’d helped create come together was hugely rewarding. Especially towards the end when that vision I’d had for so long began to become a reality and I’d get to play around with sequins and beads and choose which flowers to have cut out from meters of lace to form the applique.
I tried to take a photo of the dress from the initial toile to the finished dress but as you can see I only got so far. Clearly I was a bit excitable in those last few fittings as I completely forgot to take a snapshot!
I have to admit that these photos don’t really do the dress justice fully and for that I’m sorry as the finished result really was a masterpiece by Charlotte (I’ll just have to wear it again and take some more). Not everything was perfect of course because it never can be when you’re doing something of this nature, but Charlotte undoubtedly created the two looks I’d pictured in my head for all that time and I’m not sure there would have been anyone else that could have got as close to my original sketch as she did. It’s almost as if she delved into the inner workings of my brain and plucked out my thoughts as at times I felt so in-cohesive and tongue tied when trying to explain what I wanted that I wasn’t sure how she’d possibly understand. But she did!
We created one top, which after we knew was going to be worn outdoors in November we opted to make long sleeved, but sheer long sleeved. I wanted the top to be where most of the adornment and embellishment would be, with the skirt being more subtle and flowing, but with added texture and petals. Charlotte expertly sourced, cut and attached pieces of lace – those parts which featured leaves, flowers and woodland inspired designs which could creep up and around my figure – to a dusky pink silk bodice and even hand dyed some of the lace to give it a subtle pinkish glow. Originally the top was going to be low cut and off the shoulder, but in the end I decided to opt for an illusion neckline so that we could have something to attach the cape onto. I’d always wanted it to be essentially backless but with a soft feminine scalloped lace edge and then the whole thing was adorned with pink (and opal – to match my tiara) and white crystals, beads and pearls so that it shimmered subtly. As I mentioned in the – morning of – post, I also found the sweetest little J and S initials sewn in to the sleeve when I put it on on the day which was a lovely surprise. My only regret with the top (and it really is one of the biggest regrets of my life) is that because I lost so much weight in that final week before the wedding (unintentionally due to stress and being too nervous to eat) and essentially saw the demise of my bust, the bodice no longer fitted me in quite the right way and as such doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as it should have, or the way Charlotte and I had imagined it (the lace should have come much lower and scalloped across my bust to show a little cleavage but I had none) . It’s one of those things but it still plagues me!! Make sure you get the right underwear for your dress girls, even if you do have a really low back like I do. It’s not worth comprimising over.
The ceremony skirt is one of the most beautiful things I think I’ll ever own, and I still open the bag almost daily just to look at that gorgeous dusky pink chiffon and beautiful textured petal design. I’m DEFINITELY wearing this again soon as it’s just too beautiful to be hidden away (maybe for my birthday?). It was based on the shape of an Elie Saab gown that I loved and is what’s called a bell shaped train (the things you learn) meaning that it’s fitted at the waist, skims over the hips (which also kind of disappeared in that final week – god damn you body!!) and then flows out softly to create a large bell shape at the back. Charlotte created a short pixie skirt first from the same pink silk that the bodice was made from, and then overlaid only two layers of chiffon – the first a soft blush, the second the dusky pink. This meant that it covered my modesty at the top with the short pixie skirt (a little like Kate Moss’s wedding dress if you’ve seen that?) but left the legs sheer (which again the photos don’t really show). The idea behind this was that I’m such a shoe girl and loved my pink and silver glitter Rupert Sanderson heels so much (which I bought long before I’d even started looking for a dress) that I couldn’t bear for them to be covered up with a long dress. Charlotte also kindly added a hoop inside so that I could carry the train on my arm when I got to the party venue (which she’d attached the sweetest little blue rose to, for my something blue!).
We decided not to add any of the lace applique to the top of the skirt but instead attach it underneath to the pixie skirt in small clusters so that it would be just a subtle nod and still make sure the skirt tied in with the top when worn together. We added a pink velvet belt with added rose embellishment and then Charlotte painstakingly hand sewed endless pink and blush petals and leaves to the back of the skirt so that it would trail across the forest floor and look like part of the scenery. The cape was then created using a very light and billowy white material and attached to the shoulders using lace covered poppers so it could be removed when I wanted to change. Charlotte added little floaty tassels which fell down my arm and added to the nymph/ fairy look.
Finally, the party skirt was made from a stiffer white organza (this was the part of my outfit that I did want to be white) so that it would stick out and twirl when I danced and was softly fluted into an asymmetric hemline, a la Miss Palermo. This meant I matched my Best Women once I got to the party and once again could show off those incredible shoes. The final statement was a bold black velvet waistband with giant bow to the back, which absolutely made the look in my opinion.
I think you will all agree with me when I say that Charlotte really is a true incredible talent, and if you too are thinking of having a dress designed I would absolutely recommend her. Not only was she more than happy to bring all of my crazy ideas to life, but she was genuinely excited to do so. She kept me calm, she reassured me when I needed reassuring and made my wedding dress experience one of the best experiences of my life. She’s a lovely girl and has become a true friend and I honestly can’t thank her enough for helping me to create the outfit of my dreams!
A few final thoughts…
I still feel a little self conscious about how I ended up looking on the day (mainly due to my body woes) and felt incredibly nervous to share these photos with you as I wish I looked prettier and could have been able to carry off these two dresses in the way they should have been carried off. I know I’m certainly not the prettiest bride in the world but I wanted to share my story anyway as I know from speaking to others that many brides face the same issues I did when looking for a dress, and some end up choosing something they are not altogether happy with. I wanted to share my experience of designing and making a dress and working with the talented Wilden Bride, as I don’t think it’s an option enough brides consider and is not beyond the realm of possibility even if you don’t have a huge budget. I have never once regretted my decision to have my outfit designed for me. Not one bit. I know that I’ll love each one of these pieces for the rest of my life, even if they didn’t fit me perfectly on the day. And what’s even better is that they are solely mine and mine alone. No one else will ever, ever have this outfit on their wedding day. And, because I chose seperates, I can totally wear them all again! That’s a cool feeling.
A little advice to fellow bride-to-be’s for any dress fittings (not just when you have something made for you) is to remember that you don’t walk around in life with a mirror in front of you, so treat your fittings as a way to practice how you normally move and walk and breathe in every day life. When you stand in front of a mirror looking at yourself, you obviously pose differently – you stand up straight and stick your bust out, you breathe in and let your arms fall. And that is how your dress is fitted to you. It was only on the day of my wedding that I realised I’d never tried to walk in my skirt, or attempted to sit down or even laugh or hug someone. Had we thought about the fact that I would be walking uphill in the ceremony skirt to get to the woods, we might have opted to make the hem line a little shorter so I didn’t trip up, and had I thought about how much hugging I’d do with people I’d have re-thought having poppers to attach my skirt to my top as each time I stretched they popped undone and had me worrying the skirt was going to fall down (it wouldn’t have of course but these are the things that run through your mind as a bride).
But other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Tune in tomorrow as I go into more detail about the rest of my outfit and accessories, including that tiara!!! And the outfits of the rest of our bridal party!
Key Players (full supplier run down to follow at the end of the week)
Photography – Amy Shore Photography
Dress – Wilden Bride
Tiara – Samantha Walden