Designer Spotlight: Ian Stuart
"I’m asked all the time about the best length for a veil, and I think it’s a personal choice, dependent on the style of wedding. I recommend a shorter veil for an informal wedding and something bolder if the setting is more dramatic"
For many, buying a wedding gown is a once in a lifetime experience and getting value for money is something that peaks high on a bride’s list of priorities.
We’re not just talking about shopping around for the best price – we’re also talking about getting two looks for the price of one. Award-winning wedding dress designer Ian Stuart is renowned for creating show stopping outfits and signature dresses that are dramatic and theatrical. As well as being so incredibly talented, he is “the kindest, most gentlemanly man you could meet”, says Charlotte Fraine, Ian’s design assistant. His team also say they are lucky to work for him, and that he is a brilliant teacher – when they work in the shop on Saturdays, it’s chips and gravy (or a Greggs pasty) with a glass of wine for lunch! In his own words, Ian hates normality, and has redefined bridal wear in his pursuit to be different.
“One of my favourite pieces in ‘Le Jardin’, my latest bridal collection, has a traditional full skirt with a belt and box pleats,” Ian explains. “It is a classically romantic dress with delicate petals on – perfect for a formal wedding. What you can’t tell by looking at this particular gown is that the skirt comes off to reveal a sexy, fishtail evening dress. What better way for a bride to make an entrance at an evening reception? It’s a real showstopper: such a dramatic contrast and so unexpected. My aim with each new collection is to cater for all different personalities and body shapes. ‘Le Jardin’ has something for everyone: full length and shorter style dresses, big dramatic numbers as well as the more plain and understated. These designs reflect my signature styling and at the same time offer something different, new and exciting.”
Over the last few years, several high street and online stores have launched their own collection of wedding dresses, from Monsoon to ASOS, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and M&S. Ian has publicly voiced his concern about this and has expressed sadness that brides are potentially missing out on the wedding dress shopping experience. Back in 2015, when ASOS launched their own bridal range, he asked, “What is this world coming to?”
“There is now, more than ever before, a vast array of couture boutiques, wedding shops and outlets. I can imagine it must be bewildering to a bride who’s about to start her wedding gown journey. The best advice I could give to any bride that is about to embark on their wedding dress journey is to first establish your budget, with a little room for contingency either way. Do some homework and read some reviews, whether it is a couture boutique or an online purchase. It’s the same as you would do with choosing a holiday. Finding your perfect dress should be a wonderful and enjoyable part of your wedding plans”.
To veil or not to veil?
I’m asked all the time about the best length for a veil, and I think it’s a personal choice, dependent on the style of wedding. I recommend a shorter veil for an informal wedding and something bolder if the setting is more dramatic, like a big church with a longer aisle.
From sketch to dress
Let me talk you through my design process, as each designer has their own way of doing things: I choose the fabric that I want to work with and then begin draping it on the mannequin. Once I have found the shape and mood I will sketch out the dress, then the paper pattern is made and the actual sample is cut. During this process, I choose the lace and beading (if any) and which kind of beads to mix together. Once the final sample is finished, we have various fittings on the model. This will help us see how the dress moves and feels – I have been known to cut off a sleeve whilst our model is wearing the dress, and sometimes a long dress ends up as a mini. The final tweaks at the end can really make a difference as to whether this new sample makes it into the final collection or not. The whole process usually takes about six months.
How to conquer the nerves and feel in control
The best advice I could give is to try on one sample of every dress shape: mermaid, full ball gown, and so on. Then, at least you can eliminate those shapes that are not working for you. You may be completely shocked to realise that the shape you thought you’d hate, you actually fall in love with. A good bridal sales consultant will also help you and guide you – that’s what they’re there for. Opinions from bridesmaids and friends are great, but can sometimes they confuse your train of thought. Bring the wedding entourage with you towards the end of your journey, once you’ve got it down to a choice of three gowns.”
Ian regularly uses satin with an abundance of tulle and vintage lace.
I love to work with beautiful fabrics that drape the body and give an ultra-feminine feel. I also love mixing chalky pastels and fabrics that you wouldn’t normally see on a wedding dress, like metallic taffeta and denim.
A gothic and fairytale vibe is often seen within Ian’s creations, drawing inspiration from alternative subcultures.
I hate normality. It’s so boring. There are so many ‘pretty girl next-door’ dresses out there, and I have been put on this earth to design and provide drop-dead gorgeous gowns for real women with balls! (Is Dolly Parton a subculture?)
If you are about to start your wedding dress journey, ultimately you’re looking for a memorable gown that you will look back on and feel it was the most perfect choice you could have ever made. There are so many different styles, from fairytale, to gothic, to boho and so on, so your gown needs to reflect your personality and what you would like to portray for your special day. You are the conductor, and your family, friends and guests are the orchestra. Each bride I meet is bursting to be a princess for the day. To me, princess means so many different things – Disney, fairytale, ‘Daddy’s little girl’ or spoiled little diva! A perfect princess gown frames the upper body like a portrait oil painting: it nips in at the waist and explodes out into a bellowing sumptuous skirt, perfect for dancing in a grand ballroom and preferably with lots of sparkle.
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