Making a made-to-measure gown – Part 1, the design and fabrics

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a made to measure gown. I know what puts people off – the price, of course. Made to measure is, undeniably, on the higher end of the bridal scale. However, for me, the appeal was really strong. The idea of having such input into my dress’s design, being able to choose fabrics and colours, having a dress that’s made to fit my body perfectly, was such an amazing one it fast became my dress fantasy!

You may remember me talking a lot about my good friend Charlotte from Charlotte Bridal. I’ve given you all a sneak peek of her studio in the past and used her dresses in a really fab shoot that appeared on Whimsical Wonderland Weddings.

When I posted about looking for a dress for an upcoming party (all will be revealed very soon) Charlotte very kindly offered to make me a totally unique creation. And how could I pass up that sort of opportunity? Very early on in the process, however, I realised that this presented more than just an opportunity to have the dress of my wildest dreams whipped up for me, but to also go through the process of having a bespoke gown made – and to report it all back to you lovely brides out there! So without further ado here’s how it works!

Making a made-to-measure gown: the design

The first step in making your dress a reality is, of course the design. The major difference between buying a dress off the peg and having one made especially for you is that you have an element of creative control in the process. The design process is a fantastic meeting of minds between you and the designer and, in my case, with Charlotte it was a real team effort.

Basically I told Charlotte what I love in a dress, we discussed my figure, my style, what I was after, what was realistic in terms of costs of materials and what could be improved. I couldn’t quite articulate what I wanted but Charlotte, being a true expert in her field, knew exactly what I meant by my ramblings.

The next stage of Charlotte’s design process is sketching. Now, as much as I would love to include the sketches of my Under the Vintage Veil party dress (including my very dodgy self portrait where I insisted I could draw the design too and basically took inches off my own waist in a somewhat deluded effort) I’m already revealing the fabrics and so don’t want to give away too much about the design until I actually wear it! Instead, I’ve included some of Charlotte’s other sketches to show you what this might look like.

It’s almost like a photo fit for dresses, Charlotte sketches while you talk to her and keeps on tweaking the design until it’s what you really want.

Original Charlotte Bridal sketches – all images in this post © 2012 Under the Vintage Veil

Making a made-to-measure gown: the fabrics

After the design is roughly complete (I say roughly because Charlotte can generally make tweaks and changes until relatively late in the design process) it’s time to source some fabrics. Now this is something Charlotte usually does on her own, but, being a curious dickens, I decided to trot along after her to Soho’s trendy fabric shops to have a look at what was on offer. Having decided on a certain colour, style of skirt and overlay to the bodice, we pretty much knew what we were looking for.

Having a customer accompany her to the fabric shops was a new experience for Charlotte. I think I may have even been a bit embarrassing, hopping from foot to foot and declaring my excitement every five seconds while proudly telling anyone who’d listen that Charlotte is the youngest independent bridal designer in the UK!

I very quickly zeroed in on the fabrics I liked in the first shop we visited, Broadwick Silks where I bought the silk and lace for the bodice of the dress.

It was at this point that I really started to appreciate why bespoke designs cost what they do. Fabrics aren’t cheap. The lace that I bought for the overlay of the dress was priced up at £120 per metre, which is a huge amount of money in and of itself. Only having a bit of lace on the bodice, it didn’t break the bank, but imagine you want a high-quality lace wedding gown? The lace alone would cost hundreds and hundreds of pounds, never mind the designer’s hard work on top of that! It hit home even more when looking at tulle. In an ideal world I would have loved to have bought lengths and lengths of silk tulle, but when you’re making a tulle skirt, which requires layers and layers, it very easily adds up. Synthetic tulle would have to do, and it’s actually surprisingly nice!

What really struck me is how the design process is such an ongoing evolution. I had wanted the dress to be all one colour, but on trying a gorgeous, cream-coloured tulle next to the bodice, completely changed my mind (we found this in Borovick Fabrics). The dress was starting to look like peaches and cream. Having Charlotte’s constant expertise, advice and guidance while still maintaining an element of the creative control over my dress design was just a dream come true. I was honestly like a kid in a candy shop and had so much fun! I only wish I had a bigger budget for materials, I could have bought the whole shop.

Finally I had all my materials. It had been a rainy, exciting and successful trip – and only £15 over budget (I’m very proud of my self control)! The party is around a month and a half away, so the next step will be to take my measurements and to make a sort of mock up of the dress to try out the shape, before Charlotte works on the finish product (she does all of this herself, so I’m looking forward to seeing her at work!)

The fittings will happen in a couple of weekends time, so I’ll keep you posted, in the meantime, I’d say that if you can afford it, a bespoke dress is a once-in-a-lifetime treat and is so worth the money for something that’s so personal to you in so many ways!

Review based on a PR sample

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