Interview: Vicky Rowe talks couture wedding dresses

A specialist in made-to-measure heirloom wedding dresses, Vicky Rowe combines contemporary design with couture craftmanship in her bridal designs. Here, Vicky discusses how she got into bridal fashion and the inspiration behind her stunning designs.

Photo by Ria Mishaal
What first sparked your interest in bridal design and how has your journey led you to where you are today?
It was my own wedding in 2009 that got me interested in bridal design. At the time, I couldn’t find anything that was really ‘me’ and found myself wanting to wear something a bit different. It made me question what was ‘traditional’ in bridal wear and, if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy the dress shopping experience. I actually felt nervous about setting foot in a bridal shop.   

That’s when I decided to make a career change. Having trained and worked in surveying, I felt creatively unfulfilled so decided to do something about it. Although this was a very tough decision, it was the start of a new road for me. 

I took evening and weekend classes, learnt millinery, dress making and beading. Later on I worked as a milliner in Bristol for a few years and, in a twist of fate, got a job selling reproduction 1920’s dresses. Luckily, this led onto me doing custom orders for brides, which snowballed. It was then that I started to design what I really wanted to have worn on my own wedding day. 

In 2012, I decided to take the plunge and leave behind the reproduction gowns. London stockist Luella’s Boudoir saw my initial designs and stocked them, and they’ve been extremely supportive considering I had only been on the scene for such a short time.  Things have developed from there and I am now getting quite exciting, particularly in relation to the USA which I can’t talk about yet! I’ll be in New York Bridal Fashion Week though next October.
Photo by Ria Mishaal

Can you describe what your wedding dress looked like? 
My dress was a reproduction of an original 1920’s style. I’m 6ft tall and not of model proportions, so I’d never have got in an original. It had a car wash hem and it was fun but most definitely a compromise because what I was looking for wasn’t out there.

What is the best part of your creative role? 
Watching a dress develop from the initial sketch idea into something so intricate and tangible feels great. Each design has its own back story and is an expression of how I feel. These dresses are a creative outlet, which I find so fulfilling, and as it enables me to design from the heart. For a bride to wear one of my creations on their day is the ultimate honour for me, being part of such a special occasion in someone’s life does feel wonderful .
Photo by Ria Mishaal
How do you go about designing a wedding dress?
The process usually starts in my studio or my kitchen table! I have sketch pads everywhere.  I usually have a theme I stick to initially otherwise ideas can get out of control quickly and it keeps me on track. I start with the overall silhouette of the gown and get some ideas for shapes — does it have a low back, sleeves, plunging neckline etc? 

Then comes the real fun part. I am a big fan of pattern and colour, and don’t shy away from this with wedding gowns, so I work on the overall ‘look’ of the beading. For example, my Rose gown took inspiration from a rambling rose which blooms in my garden for a few weeks each year and the scent is mind-blowing — everyone comments on it. When I was designing that collection, the rose was out and it just happened. Next I make my toiles and on the paper patterns sketch my beading designs. Finally I get the sampling done by my beaders; I go out to India for a month and work with them there getting the collection finished, selecting beads etc.

Photo by Ria Mishaal

Where do you take inspiration for your gowns? Do you keep an eye out for current or emerging trends?
My inspiration for the dresses has its roots in two places. I’m always referring to beautiful gowns of the past but equally I’m besotted by current Haute Couture and watch the catwalks. These are passions of mine, so I just look all the time. Then it’s personal interests that filter in such as Art Nouveau and Deco Architecture, as well as my travels. 

When the time comes for me to work on a new collection, I simply black everything out and just sketch. I never choose a ‘trend’, because they are just that, I aspire to design dresses that are timeless. The truth is everything I read and love is influencing what I do, so a few emerging trends may sneak in there if it captured me, but I don’t design a style because it’s popular; there’s enough people out there doing that already.

Photo by Ria Mishaal

Your second couture collection entitled ‘2016 Nouveau’ was inspired by the 1970s style. Why have you chosen this particular era and what would you say are the key features of this collection?  

I’m a child of the 70’s and was on a nostalgic revisit to those looks and ended up experimenting a bit,  so the dress silhouettes are all 1970’s inspired,  they have a relaxed bohemian feel but then I wanted to introduce some nouveau style beading which I love and see what happened, and the overall look is very chic. 

Photo by Ria Mishaal

Do you have a favourite dress from your collections so far? If so, which one and why?
I have two: Petra and Celeste. They are my show stopper dresses and I feel like they really capture the very essence of what I’m about as a designer. Petra’s beading was inspired from an Art Nouveau comb; it has a low back and long sleeves with big beaded cuffs and a full train. It’s a dramatic dress but my goodness it feels amazing to walk around in — so chic yet comfortable. And Celeste — a real statement dress with the wide beaded collar — is the dress I would wear down the aisle again (to renew vows), it’s Art Nouveau meets Egypt and very me.

Photo by Ria Mishaal

As a keen supporter of bygone eras, who would you consider your favourite bride of all times?  
There are many, but I think Grace Kelly. 60 years on and her style is still being emulated by brides and her dress — more complex and embellished than it looked and rocking a Juliet cap, which I’m a big fan of — still serves as inspiration for designers.
Another bride I admire is the Queen Mother. I was taught millinery by the Queen Mother’s milliner, who specialised in 1920’s style hats. I heard many a wonderful tale about the Queen Mother whilst learning to sew hats that had me laughing out loud at it totally changed my perception of the elderly lady in pastels that we all remember. 

Indeed I was pleased to discover what a rebel the Queen Mother was — her wedding dress was totally different from what was expected of her. Although not quite made for her shape — the designer in me would have tweaked it slightly — I admire her for stepping out in something so bold and different; it spoke volumes about her character and that is what you see when you see the photos of her.  

Photo by Ria Mishaal

Could you describe the 2016 bride, who wears one of your designs?
The bride who chooses a Vicky Rowe wedding dress is creative, smart, individual and stylish. My gowns are statements and a bride who wears one is proud to be showing the artistry and craftsmanship that has gone into them.
Vicky Rowe