Phillipa Lepley is one of the world’s most recognised and celebrated wedding dress designers. Her elegant, feminine designs and exceptional eye for detail are complimented by immaculate personal service and the skilled craftsmanship of her atelier team. The iconic British designer’s studio is based on London’s Fulham Road. Our lifestyle editor Alexandra Dudley, shares the story of choosing her own wedding dress and what it felt like to be a Philippa Lepley bride.
credit | Claire Menary
Finding The Dress
Looking back, I think I knew right away that I’d found ‘the one’ when I tried on the dress in which I would eventually walk down the aisle. One feels so many emotions trying on wedding dresses and I realised looking into the mirror apprehensively for what felt like the hundredth time that day, that for me it was really a feeling I was looking for as much as a look. I’d always thought I would go for a slimline dress. Something simple and classic with a bit of a sensual element. I hadn’t really considered an A-line gown until I visited Phillipa Lepley. It was my fourth bridal try-on appointment of the day and up until then, I’d felt a little lost in everything I had worn. Either feeling that I looked underwhelming (not a word I wanted to be described as on my wedding day) or a little ridiculous, almost as though the dress was wearing me. I tried on three or four dresses at Phillipa Lepley. One was slimline lace with a beautiful long train. At first, I was convinced that this was the dress. I felt confident, comfortable, and ready for a party. I tried on the final dress out of curiosity. It is not often that one gets to wear couture wedding gowns and I thought I’d be foolish to waste the opportunity. As soon as I looked at myself in the mirror and took those first few steps I knew that I had found ‘the one’. I felt like I was floating. It was almost as though the dress was carrying me or that I was part of the dress. There was a stark contrast to the feeling I’d felt in the lace gown or in anything I had worn before. I still felt confident and incredibly comfortable but I felt something else too. This wasn’t the fizzy, frantic excitement I was used to. I felt calm, empowered, and elegant. I felt like a bride.
Perfecting The Design
Although Philippa Lepley has a base of signature designs, no two dresses are ever the same. As well as making the dress to your exact specifications, each step of the design process is thorough. Phillipa will work with you on your vision to create a wedding dress that is entirely unique to you and the style of your wedding day. For my wedding dress, she slimmed down the straps and lowered them so that they sat neither over nor off my shoulder, but rested gently on my collarbone. She also lowered the back and neckline and reduced a layer of the petticoat. Part of Phillipa’s genius is her ability to steer the design process. If she knows it won’t work she won’t do it. It is wonderful to watch a designer of such skill and intuition create something that is quite literally made just for you. A final addition to the design of my dress was to add a silk sash. It added a softness that I felt I wanted on the day and meant that my dress could take on another, more structured form if I wanted to remove it post-ceremony.
credit | Claire Menary
I had eight fittings in total for my wedding dress. The first was a meticulous measure that succeeded far beyond the simple measuring of the waist, bust, and hips. This attention to detail enables Phillipa and her atelier team to ensure that there is utmost precision in the cut of the final dress. My dress required two toile fittings (all couture brides will have at least one.) At this stage, the internal architecture of the dress is crafted, with every style line drawn onto a calico mock-up using the bride’s body as the guide. A corset was the essential foundation of my dress. Each custom-made Phillipa Lepley corset is specially engineered and moulded around the contours of the body, calling attention to selected features, and defining the female form in the best possible way for each body shape.
Once the bones of the dress are set, the silk fittings begin. The fabric is carefully arranged to sit on the custom corseted structure. I had four silk fittings and loved the process of watching my dress come to life. My wedding dress was made in Phillipa’s signature Italian duchess satin which is woven near Lake Como. I opted for a simple design with very little embellishment as I knew I wanted to wear a brooch with my dress on the day.
One of my favourite silk fittings was when the skirt of the dress had been added. It was the moment the dress really began to take shape. I remember taking the first few steps and feeling the fabric flow around me. Brides are asked to practise walking to ensure that the length hangs perfectly with no risk of tripping or scuffing. Every millimetre matters and the expert eyes of the ateliers will help to determine the perfect dress length. Take note that it is incredibly important that brides bring the actual shoes they plan to wear on their wedding day so as to determine the exact dress length. Once the dress is complete, there is a final check and a tutorial on how to secure and fasten the dress properly. It’s useful to have whomever is planning on helping you to dress on the actual wedding day with you for this final check. My mother came and even filmed the whole thing on her phone so that she had something to refer to on the day.
I knew I wanted a veil but had thought I’d go for something short that didn’t cover my face. When Phillipa showed me the hand embroidered Erigeron veil, my decision took a complete turn. I love the thought process behind the Erigeron veil. Erigeron daisies are low-growing somewhat wild daisies. They grow in the most extraordinary of places, between pavement slabs or through cracks in walls, and bring with them an unexpected beauty and joy. I am a big believer in seeking beauty in the unexpected and loved how Phillipa included the drooping flowers and those with fewer petals, as well as the perfect ones organically floating throughout. In the last few weeks running up to my wedding, I started seeing Erigeron daisies more and more. It felt like a good omen.
For 35 years, Phillipa Lepley has used the same silk tulle supplier for veils. They are woven on exceptionally wide vintage looms in France and the entire process relies on the quality of the silk. Sometimes, Phillipa will even experience delays sourcing the silk because the silkworms have been known to occasionally stop producing, an event which Phillipa lovingly refers to as a ‘silkworm strike’.
The Final Dress
I was so happy with the final result of my dress. Despite having seen the sketches, and being there throughout the design process, putting on the finished gown had a unique magic. I felt a combination of excitement and comfort in the idea that this was the wedding dress I would be wearing as I said my vows. Aside from a near hiccup with the positioning of the veil, getting ready on the day all went to plan. My sister helped me to get into the car (a vintage Porsche that was not designed with petticoats in mind) and was on hand to straighten the train and veil before I entered the church. I’d planned to button up the train during the reception to avoid the dress touching the grass. Phillipa had put in a brilliantly subtle button that allowed me to lift the train and shorten the dress. But I loved the drama of the train so much that I decided to keep it down until our first dance. I kept the sash on the entire time too. The delicacy of it felt right and felt very much me. My dress was beautifully in place the whole evening. One of my favourite moments was walking into the marquee before supper, holding hands with Freddie (my now husband). Both of us were beaming and so happy it was difficult not to run! We seemed to fly into the marquee and the movement of the dress felt wonderful. I think it is one of the few times in my life that I have felt truly beautiful.
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