Stephanie Allin’s 1994 Celeste was a groundbreaking idea – bridal separates – and helped to secure her position as one of the UK’s leading wedding gown designers
Words by Libby Norman
The 1990s marked a huge shift in bridal, but young homegrown talent could still shine, and Stephanie Allin was among a new crop of bold and brilliant names to emerge at the start of the decade, breathing new life into the British-designed-and-made industry.
Born in Mumbles, Swansea, Stephanie Allin came from a family of professional dressmakers. Her mother and grandmother had taught her how to construct garments, and by the age of 12 she was making her own clothes. At school she was pretty disinterested in anything except drawing, especially fashion drawing. She says: “As I recall, that’s all I ever did.”
Here was something very special – hand-made separates tailored to the modern bride that worked seamlessly together
Art school was a natural progression, and this was followed by a move to London to study at distinguished design college Ravensbourne, an experience Stephanie Allin describes as three years of “anguish”. But all ended well. Her diploma collection – which included a knockout ballgown – won her a first job in the fashion industry. This, in turn, gave her precious connections with the all-important London buyers, notably Tatters. Her first small bridal collection of 1991 did well, with two gowns doing exceptionally well at Harrods’ bridal room. By spring 1992, she was showing her eponymous label at Harrogate, the trade-show for bridal.
Couture processes were always central to the Stephanie Allin design philosophy and orders were fulfilled at her workrooms and store in Newtown Road, Mumbles, which opened in 1994. She’s still there today – working alongside her husband and co-director Gerry Allin – and so are members of that original team, albeit some of them have left to have families and then returned. She says: “We are a really close-knit team, and all here because we all love the work we do. Our store and workroom is where it’s always been, at 81 Newtown Road. I was born at 73 Newtown Road and my grandmother was born at number 91. Sometimes I love this continuity, while at other times it gives me a bit of a chill!”
Opportunities for talent to emerge may have been a hallmark of the 1990s bridal business, but it also required enormous guts and hard graft. Stephanie says: “Thinking of what we did now, it doesn’t quite seem possible. But we were wholesaling garments from the very beginning, and I had my first baby in our first year of business. From the moment that first Stephanie Allin collection was launched, really we’ve never stopped.”
“As far as we’re aware, this was the first time bridal separates were shown in the UK”
This 1994 Celeste design was part of Stephanie’s third collection and offered something very special – hand-made separates tailored to the modern bride that worked seamlessly as a wedding-day ensemble. The design of Celeste consisted of a duchesse satin skirt with soft train that was paired with a Georgette fitted bodice. Flatteringly draped so that it sat off the shoulders and formed a low cowl neck, the bodice had exquisite appliqué, with each one taking about four days to make.
While the reaction to this collection – and especially this design – was hugely positive, Stephanie says: “At the time I didn’t understand what I’d done and how different this was. As far as we’re aware, this was the first time bridal separates were shown in the UK”.
Today, bridal separates are hugely popular among all brides, but they have remained a strong feature of Stephanie Allin seasonal collections ever since that first two-piece was created. Style it Your Way is a permanent collection, offering timeless interchangeable pieces that can be styled around each bride’s vision.
Celeste may be an archive treasure, but it’s a look that still has resonance over 20 years’ later; Stephanie thinks that’s the sure sign of a winning design. “From the start, I have always designed around the idea that a bride should back at photos of her wedding dress 30 years down the line and still think it looks beautiful. True elegance – good design – will always stand the test of time.”
About Stephanie Allin
Stephanie Allin was established in 1991 and all gowns in the bridal collection are designed and hand-made its Mumbles workrooms, in premises that also house the label’s original boutique. A second London store was opened at 17 Chiltern Street in London’s West End in 2008, and today the label is stocked across the UK and in select retailers in the US and mainland Europe. For more information about the label, collections, and stockists, visit stephanieallin.net