You have probably seen Suzie Turner’s showstopping gowns on the red carpet at Cannes, LA or London, because she has a stellar client list across the globe – with each London-made piece representing a unique collaboration
While we may associate couture with high-profile super brands, Suzie Turner is something of a secret weapon for the world’s best dressed who don’t want their label to be the talking point. With a globetrotting lifestyle of client consultations in the US, Europe and the Middle East, Suzie offers utter discretion. Also – and this is another secret weapon for her clients – she never makes the same piece twice.
The craft apprenticeship started early for Suzie. She says: “I was originally taught how to sew by my mother who had a soft furnishing business. From the age of 12, I used to help her on the industrial machines; sewing the curtains and finishing them by hand after school. At the age of 15 I went to work with a men’s tailor where I continued my training”.
Suzie also studied during this time with a pattern-cutting tutor – she still works with her tutor to this day and describes her work as “an amalgamation of learning and practising over many hours”. With this level of craft, couture was a natural progression – she soon found an audience that wanted both exquisite design and the finish that supports it.
Suzie Turner garments are all about luxury, creating the best from the finest materials; rather than viewing them as simply fashion, she considers their longer-term value: “We are creating pieces that will last a lifetime, that can be treasured and passed down. This is always in the back of my mind”.
Her inspiration comes, in large part, from her clients – their personal style, silhouette and personality all come into play. She also considers the relationship between the wearer and the fabric: “It might be the way a silk falls against the skin in a fitting, a new colour of Swarovski crystal or a particular flower within a lace that inspires a design”.
“We are creating pieces that will last a lifetime, that can be treasured and passed down”
The typical process of commissioning a couture piece begins with a consultation, where event, location and the client’s personal style are discussed. This also involves looking at samples – fabric, embroidery, embellishment. By the end of the first meeting, there is a line-drawing sketch – Suzie says this helps to put some perspective on ideas and ensure she and the client are both moving in the same direction. This is just the start of the process though, as Suzie needs to ensure the client remains comfortable with the evolution of the piece: “With every piece being completely unique it is important to keep an open mind and remain fluid in the design”.
After the first rough outline, three more detailed sketches are produced, introducing samples of fabrics and embellishments and corresponding quotes. Once the final direction is agreed, measurements are taken and a pattern is cut to precisely fit the client’s figure. This enables creation of the first toiles. A further six to eight fittings take place – with corsetry and patterns altered to the millimetre to ensure perfect fit. Continual refinement of design and details means the client remains in complete control of the process. The final piece includes fantastic couture details – a hand-embroidered label with the client’s name, sometimes the date of their wedding or special event, even a special message woven within the bridal gown.
The whole process typically takes anything from four months upwards, depending on the intricacy of the design. Many of her gowns take over 1,000 hours, but since every stage of the design and production process remains in-house, she also has the ability to fast-pace orders so that they take as little as a week to be completed – good to know if there’s a last-minute red carpet invitation.
Suzie Turner brides already have the red carpet treatment, with every stage of their special dress being agreed by and designed around them. While she hesitates to talk in terms of trends, believing her dresses are timeless, she has seen brides move towards more unusual fabrications, be it lace, embroidery or lavish feathers. Suzie says: “The beauty of starting the design process with a blank page is that the client has the freedom to request what she connects with in terms of cloth/colour rather that what’s in fashion or dictated by the mainstream. It really is such a personal service”.
Suzie guarantees total secrecy, but many of her clients come to her because another client has revealed who designed their dress. She says: “As we make for Royal Families and very discreet clients, absolutely no images are taken. Due to the design of each couture gown being to that specific client, we never share that look with any other prospective client in order to keep every piece truly unique”.
Some dresses do come to wider attention – the beautiful Golden Globes dress worn by Jennifer Flavin Stallone earlier this year, a gown that appeared on the cover of the FT’s How to Spend It magazine, and a memorable front window of Harrods during London Fashion Week featuring a Swarovski-encrusted feather gown.
While her schedule is punishing, with trips to the US in the early part of the year for ‘awards season’, Middle East visits throughout the year and regular dates across Europe for client meetings and fittings. Suzie is very proud to be flying the flag for British design: “We have some of the most fantastic designers coming from the UK, with McQueen setting the bar high.
“It is important to me to keep product and finish standards high, consistently training and passing on our skills to hopefully secure the future of couture in the UK. Britain has incredible tradition and skill in its history, and we are proud to be a part of that today.”
Suzie Turner Couture. 0207 486 6886; suzieturner.com
Read about the work that goes into a Phillipa Lepley couture wedding dress
See our profile of bridal couturier Caroline Castigliano