Sassi Holford has built her reputation around exceptional cut and a keen eye for style. Today she’s increasingly in demand not just for fabulous bridal gowns, but also occasion and red carpet numbers that stand out from the crowd
Words Libby Norman
Sassi Holford has the wedding party covered, well certainly the female contingent. Her wedding gowns need no introduction as they have gained a starry-eyed (and star-studded) fan base. The phrase most often used to define her style is the quintessentially English bridal look. This is true, but it’s certainly not the whole truth. While her collections always include the classic ballgown and the elegant and tailored wedding dress, there are also bridal trousers, plunge gowns with edgy wide sleeves and slinky numbers for the destination bride. And even the more classic styles always have fine contemporary details – from slouch pockets to elegant jackets or shrugs – so that they feel confidently on-trend.
Sassi has always been an original. Self taught, she began in the 1980s and quickly rose to national prominence as one of the go-to names for bridal; by the time she was 21 her gowns were stocked in Harrods, Liberty and Dickins & Jones. Over more than 35 years, she has weathered the shifts in what we want from a wedding dress, always showing seasonal collections that stand out for their quality and freshness, and always offering impeccable cut and fabrics. Her home base remains Taunton, Somerset. This is the ‘business end’, with every gown designed, handmade and finished there. In London, she has a store on Fulham Road in Chelsea’s ‘bridal quarter’, visiting very regularly to meet brides and other clients. Last year, the store relocated a few doors up to expand the space, and give more room to occasionwear alongside bridal.
“The most important thing about any dress I create is the person wearing it – they need to love themselves in it”
While roots in the West Country make this a very British label, Sassi Holford – like all leading British bridal designers – sources many of her fine materials from mainland Europe, especially Italy for silks and weaves, France for lace, and Portugal for intricate beadwork. She has championed the last remaining Nottingham lace mill, using its distinctive and traditional English lace on both some of this season’s wedding gowns and on eveningwear (her team dye the lace for this themselves). She says: “Very often it’s the cloth that inspires the dress. I find something and think ‘now how could that work for a gown?’”.
Each season’s bridal collection is finely judged. “I have what I would call the core bride,” says Sassi. “So she is always front of mind, but we also design pieces that are a little different. It is always about balance, so that the collection has classic formal styles alongside fun and edgier elements to appeal to different brides and styles of wedding.
While bridal remains core to the business, occasionwear and mother of the bride pieces are an increasingly strong element. There are natural parallels with occasionwear – especially since so many weddings are now evening or ballroom affairs – and the stunning collection of gowns launched last year has been spotted on the red carpet ever since. For those who mistakenly pigeonholed Sassi Holford’s style as English classic, the sight of Holly Willoughby dazzling in a sexy and custom-designed one-shoulder white gown with front split for Dancing on Ice will have meant a swift reappraisal. Sassi can do Hollywood-style glamour with the best of them.
Her new collection of occasion outfits is glamorous too, manna for mothers of the bride who don’t want to look, well, mumsy. It’s the most frequent comment she hears from them – often when they are visiting the store with daughters in search of bridal gowns. Indeed, she’s spoken to a surprising number of mothers who have already bought one ‘insurance policy’ outfit. They have that to stave off panic, and then come to her for the outfit that they would really like to wear. Sassi says: “I’ve always made occasion and evening gowns, but when we moved last year it meant we could provide a much bigger showcase, so now they see the options on the rails”.
Sassi Holford’s take on MOTB follows her time-honoured blueprint – refined cut, superb fabrics, thoughtful details. It’s also surprisingly diverse. On the one hand you have an edgy biker jacket and neat tailored skirt made in a glorious turquoise Italian weave; on the other a simple and incredibly flattering deep blue wrap dress that could take you confidently to a wedding, a garden party or a business lunch. There’s also a simple shift with lovely wide-sleeved lace overtop, even an elegant number with a lace cape-effect layer.
All the pieces are ‘un-mumsy’, but still cut to flatter and boost body confidence. So, for instance, lace sleeves provide coverage for the tops of the arms and skirts are the optimal length, but there’s no trade off on silhouette. Her core colour palette for the season is refined, including silvery greys, a dusky rose that flatters all skin tones and lovely bold colours (many of these seen on evening gowns). There’s lots of scope here to change things around – as with bridal gowns – by altering fabric or colour or details and the Italian mill where she sources her fabrics for the collection has a rainbow of choices if there’s something specific needed to match an event or the wedding colours.
“The sight of Holly Willoughby dazzling in a white gown with front split proved that Sassi Holford can do Hollywood-style glamour with the best of them”
As with the main bridal collection, Sassi Holford has an eye for what the modern occasion goer wants to wear. Having started out as a teenager, she’s worked with trends and stayed true to her original principles: lavish fabrics, great cut and fine details. She says: “I’m now old enough to be a mother of the bride myself, so I know the sort of things that I would and wouldn’t want to wear”.
Whether it’s dressing the bride in the gown of her dreams, helping someone dazzle on the red carpet or creating an outfit that makes a mother of the bride feel fashionable and confident, it always comes down to the same thing for Sassi Holford. “The most important thing about any dress I create is the person wearing it. If they don’t look in the mirror and love themselves in it, then I haven’t done what I’m supposed to do as a designer.”
82 Fulham Road, London SW3 and 6 The Bridge, Taunton, Somerset. For information about collections and appointments at the stores, as well as UK and international stockists, visit sassiholford.com