Britta Kjerkegaard, the designer behind The Couture Gallery is passionate about creating one-of-a-kind fantasy dresses, but says her style is also perfectly tailored to the sophisticated contemporary bride
Words: Libby Norman
Britta Kjerkegaard is renowned for creating the kind of gowns that guarantee a bride will be the star of the show, and with a level of couture craftsmanship that most of us will only experience once in our lifetime. And that’s what got her into designing bridalwear. She says: “For many women, this is the one opportunity to have exactly what they want – to have their dream come true – and this is why I love making big dresses.”
Britta’s fashion background has deep roots. She knew from a very early age she wanted to be a designer and her early practical training in her native Denmark taught her the key sewing and pattern cutting skills. This was just the start of a career built on internships and working her way up at the haute couture end of fashion. She spent time at an avant-garde fashion house in Milan.
She had spells at two great British names, milliner Philip Treacy and fashion designer Antony Price (the man behind Roxy Music’s hyper-glamorous image). She says Price, in particular, taught her a lot, but every spell with a working designer gave her the business grounding in couture. “It’s very different from what you learn at fashion school, where you have time and mood boards – in a fashion house you are hands on and it’s all about what the client wants.”
“These are not dresses for bridal wallflowers but sassy women who still love the idea of dressing up”
It was while working for renowned Danish designer Ann Wiberg, both in Copenhagen and at her Notting Hill atelier, that she first designed bridal. “I started out making a few evening pieces for friends and family. Then the sister of a friend asked me to make her wedding dress. At first I wasn’t sure but it turned out well. It felt really special and I decided then that this could be my kind of thing.”
This was around 2007 and was, says Britta, a very traditional time in bridal. “Dresses were very heavy, very full, and I decided I could create the full look with a modern twist – less fabric, lighter to wear.” From the start, The Couture Gallery was also playing with conventions when it came to bridal whites. “We showcased gowns of different colours – that is very common now but no one was doing it back then.”
One constant was the dramatic and fantasy element of her gowns – the collection names speak volumes, as does the way Britta styles them. These are not dresses for bridal wallflowers but sassy women who still love the idea of dressing up to mark a very special event. “It’s always about how you style them,” says Britta. “It takes confidence to wear a big dress on your wedding day.”
“The bride was edgy, she had tattoos, but wearing the biggest gown in the whole store she was transformed”
Her brides have confidence, although every single one is different. One of her favourite recollections is of a cool and very beautiful client who came in to see her on the advice of a friend (nearly all Britta’s clients come via word-of-mouth). She looked at the racks of gowns and said these weren’t really her style at all – she was dressed edgily, she had tattoos. Then, as she was there, she said she would try one on, just for fun. “It was the biggest dress in the whole store and she was standing there transformed – she looked amazing.” She walked down the aisle some months later in the biggest dress from The Couture Gallery.
All Britta’s gowns are couture, so brides are creatively involved. Typically, there are 40-50 gowns in her Kensington boutique at any time, so the first appointment is a chance to see and try on, also discuss likes and dislikes. Britta always encourages brides to go away and think, and see other designers, before deciding to take things further. If it’s a yes, Britta will create three or four sketches and then work with the bride to narrow down to the final design.
Then there is the full couture process, with a calico fitting and between two and four silk fittings. Ideally, says Britta, brides should allow between nine and 12 months. “This is so that they really enjoy the process and nothing is rushed, but if a bride has less time I will try and work with what we have.”
While big gowns are Britta’s passion, she has branched out into more streamlined styles with her Modern Bride collection. The gowns and separates are contemporary and with an eveningwear look, designed as a response to the changing nature of weddings and what brides want. Many of Britta’s brides are having two celebrations – perhaps a ceremony here and a celebration abroad, or they want to just wear one dress and their style is more understated. “There used to be more pressure – friends, family, tradition – it was almost claustrophobic. Now there is a lot more freedom for brides to choose for themselves, which is a good thing.”
Britta loves the fact that Modern Bride has attracted interest from different brides – the ones who don’t see themselves in a fantasy full gown, although 90 per cent of her clients do end up walking away in one of her amazing full creations. Of course, with the couture process there is endless scope to have big dress and more – some brides ask for a full style but also get her to design slimline skirt or jumpsuit under it so they can do a magical quick change to slinky look for the after-party.
“Some brides go for the full or mermaid style with slimline skirt or jumpsuit under it so they can do a magical quick change to slinky”
The next couture collection, launching this year, is in the wings and Britta is excited. She hints at skirts bigger than ever, flashes of colour, sparkle, 3D floral lace and pearls. “The thing about what I do is that this is not just a dress, it is so much more – memories for a lifetime. My favourite thing of all is when a bride sends back pictures from her wedding, wearing my dress and with hair and make-up just as she’d planned it. That is why I design bridal gowns.”
The Couture Gallery
The Couture Gallery is located at 6 Campden Street, Kensington W8. For appointments, visit thecouturegallery.com
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