Designer profile: Inside Phillipa Lepley’s studio

Designer profile: Inside Phillipa Lepley's studio
London wedding dress designer Phillipa Lepley in her west London atelier

Phillipa Lepley has carved a reputation as one of the UK’s foremost bridal couturiers. We go behind the scenes at her studio to find out what goes into creating one of her signature wedding dresses

Phillipa Lepley is now in her 25th year as one of London’s foremost bridal designers. She trained at London College of Fashion and built her business through word-of-mouth – with some high-profile brides in the mix – although discretion has always been a watchword and most brides choose their gown in utmost secrecy. Her success has been based on a simple mantra. As she puts it: “I’ve always believed in creating the dresses that real women want to wear”.

For Phillipa, the perfect wedding dress is a matter of mathematics – ensuring the right proportions through painstaking measuring and fitting – with, of course, tricks from the couturier’s toolbox, such as clever corsetry and cutting to define and flatter the body. And the perfect fit takes time, with multiple fittings and adjustments to ensure every detail is just right on the day.

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Phillipa Lepley says: “I’ve always believed in creating the dresses that real women want to wear”

Inspiration and selection

The first step is to choose the style and – as all brides know – there can be many false starts on the road to finding ‘the one’. Phillipa and her team always advise brides-to-be to leave their preconceived ideas outside the door and bring as few advisors as possible (just one or two trusted friends, not a committee). Her Chelsea showroom – a harmonious environment of soft dove grey walls, carefully chosen French antiques and huge mirrors – provides a setting to soothe brides’ nerves and encourage them to relax and enjoy the best dressing-up box they will ever encounter.

Choosing can’t be rushed. “Often it is a process of elimination,” says Phillipa, “But there’s also the ‘wild card’ – that magical moment when the dress a client would never have considered turns out to be right”. Perfect at this stage is the look that the bride knows is for her, but once a basic design is chosen the hard work of fine tuning begins. Before an order is placed, the bride will have discussed materials, style adjustments and details with the fitting team.

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Only when the shape and fit of a wedding dress are perfect does the final stage of the couture process begin

Measuring and toile creation

The first measuring appointment is designed to ensure every statistic is accurately assessed – and at Phillipa Lepley this is a process that includes elements most of us would not even consider. “Posture is crucial as we all have a certain way of standing and moving,” says Phillipa. “So we not only take extremely detailed measurements, but also photograph the bride in the sample – side view photographs are particularly valuable in ensuring we get the line of the dress right.”

From here, the first calico toile (test garment) is constructed – this effectively acts as a template for the final pattern. At Phillipa Lepley there are usually at least two toiles created for each dress, sometimes this might run to three or four, so brides will return for a number of subsequent fittings in the run up to the final gown.

Silk fitting

Only when the shape and fit pass scrutiny, does the final and most crucial couture stage begin. The final toile is used as a guide to cutting the design in its lavish fabric. Once this is made up, the silk fittings takes place – usually there are three or four – where all the key elements of the final couture design are placed, with final small adjustments and finishing to neckline, hem and sleeves. Lace overlays, a feature of many classic Phillipa Lepley gowns, are added at the very last, with the laced moulded and embroidered onto the dress so that no seams are visible to interrupt the line.

The final check fitting takes place as close to the wedding as possible. Weight gains are extremely rare, but many clients may need a small adjustment to compensate for weight lost in the stressful final stages of wedding planning. While the whole process may seem laborious, the results speak for themselves. And whatever else veers off plan on the day, that Phillipa Lepley dress will be precision engineered to fit like a glove.

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Modern corsetry is not only comfortable but can define and lengthen the body to enhance your natural shape

Phillipa Lepley’s tips for choosing the perfect dress

  • Give yourself as much time as possible – six to 12 months means you enjoy the experience – but, like all designers, we do our best to help brides who have less time to spare.
  • Take any key accessories you will be wearing along when you go gown shopping. Necklaces, tiaras and earrings need to work with the design you choose.
  • The plainer and flimsier the dress, the harder it can be to get right, so bear that in mind, and also remember that classic wedding styles are likely to look more timeless in years to come.
  • I’m a huge fan of veils – they are so romantic – but never choose one as an afterthought. I always suggest a design at least a foot longer than the main body of the dress; a short veil may ruin the line and cut your body in half.
  • Corsets work wonders and we use boning under all our gowns – they lift, define and lengthen your body and enhance all your natural assets. Modern corsetry will also ensure you feel comfortable and confident on the day.

Phillipa Lepley is at 48 Fulham Road, London SW3.