An interview with award-winning wedding dress designer, Tracy Connop

You’re engaged to your man, you’ve booked the wedding venue; all you need now is the dress. Easy? It is if you follow the advice of Tracy Connop, wedding dress designer and winner of Conde Nast Brides Magazine - ‘Designer of the Year’.

Tracy, why do people come to a wedding dress designer?

Often they’ve seen things that they like, which aren’t quite right. A wedding dress has to be perfect, so by coming to a designer, they can get exactly what they want. They also get a personal service and the benefit of our experience.

Do brides always know exactly what they want?

Not always. Sometimes they’ve seen several key elements of the design, but not together in the same dress. Maybe they start by thinking they just want a simple A-line shape, but opt for something fuller after trying some on. A designer can advise which elements work best together to flatter the figure and create something unique. It’s important to remember that this is a special occasion, they, and the dress will be on show, and in many photographs too. When it comes to the design, I try to convince them to push the boundaries a little, and they are always glad that they did!

What should a bride bring with her when she comes to see you for the first time?

Sometimes brides come armed with a selection of photos with shapes and looks that they like. On occasions, the more creative ones already have a finished idea worked out. And there are others who want to be guided through the whole process and really have no idea, other than that the dress should be a scene-stealer on the big day.

Do brides sometimes have unrealistic expectations?

I wouldn’t say that. We can explore different shapes and styles to see what suits their body and proportions. Sometimes it’s a surprise to find that the design they eventually choose is quite different from the one they first thought of. This is where it pays to go to an expert, who will give you an unbiased opinion.

What’s the process of having a bespoke wedding dress made?

At the first appointment, we discuss ideas and the bride-to-be tries on some of my ready-to-wear designs. Then we look at a selection of fabrics and shapes. Once I’ve got an idea of what she wants, I’ll draw between four and six designs (any more gets bewildering!). Once a design is chosen, we’ll pick a suitable fabric in the bride’s preferred shade. Next, I’ll cut a pattern and make a mock-up of the dress, known as a ‘calico’ or ‘tuile’. It’s created in a cheaper fabric that will withstand being altered, and therefore, it won’t be a disaster if we need to change the design at this stage. The calico is fitted to the bride as a guide for the finished gown. Once the dress is made, we’ll have a fitting session. Ideally, I don’t alter the dress more than twice, as the fabric tends to start to look tired if I do.

What if the bride gains or loses weight?

The final fitting will be quite near the date of the wedding. I sometimes warn them not to lose any more!

What’s the timescale for ordering a wedding dress that’s made especially for you?

I would say about nine or ten months is usual. If you’re marrying in August, I would want to have the first appointment in February at the latest, but often it’s in the autumn.

When ordering a dress, what other decisions come first?

The venue, either the church or licenced venue is often the first thing couples book. That can govern the choice of dress style, as church weddings tend to be more formal, though not always of course. Once the dress is chosen, everything else flows from that, colours for flowers, tiara and even stationery design.

What about prices?

Once upon a time, more expensive, natural materials such as silk, used to be the only way to get a beautiful dress. I still stock an extensive range of pure silk fabrics. Nowadays though, polyester fabrics in crepe, chiffon and satin are a fantastic alternative and most people wouldn’t tell the difference.

What are the latest trends?

Currently, we’re seeing a lot of bias-cut dresses, with less fullness, but more embellishment, such as hand-sewn beads and crystals. I can advise on trends, however eventually what matters is that the bride looks beautiful and feels great in the dress of her dreams.

Tracy Connop works in Cheltenham, producing bespoke, made-to-order dresses, bridal gowns, prom dresses and Mother of the Bride outfits. Consultations by appointment, please call 07500 893178.

Twitter: @TracyConnop