Bespoke wedding dresses are, for many of us, the ultimate dream, the Holy Grail of bridal gowns. But the process of commissioning something totally unique for your big day, from absolute scratch, can be intimidating. Where do you start? How long does it take? Will anyone rein you in if your idea of the dream dress gets a little, er, OTT? Going down the bespoke wedding dress road can, of course, be a little more complicated than buying an off-the-rail design from a bridal boutique, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming—or too insanely priced, either.
While couture wedding dresses are of course at the upper end of the luxury pricing scale, bespoke dresses differ in that they’re made to your personal specifications—from fit and shape to the fabrics and details—rather than the designer’s own vision. Though you’ll get plenty of expert advice along the way, you’ll be able to stay in control of the larger details and make decisions that suit both your style and budget.
To help break things down a little more, we’ve tapped Gabrielle Taylor, founder of new bridal concierge service White Dossier and expert in all things bespoke. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about commissioning a bespoke wedding dress, plus our pick of the best bespoke wedding dress designers out there right now.
Bespoke Wedding Dresses: Where to Start
1. Know your options.
When it comes to bespoke wedding dresses, you normally have two options—to tweak and modify an existing dress or start from scratch. “The latter option will take longer to create and can often work out to be more costly than buying an existing style (even if it’s made-to-measure), so make sure you have plenty of time to play with if you go down this route,” notes Gabrielle. “Also, be sure there’s a buffer on top of the budget you have in mind, as custom design does tend to go over what’s originally quoted.”
2. Get mood boarding.
Mood boards are crucial when it comes to communicating both the feel of your wedding and your dream dress design. “The best place to start if you want to go down this route is to create mood boards of pieces you like and also explore bridal designers who you think could create a version of this for you,” says Gabrielle. “Pinterest is an amazing tool, but it can also be overwhelming to navigate, so we encourage all our brides to make Pinterest boards (these can be private and shared with friends) but to keep the number of images minimal. If two images reflect the same mood or message for example, then edit it down to just one. Clarity is key when it comes to bridal.”
3. Think outside “bridal” design.
If you’re not looking for a super-traditional wedding dress, Gabrielle suggests branching your research beyond bridal-only collections. “One thing we do suggest is not being limited to just bridal designers; be open-minded. Something ready-to-wear may be perfect for your wedding day or other events around your wedding,” she says. “We love working with a variety of designers, but an interesting credential for us is working with someone that comes from a ready-to-wear background, or who doesn’t think of themselves as ‘traditional’ bridal designer. It’s so important that your bridal look reflects your personal style and taste, and that when it comes to your big day, you feel like you—the very best version of yourself, and not someone else.”
4. Get the timing right.
Making sure your dress is ready in plenty of time is the biggest factor to consider when going bespoke, so always ask your designer for a clear timeline. “We would suggest allowing for a minimum of nine months from your first appointment with the designer to having a finished look,” says Gabrielle. “This really will depend on the designer, but the more time you have the better. It also depends on how flexible their team is and how easily available you will be to feedback on sketches, approve fabrics and attended fittings, etc. Bespoke is not an option we’d recommend for brides on a short time frame who don’t have much spare time, although for a rush fee, some designers may be able to create something in a shortened time frame.”
Keep scrolling for our pick of the best bespoke wedding dress designers that'll suit your style.
The Best Bespoke Wedding Dress Designers
A former stylist, Charlie Brear began The Vintage Wedding Dress Company back in 2005, restoring and restyling vintage bridal gowns for brides in search of something a bit different. Flash-forward more than a decade, and Brear is now one of the most sought-after bespoke wedding dress designers among fashion brides in London, not to mention selling her core bridal collection in over 60 Charlie Brear stores around the world. If you’re looking for a dress that combines contemporary trends with vintage nods, Brear is the one.
More information: Charlie Brear
You won’t get too far into a bespoke bridal search without coming across Charlotte Wilden. After honing her craft at couture fashion houses including Jenny Packham and Marchesa, Wilden now specialises in intricately detailed wedding gowns inspired by fashion, history and costume design. Hugely popular among boho brides, few can nail ethereal quite like Wilden.
More information: Wilden London
We’ll assume you’ve heard about Emilia Wickstead—the label being a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge and all. Along with launching her first mainline bridal collection last year, the designer still offers her incredible bespoke bridal service, combining all her classic style signatures to craft elegant dresses that are perfect for the pared-back bride.
More information: Emilia Wickstead
If your dream dress is one that’s packing serious glamour, Hermione de Paula may be the designer for you. A Central Saint Martins graduate with stints at Christian Dior Couture, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Giles under her belt, Hermione de Paula launched her own label in 2008 and is now the go-to girl for luxuriously embroidered gowns that fuse art with fashion.
More information: Hermione de Paula
Now go forth and get creating! But don't forget to tag us in your wedding pics…