Wedding dress designer David Western on why you don't have to spend a fortune to have couture
PUBLISHED: 14:27 07 May 2014 | UPDATED: 14:27 07 May 2014
One of the things I love most about Southsea is that you never know what you’re going to find behind the next corner. On my recent trip to meet with wedding dress designer David Western, the town certainly didn’t disappoint.
Winter Road, or ‘Wedding Road’ as I am renaming it, has to be the destination for anybody planning any forthcoming nuptials. With florist, beauticians, hair salon, dress designer and even a mini wedding boutique, Little Love Hearts, selling everything from invitations to favours and table decorations, this is one stop shopping at its best.
Much like its quirky, Victorian surroundings, David Western’s boutique is not your average wedding gown shop; mainly down to the fact that David is not your average wedding dress designer. With an obsession for all things 1950’s and 60’s, you could easily mistake his couture bridal store for one of the Aladdin’s caves on Albert Road.
It’s not surprising then when he tells me that: “I used to be on Albert Road, I love it and I do miss the buzz but Winter Road is lovely and always developing.”
Looking around, my eyes fell on all manner of interesting items. From a 1950’s bamboo bar with Formica top adorned with retro soda streams and a classic looking cocktail set, to a stack of vintage suitcases and an old Roberts’s radio. It would have been easy to bypass the dresses altogether if it weren’t for the fact that these gowns are no shrinking violets.
David creates bespoke gowns for each individual bride, but does have a few on display to show off his style.
“People look at these gowns and think they’re going to cost around nineteen grand, but they don’t they cost two. At the end of the day it’s just fabric and my time – it’s only a frock.”
Before every bride-to-be recoils at the notion, it is refreshing to meet someone who is genuinely passionate about what he does – and isn’t interested in ‘cashing in’ on the whole wedding phenomenon.
David’s approach certainly seems flamboyant upon first glance, but then a classic, Grace Kelly style gown catches my eye. Simple yet beautifully made, David proves that he can adapt to meet the requirements of each of his clients.
“We start off by sitting down and discussing design, she may have a scrap book of ideas or pictures of an Oscar gown she has seen and we go from there. The next stage would be that we have a day of fabric shopping, which is nice as you can get a real feel for how the dress will be once it’s finished – it’s all part of the experience.”
For a man that looks so relaxed in what would usually be a very feminine environment, I’m intrigued to hear the story of how it all began.
“It was purely a hobby at first. When we were kids, my parents used to take us caravanning; we were part of a club and used to make fancy dress. My mum always made clothes and I’ve always been in to it - using a sewing machine and being quite practical.”
After years of making the odd bit here and there, David tells me that it was when his girlfriend wanted to buy an outfit in John Lewis that he realised he could make it for her instead.
“We brought the fabric downstairs in the haberdashery. That evening I made the skirt and the following day I made the jacket and that was it, done.”
As word got around David found himself making clothes for all of his girlfriend’s friends. Before long these requests turned in to pleas for wedding gowns and he even made his then wife’s dress for their big day.
With a day job as a display manager in the department store Alders, finding the time to meet demand was becoming increasingly difficult. So, after ten years of employment, David gave it all up to follow his dream.
“I was getting busier and busier doing the bridal gowns and was beginning to turn people away. I built a studio in my back garden, worked from there for a year and then opened up my first shop on Albert Road.”
Like all businesses, David has had his ups and downs, but he has survived the recession and is now looking forward to another successful year.
“I think I’ve been quite lucky and have been able to hold on in and bear a couple of years. Things have now really kind of come back and it’s starting to pick up again.”
Splitting his time between actually making his gowns to being out in the county promoting them at wedding shows, David is a busy man. He explains that meeting his clients face to face is one of the best ways to introduce his business. He takes real pleasure in getting to know each and every one; and often gets invites to the wedding once the gown has been finished.
When he isn’t busy behind a sewing machine, David spends his time touring with his 1965 Split Screen Volkswagen Camper Van and is a huge fan of vintage cars and anything from a bygone age.
“I’ve been collecting for years but the vintage theme seems to be really popular now. When it comes to a wedding, I think it’s much more personal. You can have a modern style but add a bit of bunting and a couple of old suitcases and it just looks awesome.”
David could talk for hours about everything from cars to fashion but as I dragged myself away it struck me, you can find your something old, have him design your something new, borrow David’s never-ending list of wedding contacts and with his bright blue shop popping out of the pavement you’ll have all of your traditions and your wedding sorted with one visit.
David’s Top Tips
1) Make sure you get yourself a scrapbook to help you collect ideas. Have a page for hair, a page for dress designs, flowers, cake, reception, etc. It makes it so much easier for the people you will be working with to see the image and look you want to create.
2) Use your family and friends. Don’t try to take on a whole wedding by yourself, it always ends in tears. Your nearest and dearest want to help so let them – it will take the pressure off and you will be able to enjoy the whole experience a lot more.
3) Ask your man. I find that the Grooms are becoming more and more involved in the planning process. They do have an opinion so let them in, you never know they might surprise you.