Q & A With Phillipa Lepley, Legendary British Wedding Dress Designer

There is no wedding dress designer that can equal the timeless elegance and sophistication of Phillipa Lepley‘s designs. There is something so undeniably irresistible about the classic silhouettes, the endless attention to  detail, and the flawless tailoring.  

It is no wonder that Bridebook can barely contain the excitement of having the chance to share with you this fabulous Q & A with Phillipa herself. Packed full of insight and guidance for brides embarking on their bespoke dress journey, as well as stunning photos of Phillipa at work and her dresses, you will be sure to enjoy yourself reading this one!

bridebook.co.uk phillipa lepley at work on a dress in her studio
Phillipa Lepley at work on a bespoke dress in her London studio

What is it that drew you to bridalwear in particular, and what is your favourite thing about designing wedding dresses?

I am particularly drawn to and passionate about bridal-wear as I am able to work with corsetry, embellishment and fine feminine detail so closely, which I absolutely love. Both my grandmothers were passionate at sewing and making so I picked up a lot from them at an early age about fabrics and sewing. I was always making things and loved art and crafts.

After studying Fashion Design at the London College of Fashion I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto an apprenticeship with an established wedding dress designer based in Holland Park. One year later I launched my own business.

Your style is known for its timelessness – what defines a wedding dress or style as timeless?

We focus on finding the right shape and style for the individual, rather than following fashion trends too closely. If the dress is exactly right for the bride, really defining the figure beautifully with a fabulous fit, in clean simple lines it will stand the test of time. Quite simply, a dress that will age well. You will be looking at your wedding photos forever so you need a frock to stand the test of time.

Phillipa Lepley wedding dress
Phillipa Lepley specializes in bespoke fitting and timeless design to ensure the dress fits like a dream and will continue to look beautiful for many years to come

What is the most challenging part of designing wedding dresses?

The most challenging part is finding the time to bring all of my ideas to life! I have so many ideas, because I am inspired every day by the beautiful brides I meet.

Is the fitting process altered or affected by the fabrics, and if so how? Are certain fabrics more difficult to work with?

Yes – but with such experienced seamstresses, we manage to make light work of the various silk fabrics. Plain, satin dresses are incredibly difficult to make so that they fit well around the shoulder area. I am quite OCD about this and won’t rest until that ‘spray-on’ effect has been achieved perfectly accentuating every curve, with no seems or folds.

What are some things brides should keep in mind regarding the fitting process when choosing certain fabrics?

No matter which dress a bride chooses, she will first of all attend a measuring appointment where an expert technician will see her in the sample shape, taking all the measurements as well as a visual rendition of posture. From this information, the pattern cutter will create a paper pattern, and then a calico toile will be made.

The calico toile is a mock-up of the dress, which is fitted to the bride’s body to ascertain the most accurate fit. This is fine tuned at the next fitting before the silk fabric itself is cut. More than one toile fitting is often needed to achieve the precise level of fit Phillipa Lepley dresses require.

Phillipa Lepley dress on model in front of cabinet with dog
The calico toile “first draft” of the dress ensures every bride’s dress accentuates their figure perfectly

How long before the wedding do you recommend a bride should start her wedding dress fittings? And when is the best time for the final dress fitting?

I would recommend you start the process of looking for your dress 6-9 months before your wedding. I feel that it is important to have an idea of how you want your day to look first, so that the dress fits in with this, so if you have already chosen your venue that is helpful.

My team of seamstresses like to have 6 months to work on a couture dress, however we can turn around a dress in two weeks if we really need to – I never like to turn away a bride! The whole process should be fun though, so start soon, take your time and enjoy every moment! Couture bespoke is a wonderful experience.

What essentials should a bride bring to her wedding dress fittings?

Tights (I personally don’t like bare legs in photos, when you are being thrown around on the dance floor!), shoes with a size heel you are comfortable in and some discrete, and comfortable knickers. Once you have chosen your wedding jewellery you can bring that along too, but usually brides decide on that later on, and they often bring all their accessories to their final few fittings.

Who should brides bring?

It is lovely to bring bridesmaids or family members, however I often suggest that brides come on their own to their very first appointment. That way they can make up their own mind on what they personally like, before being too influenced by other people’s opinions. There are plenty of opportunities to bring people along either to have a second try-on, or to the fittings.

When buying a dress that’ll need to be altered, what are key factors brides should remember?

Be sure to go to a skilled, expert seamstress because the fit makes all the difference. – someone who really has experience with corsetry and fine silks is key.

What are your recommendations on how to handle sudden weight change in the run up to a wedding?

Fittings are very regular towards the end of the couture process, so changes in weight (even very last minute!) are not a problem – – something we are very used to.

What budgeting tips can you recommend to brides in the wedding dress budget?

Brides often ask what they should splurge and save on and I always say to them that if the dress is perfectly fitted people won’t be looking anywhere else!

Phillipa Lepley backless dress on model
Start looking for your perfect wedding dress at least 6-9 months in advance to ensure you find “the one” and have time to make any necessary alterations

Do you have some wedding planning tips for brides to be?

Don’t be overwhelmed by the search process. You need to feel relaxed and open-minded right from the start. You will be invited to try on as many dresses as possible, including those that don’t immediately jump out at you. Leave any pre-conceived ideas outside the door as wild cards can often be ‘the one’!

Consider adding your own special touches. The lining of the gown could be embroidered with the date of your wedding, or your initials and those of your intended. A special piece of jewellery could be incorporated in to the dress and you could wear a family veil, tiara, or keep sake.

A slight change to a gown for the evening is on-trend. A shrug, button-backed top or bolero could be removed leaving either a strapless dress or different straps. A belt could be added, removed or changed. For a winter wedding a fur shrug could be removed, or a change from a veil to a tulle stole could be incorporated into a summer wedding look.

A silk tulle veil will frame the final look adding romance and mystery. The right veil will complement the gown, echoing detail with a hand worked lace edge or a splash of sparkle. Or a clean satin bias binding can offer a crisp clean finish and really enhance the look.

Whether opting for a couture gown or not, choose one that is timeless; it can be ‘modern’ but it needs to age well and stand the test of time in your wedding photographs.

Phillipa Lepley wedding dress on model sitting with hands in lap
Don’t forget you’ll be looking at your dress in your wedding photos for many years to come, so make sure it can stand the test of time!

Happy Planning!

Are you as obsessed with Phillipa Lepley’s designs and bespoke approach as we are? You can book a consultation with the lady herself through her Bridebook profile, or visit her website!