Stewart Parvin is running late. He’s at a fitting at his Motcomb Street Boutique that has overrun.
It’s not, in truth, a hardship.
Upon entering the flagship boutique at Beauchamp Place, you are instantly transported into a bridal haven: the beautifully painted walls in a muted soft taupe, the rails of exquisitely designed and finished dresses, the muslin drapes softening the walls and windows, the mannequin in the window giving the passer-by a detectible taster of the graceful beauty and workmanship that is contained within. Around the edges of the showroom floor the dazzling bridal dresses hang side by side on bespoke rails: to the rear of the boutique a doorway gives a glimpse of the couture collection, ‘Rescue Me’ a hand embellished beauty of a dress hangs inviting you in to view the simply sublime couture collection contained within, complete with hand sewn individual labels and painstakingly detailed hand beading.
Off the main showroom you are taken down the heavily carpeted stairs to what is a complete treat for any bride: the fitting rooms are lit beautifully, the mink velvet chaises offer ample seating for the bridal party, and Diptyque candles and exotic Orchids provide a perfectly refined ambience. The fitting suites themselves give a feeling of space “there’s even room for the brides to do a catwalk for their party, they love that there’s so much room to move.”
So, no, sitting here waiting is not a hardship at all, it is in fact, it’s simply a pleasure to be sat in a flagship boutique that celebrates quality British craftsmanship and design and showcases refined, classic, bridal couture.
Stewart Parvin started his bridal line in 2002, eight years after launching his fashion line: it’s gone from strength to strength. It’s clear throughout our meeting just how passionate Stewart is about executing an exquisite fit: from the ready to wear collection to the couture, the fabrics are utterly sublime, but always, always supported by a strong foundation of cut, structure and corsetry. It’s clear that, while the designs may look simple, they are anything but. They are constructed with such care and attention that they achieve a spectacular finish with elegant, timeless silouettes.
This attention from foundation to finish combined with his choice of fabrics is why women like to be dressed by him: he has, it is abundantly clear, an innate understanding of the female form, and (and this is the most important bit of course), how to make it look its best. Which is no mean feat. It works like the decoration of the boutique itself: everything that is done is done with thought to accentuate the beauty that is already there: the lighting and walls emphasise the handcrafted rails: the contrast of white on the coving shows off the period features. There is no clutter. There is nothing unnecessary. It is simple. Refined. Like the design of the dresses themselves. And just as the decoration lets the dresses do all the talking, a well designed and cut dress does the same for a woman: it’s all about working with what you’ve got, and making the very best of it. And that’s exactly what a bridal gown should do: help you to feel yourself, but at your very best, and most glamorous.
Stewart bursts in, apologetic, in desperate need of a coffee, immediately charming. Throughout our meeting it strikes me that this is a man who lives and breathes good well designed fashion. He understands that we are not perfect, he clearly loves to dress the female form: “One of my clients says that she can’t get dresses to fit her anywhere else. Of course she can’t. She has a size 10 bust, a size 14 waist, and a size 18 hips. Dresses aren’t cut to fit that.” Rather than see this as an issue, he simply uses quality fitting and pattern cutting to enable women, of all shapes, to wear his British made designs. He is refreshingly honest in his approach to bridal couture – he understands that a dress is there to emphasise your best bits, but, no matter how well made, cannot change the shape that you are, and the basics that you have to work with.
How would you describe your design style?
“Simple. Elegant, Understated. It’s all about
simplicity of cut. It’s not about applying loads of frou which hides the basic structure of the dress. You can add a bit of glitz to a dress in the evening if you want by adding a belt. My bridal dresses are chic, understated and impeccably cut.”
Where do you get your inspiration from?
“My inspiration changes seasonally but I am inspired by the classic look – the 1950s and 1960s. What people think of when think think of Audrey Hepburn, though her wedding dress itself was quite different. Timeless and elegant.”
How do you ensure that your design style evolves and stays fresh?
“I work closely with the pattern cutters. I use the trunk shows as a starting point. Everything is British made. There are subtle changes in fabric as well, how you use it, you might change the way that you hem to give a fuller effect, and changes to the fabric weight. Designs evolve over each collection not immediately, and, if you looked from one collection to the next, you might not see much change, but over three or four you would. Even the sweetheart neckline can change subtly over time, even though it’s still a sweetheart neckline.”
Which designers have inspired you?
“The classics. My favourite would have to be Givenchy, I love what Valentino does and do as well, and Dior: I like that they are designing what people want to wear. Oscar de la Renta, again, there is design that people want to wear, and that’s important. It needs to be wearable. And I like what Victoria Beckham does. I like the simplicity, the structure and the understanding that the designs show.”
What bridal trends do you think have the ability to transcend? Sleeves seem to be making an appearance – could they be here to stay?
“Sleeves are difficult. Last time sleeves were in it was the 1980s, and they were big and poofy that anyone could make them because they were so big you couldn’t see the detail. It’s a mistake to think that sleeves are there to hide fat arms, sleeves very much make a style statement. They are technically very difficult – very labour intensive with the fit and the quality of pattern cutting imperative. We work out of London, and can design the fit here. For dresses that come from abroad, the fit is very difficult. If there are alterations to be made it is hard to get the fit executed well, and sleeves must be fitted perfectly.
“The lace overlay as a sleeve is less severe, and is used a lot. That will stay awhile, it’s a change from the bolero, and detachable straps. And it’s much easier in terms of design – it can be easily altered whereas sleeves are very hard to get right. Covering up more with lace is becoming popular. Brides are starting to ask for the lace to come up higher to the neck, giving more coverage, but still showing shape. It’s a softer way of having sleeves, and much more practical.”
What is your personal journey and process in designing a bridal collection? Where do you start?:
“Normally I would start with just a couple of designs. That’s where I would start. And then we would start making them. And I would do a few more. At some point then I would sit down and do an enormous batch of sketches, and then sit down and go through them with one of my assistants, have some thoughts ‘oh we like that, that one’s really good, that one’s a bit rubbish’, and then, as we’re starting to make them I would go through what I wanted. I have, in my mind deep down a vision of what it’s going to look like, I can’t always express the way to get there, but I know what it’s going to be. Like last year, I had a strong feeling that I wanted to get in the 1970s and 1980s slinky beaded disco feel, and it gets there, and I know where I want it to get to.
“I will often start with a very simple piece and a very detailed piece. They start at the two extremes and come together to make what we want, with elements from both.”
Tigerlily visited the boutique, and were smitten with your choice and use of beautiful fabrics.
What fabrics are high on your list of loves?
“Oh, the brocade. I love our bird of paradise brocade that we have in the couture collection [‘Warm and Tender Love’]. We could have had it hand painted, but thought that might be a bit too much. We’ve used a subtler, more wearable brocade in our ready to wear collection with a flower design. We’ve sourced it from a supplier who used to stock Christian Lacroix. We’ve also upped our use of the French lace: we’ve taken it to cover the whole dress on some designs, it of course changes the weight and finish of the fabric underneath as well.
And gazar. There’s a dress that we have, [‘Wild Horses’], I’m not sure people have ‘got’ that dress just yet. I think though, that if that dress crosses overlaps into the next collection, and maybe other designers do something along those lines, then more people will try it, and they might get that dress.”
Are there any fabrics you don’t like to see in bridal?
“Red silk polyester. That horrible burgundy and gold. It’s lingered around a bit like a bad smell.”
Who is the Stewart Parvin Bride?
“The Stewart Parvin bride is confident, determined and charismatic. She knows herself and wants a dress to enhance her and who she is. Even when a bride is quite quiet, the dresses can bring out her confidence as they make them know who they are.”
There is so much pressure on a bride to make their wedding feel unique. As someone who intrinsically understands how to make women look, and feel, completely comfortable, but them, at their best, what are your tips for any woman choosing their wedding dress? Anything that you should completely avoid?
“Just remember, that it’s just a dress. It can’t make you a foot taller, it can’t make you a size 10 if you’re not one. It can’t make you something that you are not. It isn’t plastic surgery! It’s just a dress! I think that when you start to think about the wedding dress that you want, you need to look at lots of images, look online, in magazines: decide what you like, and what elements you like, the fit, the style, the silouette. There’s the opportunity to become obsessive about it. My boyfriend has been looking for a suit for our wedding. He knows that he wants a navy suit. So he’s tried on suits everywhere: Armani, Oliver Boatang, Tom Ford, we were in Harrods, we’ve been everywhere, not all these places even appealed to him, or are designed for men his age or with his style, and, in the end he bought a suit and then said it was the wrong one. He’s having one made now with three weeks to go.
“[The same applies to your wedding dress]: you have to be honest about what you want, and your budget. If you have a budget, don’t go somewhere that is a lot more if you aren’t prepared to pay a lot more as you’ll end up disappointed when you find something that you love but cannot have. If you know that you have a lot to spend, then don’t look at the less expensive end of things, as you are wasting your time. Don’t look at lots of designers who have a similar design aesthetic in the same price range when you are trying to narrow down what you want – make sure they are distinct so that you can really choose what you want.”
What keeps you passionate?
“Designing Bridal collections is restrictive: the dress is almost always long, there’s a limited palette, so it’s a challenge to remain innovative. The challenge of working on such a restricted brief keeps me passionate. There’s the ability to have a tweak there, a change there. I wanted to put a playful 1970s and 1980s style in within my couture collection [this can be seen in the couture designs Tiny Dancer and Rescue Me] and that keeps me passionate.”
Is there any bride, past, present or future, who you would have loved to, or love to design the dress for on her wedding day?
“I don’t really look to past brides – they have been, they’ve chosen. As for future brides, I don’t like to say really. But you never know who is going to walk through the door, we will see.”
What makes you smile?
“Oh, just smile I think. You can always say – ‘when I have this I will be happy’, or ‘when I have that it will be great’. I think that if I could take myself out of my body and look back at myself, I would probably, objectively, see myself as more successful than I am. But I just think that you have to be in the moment, and to smile at that.”
Photography by Lisa Jane
Words by Harriet Rouse Tigerlily