Elegant silhouettes, lace and silk; the latest bridal wear collection from Halfpenny London oozes understated style and glamour. Gowns are at once exquisite in detail and breathtakingly simple, with an almost ethereal quality. Just don’t mention the v-word.
“I don’t look to any particular era when designing my gowns, vintage or otherwise,” smiles Kate Halfpenny, the woman behind the label. “In fact I’d say I categorically don’t! I think my designs are often associated with vintage styles because lace, embellishment and vintage tend to go hand-in-hand. But vintage is such a broad term. While I love the vintage look – I wouldn’t say I’m specifically drawn to vintage. My latest collection doesn’t feature any massive silhouettes so I think that is another reason it could be seen as vintage inspired.”
There’s a sense of effortlessness to the latest Halfpenny London collection. The whole range looks both easy to wear and stylish at the same time. “These pieces are also very versatile,” says Kate. “I encourage brides to re-accessorise in the evening, use belts, gems and fresh flowers or jewels in their hair. It gives the dress a rebirth for the evening. The designs are deliberately diverse, offering more than one look for this very reason.”
Kate Halfpenny isn’t your average bridal wear designer. With a background in celebrity styling, Kate’s label has evolved naturally and organically to what it is today.
“I started out in the industry by styling celebrities and working on music videos and fashion shoots,” explains Kate. “I have always collected vintage dresses and used to design bespoke wedding gowns alongside my styling work. Emilia Fox was one of the clients I dressed and then, when she was getting married, she asked me to design her wedding dress.”
The Halfpenny London couture collection developed into a new ready-to-wear collection, and then last year the flagship bridal boutique was opened in Bloomsbury. “I feel so blessed,” says Kate. “It has evolved so naturally – it’s a real case of right time, right place for me.”
Kate’s passion is evident in her creations, from the intricate detailing to the flowing silhouettes. But if there was any doubt you just have to ask what she loves about the work. “I have always been obsessed with corsetry,” explains Kate. “With wedding gowns, it’s the structure, the lace, awakening the sleeping beauty in women that I love. Wedding dresses are just so much… more. My love for creating and designing them never wanes. I can design a dress a day. The longer I do it the more excited I am by it!”
Creativity crackles from Kate, as she talks about structures, silhouettes, layering. Her voice shines with it all and it really is infectious. “I am designing all the time, no matter where I am,” smiles Kate. “I take a sketchbook with me everywhere – even to bed!”
So where do the designs start? Well Kate refuses to acknowledge a specific process or ritual in her work, although she admits there is a starting point for each design. “If anything, I’m dictated by the fabric. A design will often begin with a swatch of lace.” And the soundtrack to her work? “It has to be jazz – I’ll Let You Know by David Hazeltine is a current favourite.”
Like many designers, the advent of social media and sites like Pinterest and Instagram have had an impact on the way Kate collects inspiration. “I think Pinterest and Instagram are fascinating to delve into,” says Kate. “It’s an immediate source of reference. I was the first designer on my degree to get a digital camera – it makes me realise how different things are for new designers and students these days!”
These sites are also a great place to spot trends in design. But if it’s fashion-forward you want on your wedding day, then Kate can help with that. “There’s a definite trend for brides wanting lace this year. It may be the Kate Middleton effect but lace is more popular than ever. We’re also seeing a rise in the number of brides wanting backless dresses. And I’d say at least eight out of ten brides are coming in for veils these days too.”
Whatever your style though, Halfpenny London won’t restrict you to one particular look. “We have a huge range of dresses in our ready-to-wear collection,” says Kate. “Our designs aren’t just about the sleek silhouette or lace detailing. We also have larger silhouettes, structured designs, corsets and full skirts. When a bride comes to us looking for that perfect dress, I always encourage them to try a range of gowns on, especially something that may be a little out of their comfort zone.”
And that, says Kate, is the key piece of advice she would give to a bride looking for her dream dress. “You never know when you will discover a hidden gem. It may be a style you have sworn against, but try it on and you may be surprised. You need to find something that is unique to you and you will only know when you discover it when you see yourself wearing it. That’s why I always encourage brides to come to our boutique, have a look and try things on. Of course it’s important to do research, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. Stay true to yourself.”
The advice doesn’t end there. Kate wisely recommends taking someone with you – but perhaps not your entire bridal party. “Too many opinions can sometimes be confusing for brides, so sometimes it’s worth only taking one or two other people with you, so you can focus on how you feel in the dress and take a moment to experience it without lots of other people offering their own thoughts.”
Back to Kate, and we want to delve a little deeper, so we cheekily ask her to share a secret with us. Are you ready? This one is good.
“I’m looking at opening a boutique in LA,” says Kate, knocking us completely off guard. “I think there’s a definite market for our designs over there. It’s all very early stages but I’m very excited about it.”
All we can say is – watch out America. Halfpenny London is coming to get you.
Photography by Halfpenny London
Words by Molly Forbes Tigerlily