As we recently blogged, Sassi Holford designed Autumn Kelly’s fabulous wedding gown for her royal wedding. Here’s an interview with Sassi about the creation of the gown and her career in bridal design.
Sassi Holford: bridal designer with a tale of rags to riches
When Autumn Kelly made her visit to Sassi Holford’s bridal shop in London’s Fulham Road, five months ago, she was simply a beautiful blonde who wanted to look beautiful on her wedding day.
“She was incognito,” says the designer. “She made an appointment just like a regular client. It wasn’t until her second visit she told me, ‘I think I should mention I am marrying Peter Phillips, it’s going to be a Royal wedding.’ Her main concern was that the dress expressed her personality, but most importantly was appropriate.”
Sassi’s first concern was almost disbelief. “I couldn’t believe that after 27 years, here I was making a bridal gown for a royal wedding. It’s the sort of thing that only happens once in a lifetime, if at all. It’s not as if I am a big celebrity choice; I am a bit of a hidden secret.”
Sassi was certainly an off-the-radar choice for the girl who married the man who is 11th in line to the throne, and for whom she renounced her Catholic faith. Although she is a regular at the Designer Wedding Show in Battersea Park, and has built up an impressive roster of lesser-known society brides, her shop in London’s fashionable Fulham Road, SW3, only opened five years ago. She is self-taught and began her business at the age of 17. Her main workshop is in Taunton where she has a staff of 45 who handle all the hand-beading and embroidery for which she has become renowned.
“I never went to college. I come from a single parent family. My mother’s now retired but she was a hotelier and restaurateur who used to run the White Friars in Dorset. I was at a state school in North Devon, as a teenager; a bit hopeless, a bit of a truant. I always say I never found the wedding dress business, it found me.”
Her career began by accident when a friend who was getting married found herself without any money for her dress. “I said I’d make it. I’d made a few things for myself in the past and I thought it couldn’t be that difficult. It worked out and then other people started to ask me to make their dresses. By this time I was 18. I thought: This is fun; if people want to pay me to make their wedding dresses, this is cool. Things just took off from there. I never really followed fashion. I just made what I liked and what people liked. I’ve always believed in less is more.”
By the mid eighties, Sassi’s designs had begun to be stocked at top bridal salons in Harrods and Liberty in London. In the nineties, she expanded her business to Europe and last October made her debut in New York which has given her a foothold in the lucrative North American market.
Sassi says, “Right from the start, Autumn Kelly and I completely understood each other. She wanted a dress which was romantic and classic. She had found out about me because some of her friends who got married in London had chosen me to design their wedding dresses.
“Our ideas completely matched. My absolute icon of wedding perfection is Grace Kelly. When she married Prince Rainier in Monaco, she looked breathtaking, glamorous, and she did not show an ounce of flesh. That principle has always guided me and it has never dated: you don’t need cleavage to look beautiful on your wedding day.”
Autumn’s desire to look romantic, but understated was perfectly expressed in Sassi’s design of a classic gown with fitted bodice and lace shoulders allied to a graceful A-line skirt in Italian duchesse silk and French Chantilly lace, with a hand-embroidered and beaded silk tulle veil, over her hair in a high chignon by Andrew Collinge.
“She didn’t want to stand out in a glaring way, so we made the front quite regal and then at the back of the dress I expressed her vivacity, sense of humour and personality with little lace bows. She was completely delightful to work with, very easy-going and very composed considering it was such a high-profile wedding.”
Sassi’s biggest thrill, apart from designing for the royal bride, was when her mother and the 17 members of staff from her atelier in Taunton, who had worked on the dress, were invited to watch the wedding from inside the gates at Windsor.
“Autumn had two pre-fittings, three fittings and then a final fit on the actual day. I am always worried brides are going to lose weight before their weddings; they usually do. But Autumn told me, ‘that shouldn’t be a problem with me because I love my food.’
“She was right. I checked on the actual day, the dress fitted perfectly, and everything turned out beautifully. She looked gorgeous. Her something borrowed was the tiara from the Princess Royal; for ‘something blue’ were some tiny blue bows I sewed inside the bodice; and the ‘new’ was the dress itself and some jewellery Peter had given her, but I don’t know what was the ‘old’.”
Sassi met the Queen as Autumn was getting into the ‘Balmoral Sociable’ carriage. “I was holding her train at the time and it was difficult to curtsey so I had to sort of wriggle. Autumn was very calm and composed and the Queen said some very nice words about the way she looked. I was just so thrilled. Everyone seemed to think she looked beautiful.”
Sassi may be able to create a bride’s fairytale, but her own wedding day, 13 years ago, to Martin, who is her business manager and marketing director, was rather more low-key. “It was at night, in November, so it was quite cold. I wore a silvery grey evening dress and bias-cut coat. I didn’t see myself as the fairytale type. I treated myself to some handmade shoes and some beautiful vintage jewellery from Grays Antique market.”
Click here to visit Sassi Holford’s website.
Interviewed by Hilary Alexander, click for original source.