JULY - The Much Awaited Wedding Dress Day Haven
It was late July, 2017, seven months before my wedding day, when for some rather ridiculous reason, a rising surge of panic swept over me as I realised a few hard hitting facts about my far-off big day. I, Leigh Purves was going to have to wear a wedding dress or suit of sorts, which was something I have never been able to imagine.
A former Showbiz Editor, I used to loan designer gowns for reporting from The Annual Academy Awards in LA, The Brit Awards, the BAFTAs or one awards ceremony or another. But I could always give them back. At times, it felt far from personal, as grateful as I was. We weren’t given a clothes allowance and I was always a bit alarmed when readers would write into the paper I worked for moaning they’d seen me in the same dress twice!
I borrowed, I wore, I worked and I gave back. I hadn’t even really had a dress which I loved as my own as such. Contrary to belief – including to some of my closest friends and family - I actually loathe wearing a dress. I dislike my knees, the top of my arms and actually my hips.
So the whole concept of all eyes staring at me on such a special, personal day was suddenly slightly scary. If not surreal.
And as someone who mixes the odd designer wear with high-street and second hand, I had always believed I would find the right wedding dress where I was least expecting it. However, it is fateful how things turn out…
Initially I set out looking at boutiques whilst in New York; scouring vintage shops, bridal stores all over the UK and abroad; taking down designers’ details in Palma and also whilst away in Paris and popping into charity shops convinced I would find ‘the one’. At one point I nearly sent my best friend into a meltdown, one afternoon spent in several bridal stores, switching from 1950's A-line styles, to satin and crepe fitted numbers, through to lengthy long sleeved lace gowns, all of which actually added years to my ‘tender’ years - all whilst enthusing ‘I think this is the one!’ along the way. But despite all the peaks and troughs of excitement, I felt flat after leaving every bridal department and was also becoming confused and overwhelmed.
And it was only when my God-mother insisted I go visit Anita, that I started to pin my hopes on a positive outcome. I know Anita was always busy and wasn’t sure she would manage to fit me in.
During my initial appointment in July, I found myself practically hyperventilating as I sat in Anita’s studio insisting I’d love lace, Hollywood style, slightly vintage, with gloves, a stole, crystals, a feather bag, a design that emphasised my lacking in size chest and something elegant as well. And if I could wear a long veil then that would complete the look.
I shall never forget the bemused smile on Anita’s face and yet she simply picked up her pencil and began to edit through my list and sketch. We discussed the style of the wedding venue (Middleton Lodge Estate in Richmond – a Georgian house), things that mattered to me. The fact it had taken me years to find my husband Tom (which I quite liked) right through to the colour scheme which would be rose gold, latte pink (as the Americans prefer) and lots of lights and feathers.
Then we set to work trying on a few dresses from the showroom. These gave me an idea of fabrics and shapes which worked and some which did not. We discussed fabrics and materials and how there were two areas in which I was unable to reduce costs. One, the length of my train ( I insisted on quite a lengthy one) and the second, the Swarovski Crystals around the deep neck line. Anita only works with the best fabrics but assured me she would source me a slightly lighter coloured lace than the original fabric I had tried on. I left that initial appointment on a high. I felt happy and confident knowing that Anita and her team would make sure my dress worked for me.
AUGUST - Would I Measure Up?
At this appointment late summer I felt nervous as my Mum, God-mother and best friend came with me to see the design and see me in a similar style of dress. I was already finding the journey of my Haute Couture Wedding Dress such a personal, positive and informative journey, I’d have been so sad if any of them had disliked our ideas so far. I was almost reluctant to share. But upon arrival, Anita and the team welcomed us with open arms (and the best tea in real china cups) as usual and I quickly relaxed. Anita had managed to source a similar high-quality French lace which was a slightly lighter shade.
I’d been advised to bring my wedding shoes for this fitting but was struggling to find a pair which were right so wore my old pink work heels and made a vow to find some wedding shoes with the same heel height. I was also told to wear a good fitting bra of a flattering shape as they would be measuring me ahead of my toile fitting. ‘Lovely’ gasped my small female family crowd. And none of us could stop smiling.
The tape measure was out in full force as Anita and the team made furious notes on my size. I shared my personal discomforts about various body parts which actually felt quite therapeutic in a weird kind of way.
SEPTEMBER - Time to Toile
One of my sisters is a designer in London and works with a big-name brand. So I knew a bit about a toile. And yet I had never until this point in life ventured down a couture route so it felt somewhat luxurious to have calico cotton fitted to my body.
The neckline and design lines of the dress were drawn onto the toile whilst I was wearing it. This way, Anita explained they ensure that the design lines flow around my body and provide the most flattering fit. We also scrutinised the choice of lace right from the shade, texture and weight through to its overall quality. I was still without my wedding shoes and was starting to fear my old pink heels were going to make an appearance on the day.
I confided in Anita that I was overwhelmed by such a variety of wedding shoes and with burgeoning bunions such as mine, I was struggling to find chic-meets-fabulous, but after a quick catch-up on the simple style I would actually need to compliment my elegant but detailed dress, I stood down from looking at sparkly satin and gold 6 inch heels and relaxed in the knowledge that sometimes less really is more.
OCTOBER - Back to Basics
Ironically, that was the name of a club night I used to enjoy when I was much younger and going out in Leeds. And yet, 18 years on as I stood in Anita’s studio wearing the bare bones of what would be my wedding dress, for the first time since I left Leeds to live and work in London in 2002, I found myself feeling uplifted and a tad like my old self as I stared at myself in the mirror. There was something about the journey of my Haute Couture wedding dress which was reconnecting me with my old self. The self who had moved away, worked ridiculously hard (don’t we all?), loved and lost several romances along the way, faced heartache to cruel disease sweeping away a close friend, moved home for work and family, had become a Mamma (twice) and someone who realised their self-esteem had take a severe turn for the worse during the latter years. But as the basics of the dress were tacked together in order to give an overall idea of style, it as with some irony. I felt like I was the one being stitched up and healed. I couldn’t stop smiling and the chaos that had been pre-Anita was all gone. I felt calm, slightly giddy and excited. We discussed how I would like my hair to be swept back loosely with subtle but elegant clips, we analysed the jewellery I would wear and in my case, the Pure Silk Double Crepe.
LATE NOVEMBER - Oooh La La
I was delighted to try the dress on having finally sourced some simple, elegant high-heeled shoes. Plain satin with silver sparkle subtly at the back, they worked wonderfully with my dress. And how my dress had developed so much! It was structured complete with pads. These were a big deal to me as I wanted to make the most of my minimal cleavage. And despite my ever-evolving instruction to ‘go-up’ another size more with the pads, Anita and the team quite rightly reiterated again, less can be more. We all gasped as they placed the French Corded Lace over the basic dress and the team worked meticulously to see which areas needed tweaking. At one stage there were three fabulous females snipping around the hem line, checking every millimeter was the right length and Anita’s eye for perfection was quick to flag the most tiniest of needed tweaks. It was here when I nearly cried. For it hit me that I actually had to take it off.
JANUARY - Hair-raising fun and frolics
There’s nothing like leaving some things too close for comfort. However, I’d fallen in love with a crystal vintage hair slide from a vintage store in New York and had been counting the days for it to arrive. I decided to bring it along to my dress fitting where we were checking the detail of Swarovski crystals which had been hand-stitched along my neck-line. And to my horror, whilst the hair slide was pretty, it did not work with the dress and was far too fussy. However, I was quickly reassured when Anita pulled out three exceptional individual vintage style silver flower clips which could be worn together or alone. And they made their way into my treasure trove.
FEBRUARY - Walking the walk
Anita wanted to ensure I was happy with the final details and asked me to practise walking in my dress as I’d previously caught my heels in the lace. However, since then, horse hair braid had been used to weigh it down and the difference it made was incredible. When they asked me to do the ‘seat test’ I almost howled with laughter feeling I was on the Channel 4 show ‘From Ladette to Lady’. Yet I was soon pleased I’d practised. Little did I know how often during my wonderful wedding day I’d have to sit, sometimes squat (small children to speak to) and at times, kneel! Let alone dance like never before…
I was quite poorly in the week before my wedding. As someone who suffers from flare ups of Ulcerative colitis, I could have predicted that week would have been unusually worse than others. I’d hardly slept, struggled to eat, felt badly bloated with pain and was quite frankly a small ball of stress. Yet I recall the feeling of nearly floating into Anita’s to collect my dress. To be greeted by the team, cuddled and calmed so reassuringly was the perfect send off for my big day. The dress was wrapped in tissue and packed in a bag which was both protective and portable. I look back at my early days searching for the right dress and chuckle. If only I’d gone to Anita at the start, I would have saved myself a lot of time and tears!