Interview: bridal designer Charlotte Balbier reveals wedding dress trends and how to find the perfect gown
21 NOVEMBER 2013
Bridal designer Charlotte Balbier is celebrating ten successful years in the industry, but her family have long been in the business. It all started in 1960 when Charlotte's grandparents took to designing wedding dresses and opened their own retail boutique. From then on, the family business mushroomed.
Click on photos below to view Charlotte's stunning collections.
Bridal design was clearly in her family's blood with Charlotte's mum, the award-winning designer Amanda Wyatt, pioneering her own collection. Charlotte naturally followed in her mum's footsteps and started up her own label, Charlotte Balbier. The bride-to-be has since released two show-stopping collections – Hall of Fame and this year's Decade of Style.
Speaking exclusively to HELLO! Online, Charlotte shares her predictions on future wedding dress trends, her top tips for brides on how to find the perfect gown and her earliest memory of growing up in "nana's" bridal boutique.
CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR CHARLOTTE'S COLLECTIONS
You use a lot of lace in your newest collection, A Decade of Style. Did Kate Middleton's wedding dress have any influence on your range?
I think Kate's dress was amazing. I loved the fact that she had the full lace sleeves and the gorgeous trailed skirt - it was really traditional. She also gave a nod that it was okay to have veils because for a long time people felt they were a bit old-fashioned.
When I design though, I very much concentrate on who my bride is. They're very confident in their fashion choices and they know what they want. My dresses are all really feminine. I love using lace, soft chiffon, floaty fabrics and big tulle skirts. I do lots of things for different kinds of brides – I don't have a specific style, such as bohemian or vintage or modern.
Your wedding dress is the one time you can really have your own stance on how you want it to be made, so even though you might look at celebrities for inspiration, you go to boutiques and see what designs are out there and you can make it your own.
What wedding dress trends will we see for 2014?
We'll be seeing two strong trends for next year and the year after, but they’re very different. Ball gowns and tulle will be big, the bigger the better, much bigger than what Kate wore.
We're also seeing some really paired down, simple, classic styles, without a lot of beading or lace. It's more about the way the dress is cut, the detailing in the pleating and the cut of the fabric. The past few years, there's been a lot of lace and a lot of intricate detailing, but now people are wanting something a bit more stripped back.
Brides are also having more fun with accessories. A girl will buy a reasonably understated gown and then will accessorise it with a nice belt, a lace jacket, or an amazing veil, or even some really unusual shoes.
What tips would you give to brides when they first come in for a fitting?
Keeping an open mind is really key. Don't say no to anything because if one of the sales advisers in the boutique suggests something, then you might as well try it on because you've got nothing to lose. The key to any appointment is to make sure you've done your hair and make-up how you would like, because it makes such a massive difference.
Wear nice underwear because there's nothing worse than trying on a dress and seeing a big pair of black knickers. Get nude, seamless knickers and a nice bra.
How much of your own opinion do you give to brides at the fitting?
It's nice to have an opinion and to advise people and guide them, but you have to do it in a way that is right for the bride. What I usually do is get girls to try on different styles. You've come in to try dresses to see what fits you and how you feel. Nine times out of ten brides think, 'Actually, it's not what I wanted.' Most girls walk out buying a dress they didn't come in for.
Until you try it on, it's a very emotional thing and it's more the feeling when you look in the mirror. If a girl tries on a dress and I can see it's not working because I can tell by the body language that she's not feeling very comfortable, I'll guide her into another dress.
Do you find that a lot of brides lose weight before the wedding?
Yes. It can go either way. Some girls put on a lot of weight, or lose a lot it because stress can bring out key things. I know a lot of people who tell brides not to worry about losing weight because they'll lose it naturally, but it can be the opposite. I'm getting married in three weeks and I've lost nearly two stone without trying, but it's nervous energy.
The dresses are made with two inches tolerance, because it's not ideal to have to take in a dress hugely or take it out. The worst thing is when girls lose a substantial amount of weight but they don't tell the boutique. Discovering they've lost two stone is a bit of a shock, so always be honest with the store and let them know in advance.
Has it been quite stressful watching your own wedding dress being made?
Yes and no. I designed it myself and it's really quite traditional, very romantic and timeless. The hardest bit was choosing the final one because I had about 15 different designs in the showroom which were nearly 'the one', but I've changed my mind so much.
When I put on 'the One', it was a feeling. I felt amazing and didn't want to take it off. But it wasn't what I wanted in the beginning. I went on a journey to find what I wanted.
For the evening I've got something else which is a bit more fitted, because we're having lots of entertainment and I really like dancing. I designed it myself with a lot of help from my mum. We're actually putting it into my 2015 collection next April, so brides will be able to wear those dresses.
Do you ever ask your mum for a second opinion when designing?
All the time. We actually cross reference. Our collections come out at slightly different times so we concentrate on one particular brand or collection. I'll put together my collection but I'll always, always get her involved, and vice versa. You're more objective when it's not your own.
We call it the 'pre-show meltdown' where you look at your own collection and hate every piece. Mum will go through the collection and it's much clearer. The week before I came to London for a show, I looked at the rail and panicked, so mum had a look and said, 'It's amazing, it's the best you've ever done.'
I think you need to have that person that can kick you back into thinking logically and who goes through everything with you and gives you a helping hand. Every day we're helping each other. You put your heart and soul into it because it's emotional. It's not just going to work and finishing work, it's my family. It has so much more meaning for me.
When you started out, did your mum give you advice on how to build your brand?
The best thing she did was to make me start from the bottom. Even though I started my brand pretty quickly in the family business, she made me go out and sell it myself. I had to really put myself out there and work really long hours to build the brand, but it made me realise every aspect of the business, not just making beautiful collections and designing. I saw how to make a collection from start to finish. She didn't make it easy for me. She's very much a mum who's always been quite a fan of tough love. I saw how she built her brand. She was a huge inspiration, and she still is.
Do you ever find it difficult doing business within your family?
"Yes. I think that what can be difficult is that you can say things to each other that you wouldn't say to other colleagues. It's easy to forget sometimes in the heat of the moment that you're at work. It's very emotionally charged because we want to do well, but also it's from the heart. It's been in our family for such a long time so it has sentimental value.
What is your earliest memory growing up in a family of bridal designers?
There are two things. When I was little, my grandparents used to take me to their bridal shop in Manchester. It was huge. In those days, you bought from the rail so we had a lot of stock and about 18 fitting rooms. It was utter madness on Saturdays with people coming in to buy dresses. I used to sit and watch what was going on.
My nana also made a lot at home and gave me little projects to do, probably to keep me quiet. I used to make lavender bags, as we used to grow lavender in the garden. She'd give me the materials from the bridal dresses and show me how to make the bags. I loved sewing the beads. I used to pretend I was helping with the dresses.
When we came to the end of the season, we had loads of stuff left over, especially bridesmaid dresses. Grandpa used to bring them home so I had an amazing dressing up box, full of dresses, tiaras and shoes. I loved dressing up and I used to have the best party dresses as my nana would make me something. If there was ever a nativity or something, I was always volunteering to bring in dresses she made.