A little bit of luxury
Don O'Neill of Theia, and Jenny Packham, who has teamed up with LK Bennett for a new bridal shoe range, have been dressing stars - and royals - for years. They discuss their latest collections with our fashion editor and offer their top tips for brides on the lookout for the perfect dress
In his Theia design studio on New York's Broadway, Don O'Neill has a bird's eye view out over Manhattan with its shiny, highrise skyline. On his desk, the drawings on the Irishman's screen couldn't be more different.
They are architectural and contemporary, yes, but at their heart, there is an overwhelming sense of romance about his work, from his deft use of luxury fabrics and introducing colour such as in the 'Layla' gown (pictured below).
The blush slip dress with tulle sleeves features pearl embellishment, edging the cold shoulder which was a nod to Don's pearl anniversary, marking his 30 years in the business.
Three decades designing for different body shapes has given Don an insight into women's complex attitude to fashion, and surely there is no pressure greater than the wedding dress, something she might have dreamt of, and sketched, since childhood. So, what are his tips to finding the perfect wedding dress?
"What I always tell a girl is that you really need to go with your gut," Don says. "A lot of girls have a pre-conceived idea of what they think they should look like on their wedding day, but I always try and encourage them to try on lots of different styles.
"My advice is to see how your body looks in different styles because some girls, they think because of their body shape, 'Oh, I can't wear a fitted dress' or 'I can't wear anything too hourglass, it won't look good', and then they put one on and think, 'Holy God, this kind of looks amazing'. They're just not used to seeing themselves that way."
The thoughtful Irishman has dressed everyone from Oprah to Khloe Kardashian, and his biggest incentive is to come up with designs that don't wear the woman.
Two of his most successful bridal dresses this season, the 'Layla' and 'Sasha' (pictured above) are available exclusively in Ireland at Folkster Bridal in Kilkenny. I asked Don to dissect the looks.
"The 'Sasha' gown is a nod to our boho, ethereal bride and I wanted simple and elegant. I thought the off-the-shoulder neckline was young and fresh and the big, dramatic sleeve is so romantic cut in guipure lace."
With all the simplicity and grace in a covered-up dress, Don also factored in a sexy silhouette and the device, he explains, is to "cut tight to the body, and the dress hugs in right behind the knees and then flares out in a dramatic train."
Swapping over hats from red carpet to bridal, Don wants impact, but he acknowledges that his brides also crave something that is "easy, relaxed and boho.
"My inspiration for the 'Sasha' bride was a girl who is carefree and comfortable and not trussed up and corseted in a ball gown. The secret to all these dresses is the heavy satin lining. It has a 'shapewear effect' and they hold you in where they need to hold you in. All of the dresses are cut to flatter the figure and even if you have a big bust or a small bust and fuller hips, they look amazing because we sort of balance it with that kick out from behind the knees. It balances the top to the bottom and the whole silhouette."
When I meet Jenny Packham in London for the launch of her bridal shoe and clutch collaboration with the LK Bennett fashion and shoe brand, there is a lot of excitement hovering around the British designer.
Could she be the one to do Meghan Markle's wedding dress?
Jenny is certainly a shoe-in, pardon the pun. She has designed a lot of stunning gowns for Kate Middleton and is a red carpet favourite with big celebs. She has years of experience behind her; she celebrates 30 years in the occasion wear business with a gala show at London's Ritz Hotel on March 26, and she has been over 15 years in the bridal sector. Sitting with Jenny over afternoon tea at the Connacht Hotel, always the ultimate professional, her lips were sealed on the royal wedding dress issue, so we discuss her new range.
Jenny reports she is "seeing more brides interested in dresses that have more tone to them. We have done dresses with that barley-coloured background with maybe gold and silver beads on them, and I think it's nice because it breaks up the collection."
There's also colour in her new collection of bridal shoes for LK Bennett, with 16 styles in total, priced from €270-€595.
With colour in mind, she introduced the stappy 'Brielle' (right) with its subtle hint of barley satin, which works as a contrast to a champagne-toned dress.
The showstopper, and a favourite of both Jenny and myself, is the 'Dahlia' high sandal (below right), with drop crystals so reminiscent of art deco jewels.
Jenny says, "I think that beading is quite Bette Davis. It has that slight vintage feel to it and if you put a darker clasp around a stone, you get more depth in it."
Inspired by the leading ladies of the golden age of cinema, the collection fuses the glamour of Old Hollywood icons Vivien Leigh and Bette Davis with the vintage style of 1930s Paris. The collection includes the 'Felicity' high sandal (below left) with glittered star detail. I have my favourites which include the lace 'Parris' block heel with grosgrain bow, and I'm happy to report that the range includes a variety of heel heights from 100mm and 50mm and flat options.
"Having made all the decisions, I think a wedding day is a day when you want to forget what you are wearing and be in the moment. I think the flat shoes started off as girls getting married on the beach and now I think it's a height thing and a style thing," says Jenny.
For brides who cannot make up their mind, there's always the option of buying two. Jenny recently showed her latest bridal dresses collection in New York - London is next month.
Jenny says, "We've been seeing a lot of brides buying two dresses for their wedding, especially in America, and a lot of brides are talking about changing shoes half-way though. It is a very long day to be wearing one pair of shoes, however comfortable they are. It is about marrying that combination of style and comfort together.
"We have been doing bridal about 15 years and it was always a slow-moving business, and all of a sudden, in the last three years, all these designers have come into the market. There is so much choice. I think the bride can have anything they want now.
"I think what we might see in a few years is going back to that much cleaner look, all about the fabric and the draping etc, because at the moment, I think every one you pick up has a lot of things happening on it."
* "I recommend that you put together all your favourite ideas and then realise that you need to lose a few of them. For instance, if you pick a pair of very special shoes, maybe you can have your dress shorter at the front."
* Try not to do too much. "If you always had an idea that you wanted a veil, then you should be trying to find a dress that suits a veil. Work out what's most important to you."