Well my friends, I hope you found that an interesting read! She's certainly one fascinating lady is Zoe and really one of the most inspiring people I have worked with.
I'm going all out this week to assist Zoe Lem in promoting her brilliant vintage wedding fair that is taking place this Sunday in Clerkenwell, East London, because honestly, I think anyone who is able to attend this event would be quite crackers not too. I blogged about it yesterday and I'm really looking forward to spending the day there, meeting some amazing and incredibly talented independent suppliers and blog readers and generally having an inspiring time.
A few months ago, I trialled the idea of running an 'Inspirational Women in Business' on a Friday morning – a series of blog posts that would inspire my readers who already work in the wedding industry, or who are keen to begin working in the wedding industry, as well as brides to be who I know are inspired by all the creativity they find themselves surrounded by when planning their weddings. Now, I mean to return to this series very soon (the small matter of writing my first book kind of put these plans on hold for a little while!) but this afternoon, I'd like to resurrect my focus on some of the brilliant women I get to work with in my career as a full time Blogger. This lady is someone who has fascinated me for a long time, and who I am very much inspired by.
I blogged about her upcoming vintage wedding fair
yesterday afternoon, and tomorrow,
I'll be blogging details of a full bespoke wedding dress package
giveaway that Zoe has kindly offered to one of my readers. I had the pleasure of working with Zoe Lem on the photoshoot for my book, and
have already learned a huge deal from this lady about timeless, elegant bridal style and
Zoe first landed on my radar back in 2009, when I
began Love My Dress. At the time, she was owner of the uber cool My Sugarland boutique in London, and in my search for vintage wedding dresses to blog about, I came across this – and I was smitten.
I remember pouring through the pages of the My Sugarland website in awe of its content and amazing stylist/owner and thinking 'God I'd love to meet this person'. It's incredible how just under three years later, Zoe and I have worked together on my very first book (major pinch myself moment and lots more on that to come over the coming weeks!).
I enjoy running these kind of
features in interview style, so if it's OK with you, I'm going to hand over to Zoe to tell us a little about her fascinating career, the importance of a well fitting wedding dress and how style is more important to her than fashion.
Hi, I'm Zoe Lem! For
the past 15 years, I have been working as a
fashion and celebrity stylist for magazines, advertising, TV,
celebrities and of course, for real ladies and gents – sometimes doing
production, sometimes art directing, sometimes props/sets and sometimes
writing. It's been a pretty varied and always crazy busy career.
I have always worked with vintage
and until last year, I owned a a shop in Angel, London, called 'My Sugarland', which was a
fabulous mix of vintage, designer and new designers – so the vintage
element really has been something of the every day for me for sometime now.
I still style, but spend most of my time now is spent both organising my 'Zoe Lem's Vintage Wedding Fair'
and designing vintage style wedding dresses to suit
ladies body shape. My team and I use a lot of vintage blocks (patterns) to assist us in finding the perfect era look to suit each individual body shape, as no two bodies are the
same. That's one key discovery that has certainly come out of the
last fifteen years!
My career to date has
certainly been varied and has included working with Trinny and Susannah, styling a Robbie
Williams video, working for Disney, and styling advertising campaigns for brands such as
Jaguar, Wella, BT and magazines that include Elle, Stella and Grazia. I have also worked on completely
random commissions – creating the global look for Aljazeera English news channel for instance, and travelling
around the world implementing the look, and taking presenters such as
David Frost shopping. Life is never dull, that's for sure!
When I started my career in fashion some fifteen years ago, I worked a lot in bridal. It's funny how these things work a full
circle – here I am back in bridal but this time with my own collection
Zoe on set at the photoshoot for my upcoming book, Style Me Vintage: Weddings. Images from my iPhone
Did you study fashion design and how did you become an expert in for field?
I studied Fashion Design & Marketing at East London University. I knew from pretty early on (my mum would probably say from birth) that I was going into the arts but I wasn't sure for a little while if it would be photography or fashion. I did what most fashion design students do on their university course – that is design, style and create a full collection in my final year – but with my course, we also studied the marketing aspect as well. This experience really became the foundation for my career; we learned about everything from promotions to accounts, marketing and buying – I think having the head to be able to develop what ever I was doing into a business was key for me, and from very early on in my training, I realised that I loved creating a look more than I loved creating a garment.
I have always been more about style than fashion, and again the human and business woman inside me has always been about understanding the client as well as the brief so the body, shape and form has always played a major part in that. When you understand how a garment is made you can understand how it works with the body, the shape, cut and drape of a garment and how things can flatter – or not!
The main focus for me when creating a dress or look is the balance and I
guess that is where being generally creative and arty helps, like when you
are creating a painting or picture – what I mean is, you look at the balance of the
entire frame not just one element – and this is why people get it so wrong
at times, they focus on small details rather than the whole body from head to toe. I
often tell people to imagine themselves as a painting so they can visualise that 'whole look'. We need the base colour/shape, the mid tone and the highlight.
It helps we all have bits we don't like and they're not always the bits
that other people see.
Some of Zoe's own designs, see the full collection here on Love My Dress. Photoshoot also styled by Zoe.
You used to run one of London's most hip vintage clothing stores, My Sugarland – tell me about it?
My vision for My Sugarland was simple I wanted to create a destination store that I would want to go to. My Mum played a huge role inspiring me too – though my Mum is a nurse and doesn't professionally work in the arts, she has always played a big part in my creative drive and most certainly when it comes to clothing I grew up being taken to charity shops, markets, sales and she is still amazing at creating a look. She is a pretty trendy mum and is the only person I know that can always get such bargains.
For me it is about
creating/achieving a look. It's not about where the clothes you are buying are from or who designed them – which label or brand etc, so mixing
together vintage, designer and new talent was really important to me when it came to stocking My Sugarland – this is the same philosophy I follow for my Vintage Wedding Fair.
wanted customers to buy from My Sugarland, because they liked something not because of a
label, so I stocked high end designers that didn't employ big branding campaigns, like John Rocha,
Betty Jackson, PPQ and Armand Basi etc. I mixed this with graduates final
collections and then beautiful vintage from all eras spanning the Victorian through to the 1960's.
The shop space was huge – it is actually where the concept for my Zoe Lem's
Vintage Wedding Fair began – I hosted a small, intimate wedding fair with just a few suppliers. It was a great success! We had over 50 brides for a couple
of hours of pampering, ideas and a lots of trying on of beautiful
dresses. For me you see, it is all about the experiences – I have always gone out of my way for my clients and their experience as my customer.
We also used to run a
Yummy Mummy morning which again was great – a morning that wasn't about
the kids but all about pampering the mums with massage, make up tips,
yoga, nails, nutrition and lots more. Of course, the kids were invited but
there are so many groups that are all about the kids and Mum's need support too! I know I do! Even a superwoman needs a bit of
TLC and recharge!
The interior of 'My Sugarland'. Image Via The Online Stylist
My Sugarland was a sanctuary for so many people – a beautiful space in which to shop, be inspired and learn – a lovely environment in which to work. I had a Georgian set built within the shop with little arches which all took on different themes. We were voted one of Britain's best boutiques by Vogue – one of only 30 in the UK so that was a pretty great achievement.
Like a crazy women I used to change the themes every
season – and I mean, every prop, bit of paint, clothing – the entire space! I miss it
really but with such a huge space and having set up whilst pregnant (I gave birth four weeks after opening the shop, and then had my second child 18 months later), it
was a bit bonkers. The key and success factors that emerged from my experience at My Sugarland are bridal wear and my styling services and thus, the birth of the Zoe Lem Collection.
Image Copyright (c) 2012, The Womans Room
Describe your role as a 'Vintage Shape Mistress'
As my slogan goes 'there is no such thing as the wrong dress, just the right dress on the wrong body'. Through the past fifteen plus years dressing bodies of all shapes and sizes, I have really never found any two bodies the same.
Though the high street tries to tell us that we are either one thing or another, we all have different bits and bobs in different places that make us who we are. Once we have accepted that, and learn how to spend less time comparing and more time positively trying to create an amazing silhouette, that suits both our shape and lifestyle – then dressing yourself becomes much easier, and much more enjoyable.
When it comes to bridal, I'm very much all about finding the perfect shape to suit each body shape. So often, girls will come to me with a set era or look that they want to achieve on their wedding day, eg, the 1920's or 1930s – but the 20's might not be loving that body! I would always recommend we find the perfect silhouette to flatter the figure and to highlight the slimmest bits – balancing the figure from head to toe in it's entirety. We can then style the look 20's, 30's or what ever style the bride loves and is influenced by, but getting the silhouette and shape right first is absolutely essential.
Zoe and her Husband James. Photograph Copyright (c) 2012, Style Bubble
My role as a 'vintage shape mistress' in short is to find a brides perfect vintage shape. I regularly use original vintage dress and clothing patterns to assist me, but I'm not a 'vintage purist' – if we need to mix a 50's bodice with a 30's bias cut skirt to create the perfect silhouette I will as long as it works construction wise and astheticly is the most beautiful option.
To me, there is nothing worse than a dress walking down the isle and stealing the limelight from the bride. My aim, and the best compliment I think a girl can get is 'You look amazing – beautiful!' – rather than 'what a nice dress!'. You want the look to work organically and to look like it has been effortlessly pulled together.
Another thing I believe in is that the key in achieving a great bridal look is in highlighting the face and 'popping out' the eyes. In any approach to professional styling, it is the face that is the most important thing – though I do realise that this is one day that people will be focussing on the entire look head to toe. I'll say it again, it's about balance, balance, balance!
Tell me about your involvement with the Trinny and Susannah show?
The last project I worked on before setting up My Sugarland and really going for it with my Zoe Lem brand, was one of Trinny and Susannah's books. This led to Trinny and Susannah asking me to work with them on their their hugely popular and successful TV programme – and then it really all stemmed from there.
I worked with Trinny and Susannah on all of their projects, from styling them for the Nescafe adverts and all their magazines features, as well as styling their TV series, books and Daily Mail column. It is funny, as it wasn't really ever a secret that I worked with them – my name was always credited on everything as the Stylist – it's just that once the media discovered that Trinny and Susannah had had behind the scenes guidance and styling advice, there was a little bit of an over-top reaction from some press and the media.
We worked very closely for about five years and in all honesty, it was a really full on tough period of time – very challenging in many ways, though it has almost definitely enhanced my career.
I worked a lot with the real women on the Trinny and Susannah TV programme and it was through this experience that it really began to dawn on me that it was my personality and personability that really worked. I realised I wanted to work more with real women in helping them to achieve great looks – and that I had the skill to listen as much as advise these people, and reassure them. My job is quite often about counselling, as much as it is about fashion!
What lures you to the vintage aesthetic and vintage inspired bridal fashion?
Though as a hot a topic vintage is right now, I find it such an over used buzz word. For me, it is not even just the over all look and aesthetics of vintage that are appealing – it's the way that things are made, thought about and put together.
For me, it is all about the cut and shape of the garments and how they work on the female form. For instance, these days, clothes manufacturing and production is simplified and fashion is produced in bulk because of how every extra piece costs on the factory floor. The big appeal about vintage is that back in the 1930's and 1950s and so on, the body really was the key focus when dresses were designed. It wasn't about focussing on the business bottom line and saving on production costs, it was about creating a silhouette that truly flattered the female form, whatever shape or size. A beautifully designed and crafted garment.
Each 'vintage era' comes with it's different silhouettes, but for each era, it was about the female body. Of course, this doesn't really include the 1920's – as this was a time of complete rebellion against showing off the female body – though there are still some great flattering shapes within the 20's. It's not all about the short, flirty flapper frock.
I love the history and the stories that come with the vintage dress. I find it so inspirational. There are reasons that each seam line and pattern piece is there – and it's not just for fashion purposes.
Of course there is a real romantic appeal to vintage too which appeals to so many anti-modernists – so much is now made in China, which comes ill fitting and really just doesn't ever flatter the wearer.
is your response to the discussion that 'vintage is dead' that surfaced
last year, or is that discussion in itself now well and truly dead?
Vintage has certainly become an over used buzz word. I think that are a
lot of suppliers and brides using the word without really understanding
it. I have to say that when people say that '90's' is vintage, I have to
quite strongly disagree! For me that is retro and actually I would
consider anything that is up to 50 years old retro, 50-100 years vintage
and 100years old+ antique. But that is more my opinion rather than fact
as I think now there are such fuzzy lines when it comes to categorising what is actually vintage.
I think that now though
particularly in bridal, people put a bit of lace on and a particular font
and deem their design as vintage! Photographers use it for a description of non
formal photography in a vintage frame or with a particular retro style edit. I struggle with it all a bit and
I think people are trying so hard to be different that things end up becoming over styled and a bit all over the place. For me, even if the
pinny's and bunting bit of the 40'-60's 'vintage' dies in popularity, the Hollywood
glamorous end of vintage will live on, as it is more sophisticated, elegant and ultimately timeless.
So many brides come to me saying they want a vintage style dress with
really very little if any understanding at all of what era is what. I don't mean that to sound patronising – it's a symptom of how popular the word has become. Often, the brides just
means they want some lace or a 50's silhouette. This is part of the reason I am on the mission to teach and educate brides as part of my vintage wedding fairs – so that people can make more of an
informed decision (I talk at my fairs and give presntations about vintage fashion). It's not about being purist either – it really doesn't matter if people don't know the full
history of their dress – I think you like what you like! Quite often,
people have a vintage style dress and not necessarily a vintage style
I think as long as people understand what they are
looking for and aren't using the word vintage purely as a marketing tool,
which can often be the case, then it's OK.
Who is your biggest style icon – living and of yesteryear?
I'm not sure I could ever name one person, but I would certainly say the Hollywood figures just ooze sophistication and glamour in a way that just doesn't happen now. Celebrities are often either too thin, over styled and quite often both – either way, so many of them don't make great role models.
I am certainly chanelling more of a Louise Brooks style these days, and really think that the elegance of these ladies was just so effortless.
I love the expression of ladies like Helena Bonham Carter – though she rarely gets it right, she completely expresses herself which again doesn't happen so much now, as so much of our modern day icons have a stylist of their own. It is often all too contrived.
Which designers do you admire most and why?
I love the simplicity of Marni though I could never wear their skirts – not for my hips! The elegance of Dior, the spirit of Jonanthan Saunders and the structure of John Rocha. I think all designers have good seasons and the key is to to pick the best from the best.
From the Jonathan Saunders website
How would you describe your own signature style?
I know that so many girls want the big skirts, the bling and in my opinion too much detail – so most of my dresses are very simple and not over detailed as the shape is the most important thing to me.
What inspires you when it comes to designing?
Shape, form, colour and fabric. I think that clever simple looks so much more elegant and sophisticated than too many details so the cut is the most important thing. The diamond paneling of the 1930's is a technic that can be so unexpectedly flattering. There are key design and fabric/pattern cutting traits to each of the era's that are really interesting and great to incorporate in to modern day designs.
Generally I am inspired by all sorts; fashion, art, architecture, textiles, people! I think if you are generally creative, you don't and shouldn't close your mind to any influences that are all around you, but I would say that women and their bodies are the main influence for me. Problem solving and creating solutions to the areas that women are so keen on, or keen on concealing – I find it all so fascinating. You want to feel completely comfortable and beautiful on your wedding day.
How would you describe the Zoe Lem bride?
I am very lucky to work with lots of lovely ladies. Someone said tome recently that they thought that you attracted brides that were similar to yourself which is maybe true. Certainly a lot of girls come to me for the service and personal styling experience, as much as for the dress. Having a stylist as a designer can only be a good thing can't it?! I am pretty down to earth (ask Annabel) and offer quite a relaxed process and environment.
I have a lot of girls that come to me after having been through the wedding dress mill, who are too often rather traumatised. I come to them with realistic and affordable solutions.
The girls are generally looking for something a little different to the sweetheart neckline classic on demand shape that so may girls are opting for these days. I would also say to the ladies – 'how do you want to feel on the day?', as much as 'how do you want to look on the day?', because each of the silhouettes make you stand, move and feel very differently. It is not just about how it looks.
Can you briefly talk through the consultation and design experience? How long does it usually take? Where does it take place?
We work on a three stage process; the first is the design appointment, where we talk through and agree on the shape and basic silhouette. I would give ladies a full shape consultation and we would try on, discuss and agree on their perfect shape. We would discuss the actual style and spirit of the wedding, wedding party, couple and any other elements we want to include.
I would then take measurements of the whole body to enable us to really create the perfect fit. We would then go off and make the pattern and toile (sample dress) and then we would arrange an appointment, where we would make any amendments needed and make sure everything is perfect.
At this stage we decide on fabrics. I find that until girls can see the dress in their size they find it difficult to visualise themselves in it. We then go ahead and make the final dress and there comes the final appointment with the dress in the real fabric. We wouldn't hem the dress until the final fabric with the actual shoes.
I have a showroom in Clerkenwell near Farringdon in London and they just need to drop me a line [email protected]
and we can work out a time that fits in with their busy lives we are
generally pretty flexible on appointments. We allow 60-90 minutes per
appointment, but really, however long until the job is done and the
client is able to leave happy and satisfied.
Film production Copyright (c) 2012, Somethin' Else
Can you provide a price guide?
have found a gap for girls aged 30+, that want something that is more
relaxed and feels like their style and there is a possibility they can
wear again. So we try to keep our margin down to fit within the budgets
of these brides. Because of this, most of my dress designs are
c.£1,000-£2,500 – this is for a made to measure dress, so a gown crafted
entirely around the specific measurements of the bride – not purchased
off-the-peg. Obviously, the final fee will depend on fabric, design
We work on a three stage process and the payment can be spread over
three appointments too, which I know many of my clients have found very
If you were not a designer and Vintage Shape Mistress what would you be?
I love art directing and would I'm sure still end up doing something creative it really is who you are I am a visionary I love to create whether with my own two hands or bringing together others, this is why the Vintage wedding fair is really just an extension of my vision. I love writing but again is about translating the vision I think that though occasionally I have thought about it I will always be freelance as I really can't imagine a job that can tick so many boxes and allow for so much creative freedom and power.
How has working with the wedding blogs benefited you and your business?
Definitely! I think that the way that both the media and the reader behaves now – it's all about the online transaction and experience – though I still love to touch a magazine and rip out tear sheets to be inspired by.
The thing with blogs is that bloggers can maintain personality and creativity that gets lost in conventional magazines. There are so many blogs now which is great – everyone is their own
Editor! It still amazes me how much reach some of the better quality blogs have. I do
think that the well written, well designed blogs can really help to
quite quickly get a message out there in a way that only a blog can.
The blogs have allowed my branding and vision to reach customers in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. Of course working with Love My Dress has been the most productive and successful, it's great when you meet like minded people and I think we have similar customer that is looking for the same ideas and inspiration. So watch this space, as there are exciting things to come from my partnership with Annabel!
Zoe was stylist on my upcoming book, Style Me Vintage: Weddings. You can pre-order your copy here.
Finally, I have just launched my new website which is exciting – it will be all about advise, inspiration and finding your perfect shape. I am currently working on a series of 'how to' videos for the site, with a focus on how to work the different era's to suit different body shapes. I'll have an online shop so that brides from anywhere in the world will be able to buy my dresses, and I will be finally letting my opinions loose on the world as I'm just completing the finishing touches on my new blog – so watch out as I'm sure you can tell I do like to be pretty straight talking!
My wedding fair is going even bigger for Spring 2013; I am planning a beautiful deco fair that is taking it all up a notch – glamorous, sophisticated and with lots of polished suppliers that are offering something beautiful. I have been observing and being a voyeur of the industry for a little while now and am finally ready to explode, having sussed out my place in it all. My mission is simple – find your perfect shape.
Well my friends, I hope you found that an interesting read! She's certainly one fascinating lady is Zoe and really one of the most inspiring people I have worked with. Make sure you book your tickets for the Zoe Lem Vintage Wedding Fair here now – I'll see you there. You can also find Zoe on Facebook and Twitter.
Tomorrow, I will be blogging about a bespoke wedding dress giveaway, courtesy of Zoe – watch this space for this absolutely fantastic opportunity for one of your to receive the full works from Zoe, from consultation, design and a completely designed from scratch beautiful wedding dress.
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