An Interview With Bridal Designer Karen Willis Holmes

Well I don’t know about you but I’ve already got one eye on the weekend. I know we’ve still got a whole day to go so how about we stop everything and take a break for a little while? There, that feels better doesn’t it?

And, I’ve got the perfect thing for your ‘me time’ right here because I’m thrilled to share an interview with the wonderful and immensely talented bridal designer Karen Willis Holmes.

We’ve featured so many gorgeous brides wearing Karen Willis Holmes here on Love My Dress so you can imagine how excited I was to be able to put some questions to the designer herself. In fact, excited is a bit of an understatement but I don’t feel bad AT ALL because I’m very sure that after you’ve browsed this feature, you’ll love Karen Willis Holmes as much as I do – just take a look at these images. I swoon!

Before we leap into the interview, perhaps I should tell you a little bit about Karen first. Well, she’s one of the new generation of on-trend Australian bridal designers and her dresses are beyond perfect for the modern bride. They’re the epitome of cool glamour and every design mixes unexpected flourishes with exceptional craftsmanship. In short, they’re bridal heaven and here’s Karen to tell us more…

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Can you give a little overview of how you came to be a bridal designer?

I loved fashion in general and it was not until later I developed my love of Bridal gowns. I studied fashion design and manufacture at Bentley TAFE in Perth.

I have also learnt from different people I have worked with over the years, including one particular person I met while I worked for Arabella Pollen in London.

We would make the sample patterns in the studio and after the shows I took the patterns to this older gentleman (there was no other word for him!) then, he would tweak them and turn them into production patterns which were masterpieces, he had such love and passion for his work and showed me so much.

I have always been interested in, and focused on a high level of workmanship and focused on job opportunities that involved this craftsmanship which also allowed me to self-train.

I worked for myself and another company while I was in Perth before moving to London. I stayed in London for a couple of years and worked for companies specializing in evening and special occasion day wear. When I moved back to Perth I started a store designing evening wear. During this time I started to get people asking me to make wedding gowns for them. When the lease finished on my store at the time I had to make a decision about what I was going and where I was going to go.

My husband recommended I specialised in wedding gowns. I don’t know why I could not work this out myself and it took Geoff to suggest it for me – designing wedding gowns is perfect for me, I love the quality, the fabrics, corsets, trains…”

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When you start to design a new collection, what is the process? Do you start with an overview of what you want to collection to be or a mood board with the elements you want to include?

I am always thinking of the next collection and new designs. Any images that inspire me I collect along the way and I also sketch when something comes to me.

When it is time to focus on the next collection, I go through all the inspiration I have collected and sort the images into stories. I’ll also look at what has been selling in the stores to see what designs brides are loving and then I start sketching all of my ideas. It is a process of adding sketches and then editing designs before I take them to the workroom to start sampling.

What part of the design process do you enjoy most? 

There are actually two parts I enjoy the most! When I have the first row of sketches together that I love, and then when all the samples are nearly completed and have come to life.

How many drafts of a design might you go through before reaching a finished design? 

Anything from having a sample perfect from the first go, to 6 – 7 goes, because sometimes you can’t get it quite right and there is something to tweak each time.

Do you design on your own or is it a more collaborative process? 

I like to start to design on my own, and finish with a collaborative.

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What are your design influences right now?  

My influence is always driven by the desire to make something beautiful.

Where do you look to spot ‘trends’ and keep abreast with what brides are looking for? 

I don’t necessarily start thinking about what brides want, mainly because what they are wanting now, is not what they will want in 6 – 12 months when the new collection comes out. Instead, I think of myself as a fashion designer, so I am designing pieces that I love and in turn my bride will love.

Do you tend to design with a certain type of bride in mind?

No, I don’t design for one particular bride in mind. Instead, I try and design for many different styles of brides but who are all interested in fashion.

What are your favourite materials/embellishments to work with? 

I have been working a lot with different beautiful stretch fabrics.

What, in your opinion, sets your brand apart? What are your core values? 

I see the brand as a fashion based company who designs and produces beautiful, high quality and hand crafted wedding dresses.

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What are your proudest moments workwise?

Opening our NYC store in 2014 was definitely a highlight for me.

What do you do to relax? How do you escape from the wedding world?

My ideal escape is a long walk somewhere picturesque, followed by a lazy lunch with a glass of wine.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

In any business, especially a growing one, there are lots of challenges to stand out in a global environment and to scale the business with the growth but to not lose the essence and core of the business.

What are the most important things brides should keep in mind whilst choosing their gown?

There are a few things to keep in mind – your personal style, your body shape and your budget. Finding the perfect wedding dress is all about finding a dress that suits these three things!

If you weren’t designing wedding dresses, what do you think you would be doing?

I would still be working in fashion!

What should we expect next from your label?

I have four collections that are different styles and price points. I am really excited to share the collections we are working on for next year which are stunning stretch gowns, where I have really focused on achieving an amazing fit, but also I have returned to my roots and designed a couture Bespoke Collection of beautiful wedding dresses that are really dramatic in style and have some exquisite beading work in the design.

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A huge and heartfelt thank you to Karen for taking the time out to talk to us and I hope you’ve loved that little peek into her world as much as I have.

If you’d like to find out more about Karen Willis Holmes, do take a look at her website.


Tamryn x

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Tamryn Settle

Tamryn Settle View all Tamryn's articles

Self-confessed wedding addict Tamryn spends her days in her Berkshire studio writing about all things beautiful and romantic with her black Labrador for company.