It’s comforting, after the year we’ve had, to see both in the increase in traffic here on Love My Dress and our social platforms, that many couples become engaged over the festive period.
Despite, or perhaps, in spite of the year we just had, it’s deeply reassuring to know that people are seeking out spaces like Love My Dress for inspiration, guidance and comfort in planning things like a wedding right now.
I love to introduce our readers, both old and new (congrats all you newly engaged’s!) to my favourite people and things on Love My Dress throughout January and this interview with a dear friend and colleague of mine is a great example of that.
Halfpenny London + Follow
If you are indeed newly engaged and entering the world of weddings and wedding dress hunting for the first time, you might not yet have heard of Kate Halfpenny – allow us the pleasure of the being the first to introduce you.
I’ve known Kate for over a decade now. She was the first designer to recognise Love My Dress and its potential. I first ‘blogged’ about Kate in January 2010 and it’s been a love affair ever since. Kate Halfpenny is one of Britain’s most talented and gifted bridal fashion designers and I am thrilled to be able to invite you into her world today through this intimate interview. Kate discusses her passions, her family, her obsessions for paint colours, how she is adapting her business and personal and career visions for the future.
So grab a cuppa, sit back and enjoy.
All portraits by Cat Vinton
Kate, what a year it’s been. How would you summarise it in one short sentence?
This question was so difficult to answer because I don’t really feel like I’m in a position to reflect yet. 2020 was a challenging year on many levels, but it’s made me appreciate and cherish the joys to be found in the little things.
How did you spend Christmas?
I spent it with my husband and son and we started the day by emptying Sylvester’s stocking in bed which was wonderful. The day was very low-key, roaring fires and super relaxed.
We had a family zoom and went for a walk on the beach. I love a windy wintery beach walk. It always feels like a pause and a little reset.
We talked at the start of the pandemic via Zoom, when Zoom was still very new to us all. Back then you were splitting your time between your London atelier and home. How has life changed since then?
I’m not in London two days a week with my incredible team – I’m at home every day with my husband and my four year old son. I’ve found myself reciting the alphabet and making monsters out of cereal boxes rather than moodboarding the 2022 collection. But, to be honest, I feel that it’s the only thing I could possibly be doing right now.
(You will find our 2020 Zoom conversation with Kate here).
I feel like the lockdown has made me look at and reexamine my priorities. I had a good work/life balance before this crisis, but I was always running at 100 miles an hour – so I think it’s time to make some permanent changes to that, to slow down some.
My thoughts haven’t changed since our earlier Zoom conversation, but none of us had any idea how long this would last.
My focus has been on our brides and when we did manage to reopen, I decided only to go in one day a week to minimise travel. It did mean that my day was insanely busy and I’d work late, but I felt that was the best option.
Being able to take my son to school and pick him up four days a week was a game changer. We spent five years on an intense IVF journey to have him and I’m cherishing every moment I can.
A big difference this time is that my son is now in year 1, rather than reception year at school, and it’s a whole other ballgame having to home school with an actual curriculum to follow rather than making cardboard monsters – but as I write this response, it’s day 2 and were navigating it ok. Despite a glass of water over my laptop yesterday, I think we can do this!
Work wise I’m planning some Instagram lives and other things to continue to inspire people during lockdown as I think it’s so important to keep in contact, albeit virtually.
One lovely thing that’s happened is that past brides have found the time to send us their images so we’ve been keeping Instagram and the blog up to date with all of their stunning weddings. It’s been so wonderful to see and definitely helps keep the morale high.
We’ve got a full diary of virtual appointments, which the team and I are loving, it’s a great way to get our future brides inspired on the collection and it’s lovely to hear all their plans.
COVID has had a profound impact on the way we live our lives and conduct business. How will things look different in light of this in 2021 for Halfpenny London?
This has made us re-centre and re-focus on who we are as a brand and what it is we love to do. I love the theatre of our events and showcasing our collections in the UK and New York and we’ll get back to all that fun later on.
We’ve just found the perfect partner in Helen Rodrigues in Australia, for example, and we’d usually travel there with a huge trunk show to celebrate and showcase the collaboration, but that’s out of the question for now.
We’ll get back to it and, in the meantime, we’re looking at finding innovative ways to support and inspire.
I’ll never stop designing because it’s in my blood. But there’s a time and a place for everything and, for now, we’re nurturing our brides, we’re nurturing our stockists, and we’re working together as a family. That way we’ll get through this!
Bridal boutique owners have had to learn how do things quite differently as a result of COVID. Can you talk us through a boutique experience during a pandemic?
We’re closed at the moment, as is the rest of the ‘non essential’ world, but when we re-open we’re still able to offer a wonderful experience. Most people are familiar with the masks and hand-washing routine by now so it’s no surprise.
My mega team have been working from home and have been in constant contact with everyone. We’ve been doing virtual appointments and phone consultations which means we’re ready to hit the ground running with brides when they come in.
We’ve revised our appointment schedule to make sure social distancing rules can be kept to but we’re lucky enough to have three buildings, so this provides a lot more flexibility. There will only be one guest allowed during the appointment but there will be an iPad set up where the bride can zoom or facetime family and friends. It’s on a stand attached to a mirror which can be moved around, so they can really feel like part of the appointment. We’re so used to it now – we’ve been doing it for a while and have the routine down!
We’re so excited to see our brides again, although it will be different, we’re doing everything we can to make it a magical experience.
Kate’s boutique on Woburn Walk
2020 introduced the ‘Micro Wedding’ into our lives. What advice would you give to brides hoping to marry with their own micro wedding in terms of bridal fashion?
Don’t let the term ‘micro-wedding’ restrict you in any way in terms of what you want to wear. We always say ‘be the bride you want to be’ and don’t let anything stop you! Rock out and go for it.
All of the covid weddings we’ve seen and been a part of have been magical. We’re actually finding that some brides are going for more drama than ever, adding layers or statement pieces to make the dress be a wonderful, show-stopping statement.
For the brides who are choosing to have a small ceremony now and a big party later, our slinky slip dress with our Neptune tux jacket thrown over the shoulders looks incredible then for the main event/party the layers can be added to that same base dress, the giant skirts, the veils and capes, etc so our brides feel like they have two completely different yet equally special outfits.
We have seen lots of clients buying the trousers too and wearing them with their original bodice for the big wedding and adding a light organza overskirt to add drama to the trousers.
I think brides are being truly inventive and original and I love seeing how creative they’re all being.
You are surrounded by a great team Kate. All, bar none of our readers who visit your boutique rave about it and your team members. How do you choose your team and what makes the Halfpenny experience so different and magical?
It’s an instinctual thing. Also, as time has gone on, I’ve started relying on my heads of departments for recruiting. They each have a wealth of experience to draw on so I feel that we’re coming into this new year with the best team we’ve ever had. I’m so excited.
My retail team and wholesale team are the most amazing brand ambassadors and they carry the Halfpenny London ethos with them. We never push a sale and honestly believe if the dress is right for the bride, then she’ll know.
Everyone who works for me really believes in the product that we’re selling and the dreams that we’re weaving. I strongly believe it’s not just a job for my team and everyone gives me their all and for that I’m eternally grateful. I’m so lucky to have such talented people around me.
We know you’re mad about interior design and will often repaint and redecorate your beautiful boutique depending on season and mood. Do you have any plans to change your boutique for 2021?
Funny you should mention that, we’ve just repainted the boutique! Little Greene Paint Company sent us paint for a makeover, so the boutique is now Obsidian Green walls to the ceiling and Livid Green floors. We’ve changed the curtains too from pink silk to green velvet and it’s totally transformed the space.
We’ve just bought this gorgeous screen that we’re going to use to create a dressing room downstairs in the boutique, and another one to separate the reception area in the atelier. We’re constantly moving things around and improving. I can’t help myself!
Tell us how you’ve personally coped through the more challenging times of COVID?
By talking. Talking to my friends and my incredibly supportive husband. Going for windy walks. Keeping in touch with my team and supporting one another is the only way. I couldn’t have done it on my own. This time around, having seen how successful other people I know have been with the Joe Wickes workouts, Sylv, my son and I, have decided to join in!
Self-care isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity at the moment. Kate Halfpenny
I’m frustrated with myself sometimes and struggle to remember that, but we all must.
We love seeing more of the personal side of your world on your Instagram feed. Tell us a little about your latest renovation plans – you’re moving your kitchen?
I live in an old vicarage with a tiny kitchen, considering the entertaining space. We spend our lives in that kitchen! My husband said when we bought this house, you don’t buy a house out of London like this unless you’re going to fill it with friends and family, so it’s important now for us to make the kitchen areas work for our entertaining as everyone always ends up in there when we have a party – looking forward to this happening again!
We’re moving it into what is now our dining room. It’s a beautiful south-facing room and we can’t wait! Our house is like a canvas that we’re constantly painting. It’ll never be finished, it’ll just continue to evolve.
The outside space is evolving too. My husband is a great chef and we’ve built a whole outside kitchen too with an outdoor oven. He spent hours outside on New Year’s Eve cooking dinner in the freezing cold. He loves it.
What is the last book you read? And any particular book recommendation for 2021?
I struggle to find the time to sit down and read a book unless I’m on holiday, but I listen to a lot on audible and I also love podcasts. Particular favourites are Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail and Louis Theroux’s Grounded series.
My escape is reading House and Gardens or World of Interiors and going down the Instagram rabbit hole of inspiring things.
What music are you enjoying right now?
We’re loving early New York 60’s suff like John Cale and Velvet Underground. In my car, Lady Gaga’s Shallow is on full blast and you’ll find me singing my heart out with Sylvester.
Any new years resolutions or do you not believe in such things?
Not really but I like the fact that a new year gives you the opportunity to wipe the slate clean. The only thing I’ve done differently is the Joe Wicks workouts. It’s more about getting my body moving and thinking more about what I’m eating. I’ve enjoyed indulging but need to think about it more.
My friend used a great phrase the other day, “all feelings have been eaten”, and that certainly resonated! I want to start sea swimming but I’ll wait until the spring or I’ll have given up in the cold before I’ve even really started!
What main message would you like us to pass on to all our loyal and brand new, newly engaged readers finding Love My Dress for the first time after becoming engaged over the festive period
If you’ve just got engaged, congratulations! Use this time to let your imagination run wild and allow yourself to get excited. I always say don’t do too much research, but this really is the perfect time to do it and work out the brands who’s ethos and morals you strongly identify with.
Check out their websites and social media. They’ll all have examples of real weddings which are so inspiring and it’s beautiful to see what other couples have done with their wedding day, big or small.
If you’d like some extra inspo, we’d love to arrange a virtual appointment with you to talk through the collection and talk about what you love. We are here for you and we genuinely can’t wait to get you booked in and inspired!