Wirksworth’s award-winning bridal designer Astra Slater of Timeless Couture

PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 February 2016 | UPDATED: 16:22 09 February 2016

Astra Slater at Haarlem Mills  Photo: Dress by Timeless Couture  Photo: Richard Murgatroyd Photography

Astra Slater at Haarlem Mills Photo: Dress by Timeless Couture Photo: Richard Murgatroyd Photography

Richard Murgatroyd Photography

Bridal designer Astra Slater was recently crowned East Midlands Dress Designer of the Year and has just opened new premises at Haarlem Mills in Wirksworth, with florist Kerry Booker

Photo: Richard Murgatroyd PhotographyPhoto: Richard Murgatroyd Photography

Wirksworth-based bridal designer Astra Slater was recently crowned East Midlands Dress Designer of the Year at the Wedding Industry Awards. Since establishing her bridal business Timeless Couture in 2011, in the town’s former Janet Reger factory, Astra has grown her business from small beginnings to exciting new heights. This recently culminated in the opening of new premises at Haarlem Mills in Wirksworth, which are jointly shared with award-winning Tineke Floral Designs.

What inspired you to be a dressmaker and what training did you do?

I studied BTEC Fashion and Clothing at New College in Nottingham, which started my love of manufacturing, and after exploring different techniques I found my passion was in corsetry and bridal wear. I then got a BA (Hons) degree in Fashion and Contour Design at De Montfort University in Leicester, which at the time was the only university in the world offering a course in contour (underwear) design. Whilst studying, I entered a competition for the Best Student Bridal Designer organised by the Bridal Buyer Awards. I was selected as a finalist and sponsored by world-famous bridal designer Ian Stuart to make the wedding dress I’d designed. My design was shown at the Harrogate Bridal Show and I got to attend the awards ceremony and meet designers. That was when I fell in love with the bridal industry.

How do you approach creating a wedding dress?

Photo: Richard Murgatroyd PhotographyPhoto: Richard Murgatroyd Photography

For couture customers, I start by getting to know more about the bride and her wedding. I always ask how she wants to feel on the day – elegant, sexy, fun or simply different to other brides. I then guide her through the styles that will suit her body shape and also the venue and style of the wedding.

The next key factor is dress shape (fishtail, short, full etc). I have a collection of different styles, toiles and plain dresses for the bride to try on. I then move onto fabrics and details such as lace or bead work. I help brides choose the elements they love and work these into a unique design to suit their budget.

One of the main benefits of having a dress made for you is that the design can develop with your wedding plans. I create lots of dresses that can achieve two or more looks throughout the day with lace tops, belts etc. Each couture bride has her own sketch, toile (mock-up dress) and pattern made before we go into production. Once the dress is made, details such as straps/train length can be adjusted. The dress is then altered 8-4 weeks before the wedding to ensure the perfect fit. Prices start from £1,000.

What advice would you give a bride on choosing a wedding dress?

Be confident in your body shape. Most brides want to lose weight or change themselves before their wedding day, but it’s easy to forget the person they are marrying loves them just as they are. A lot of brides feel they need to disguise their figure when if they embraced their curves they’d be surprised at how amazing they looked. It’s also important to be yourself; if you don’t feel like ‘you’ in a wedding dress then don’t buy it.

Photo: Richard Murgatroyd PhotographyPhoto: Richard Murgatroyd Photography

What is the most difficult request you’ve had?

I’ve made dresses in many different colours from bright green to pale pink. Due to the nature of my business I often attract brides who don’t want an ‘ordinary’ off-the-peg dress. Some ladies have an incredibly clear image of what they want so I source trims and fabrics from around the world. I’ve imported petticoats from America and sourced bespoke bead work from Italy and Spain.

Last year we had a bride whose father had sadly passed away. As he wouldn’t be with her on her special day, we used the waistcoat he wore on his wedding day to line her dress. We also used the lace from her mother’s wedding dress for the overlay, so it was truly unique and very personal. It was even possible to wear the dress inside out.

This year, I’ve started making a dress from a pastel tartan fabric – I can’t wait to see it finished!

Photo: Richard Murgatroyd PhotographyPhoto: Richard Murgatroyd Photography

Where do you look for inspiration?

I’ve always been inspired by historical dresses since my Grandma took me to Hampton Court when I was ten (and then introduced me to Pride and Prejudice). I like combining ideas from different eras to create a new look. If I had to choose one era it would be the 1950s, with the glamorous full skirts and nipped-in waists. I love to visit the V&A Museum and I’m massively inspired by fabrics. I enjoy finding a new fabric or lace then creating a design that showcases it. I visit fabric shows in the UK and Paris so I have a broad selection of designers to choose from. I’m also inspired by travel and cities like Paris and Barcelona. A recent trip to Italy has definitely inspired my new collection.

What are the latest trends in bridal fashion?

Lace will always be popular in some form as it is such a classic. Chantilly and guipure laces are very popular this season and I’ve also noticed a big trend in bridal separates.

Kerry Booker and Astra Slater with Rebecca Adlington at the Haarlem Mills launch  Photo: Matt BrownKerry Booker and Astra Slater with Rebecca Adlington at the Haarlem Mills launch Photo: Matt Brown

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I truly love seeing a bride’s face the first time she tries on her dress and it all becomes real. If there are tears then we know we have done our job well. Some brides think they will never find the right dress, but once their design has been created and they look and feel amazing, there is nothing better.

What gown shape/style would you recommend for different body types?

Short dresses can be great for petite brides who feel swamped in full length gowns and can give the illusion of curves. They’re also ideal for apple shaped ladies who want to disguise the hip area and show off the legs. Nipping in at the waist and bust will help to show off their best assets.

Pear shaped ladies should go for something fitted at the top with a softer/fuller skirt. Adding straps or a little lace at the top can also help to balance out the hips. Hourglass ladies should show off their curves with fishtails or mermaid styles which will enhance their small waist and flatter curves. Fuller figured ladies should not be afraid to try these styles too, and with a little help from corsetry they can look much more flattering than A-line styles.

How would you like your business to develop in the future?

This year we’re launching our sister brand Haarlem Bridal, which offers a wholesale collection of dresses and couture services in some of the country’s finest bridal boutiques. Haarlem Bridal has been developed to give bridal shops the same flexibility in design that couture designers have. Brides will be able to choose from either the collection or pick a dress shape, then a fabric, laces and design details as I do in-house at Timeless Couture.

Timeless Couture will continue to offer the same couture services at Haarlem Mills and after our recent award, we hope to continue to expand our reputation and grow the business.

Where would you most like to get married in Derbyshire?

The West Mill in Darley Abbey. I love everything about it – the industrial yet chic feel, the privacy and the fact you have exclusive use of all four floors. The team there are amazing and the owners Andrew and Chrissie have done a fantastic job of renovating the building.

Timeless and Tineke at Haarlem Mills

The new creative space shared by Timeless Couture and Tineke Floral Designs at Haarlem Mills in Wirksworth was opened in December by Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington, whose own bridal bouquet was designed by Tineke’s Kerry Booker.

Over the past year, friends Astra and Kerry have worked alongside Haarlem Mills owner Gordon Warden to oversee renovations and create a beautiful space they can both share with their brides.

Kerry’s business was formerly based at Hulland Ward near Ashbourne and her move to the Mills was prompted by the expansion of her popular Tineke Flower School, which offers floristry workshops. Tineke Floral Designs has received the Best Florist in the East Midlands accolade at the Wedding Industry Awards for the past four years running and Kerry was recently invited to become a judge. Visit the new premises at Haarlem Mills, Derby Road, Wirksworth, Derbyshire, DE4 4BG or contact 01335 370700.

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