Exclusive: Sassi Holford - Celebrating 30 years of Exquisite Designs

When Sassi Holford offered to design a friend’s wedding dress 30 years ago, she had no idea that it would be such a defining moment in her life. Just 17 years old, the dress was a success and Sassi started receiving requests from other brides, eager for her to design their gowns as well.

Fast forward 30 years and Sassi is one of Britain’s top designers with a flourishing business, numerous internationally acclaimed collections and a Royal Wedding under her belt.

With the new 2013 collections due to be launched later this month at White Gallery, London, I spoke to the renowned designer about her amazing career to date and what the future holds for Sassi Holford.

You started in the industry almost by chance – was design something you had been interested in as a child?

Absolutely not – I was actually quite a tomboy! I was always falling out of trees and thought that I was one of the Famous Five!

I had quite a bohemian upbringing though and my mother is very creative, so throughout my childhood we did lots of creative things – potters’ wheels one month, etching the next... I was brought up in a very creative environment, but I didn’t actually have a particular interest in wedding dresses.

Is that where you draw your inspiration from – your creative background?

I don’t think I draw inspiration from it now, I just think the environment that I was in made me think that if you wanted to create something and if you put your mind to it, you could. I have no formal training in design, in fact it didn’t actually cross my mind that I might need formal training to do what I wanted to do and so I suppose that’s how I ended up in the industry by chance.

So where do you draw your inspirations from?

It sounds cheesy, but it’s so true; when you’re dressing brides and working with clients, nothing is more inspiring. But it’s also from what’s going on in the high street, what’s happening on the fashion catwalks in Milan and Paris, what fabrics are inspiring you; there are so many elements. I say to my children – if your eyes are open there’s inspiration everywhere.



Who is the Sassi bride? What do you think it is about your designs that appeals to them?

I think a Sassi bride is quite savvy. She’s often very busy, she’s often got a career. I think my dresses are uncluttered, I want the bride to be the focus of attention. I don’t need to scream or shout - I like an understated elegance. It’s really all about the person wearing it, the dress is only there to enhance their personality, not overtake it. When I’m designing for Sassi Holford that’s first and foremost in my mind.

Secondly I always like to think, will it take the test of time? I don’t want anybody looking back at wearing one of my dresses in their wedding pictures in 20 years’ time and thinking ‘why did I do that?!’ There has to be a timeless element in there as well.

How do you go about starting a new design / collection and how much do things change during the design process?

The most frustrating thing each year as I do a collection (and this will never change!) is that it seems that it has to be last minute. I have to have adrenaline fired up. Each year I think I’ll be really organized and get everything done nice and early, but for some reason it’s not until that adrenaline starts to pump that you come up with your best work. I think that is just a creative thing.

Part of the process is evolution, not revolution, so I will create a collection, and there will be bits of the last collection that I love and that I want to take further so I’ll work with that, and then I like to introduce a new challenge or a new look with each collection as well and that’s really to keep the interest and the freshness there with each collection.



How would you say your style has evolved over your career to date?

I would probably say the style hasn’t changed that much, but the technical construction from when I started 30 years ago is in a different league. I think my style has probably grown up (although I’m resisting it personally!) in that it has become more elegant and more confident. If I’m in doubt now I don’t feel the need to overdo the dresses.

You’ve been in the industry for 30 years now. What would be your highlight(s) of your career to date?

There have been lots of highlights and lots of milestones over the last 30 years, but as a pure dress highlight, it has to be making the dress for Autumn Phillips when she married the Queen’s grandson. I mean, you don’t think you’re going to bag one like that in your career, and that was amazing!

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

Definitely the creative side and designing the new collection. It’s a love / hate thing because you start waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning, sleep evades you, you work 6 or 7 days a week, you work every night… but when you do a new design and see it on a stand and you know it looks beautiful - that’s one hugely satisfying part of the job. The other is when you do exactly the same on a bride. When you finish a bride’s dress and it just looks amazing, it can still take your breath away. I will never tire of that feeling!

What can we expect from the new Sassi Holford collection(s)?

I’ve gone slightly more feminine this year. There’s definitely a hint back to sleeves, but I’m making the dresses so that they can be quite versatile. You’ve got a look for the ceremony which is quite demure and has got coverage and then you can easily make it into quite a glamorous evening dress with a change of accessories. That’s high on the agenda with the ‘Sassi Holford’ collection.

Then there’s the new ‘So Sassi’ collection. I’m having fun with that because that’s my younger, more fashion lead collection, which is more fun, funky, feminine and girlie.

Then I go back to being very grown up and I’m doing special occasion wear, which I’m really enjoying. I’ve probably been asked to do specific Mother of The Bride pieces three times a week for the last ten years! When you ask what Mothers are looking for it really is ‘less is more’ – beautifully cut, beautiful cloth, and that just sings to my hymn sheet! So I thought, you know what, I’m going to do it! I’ve already got shops buying it and it’s doing really well!

What would be your advice to designers just starting out in the industry?

I think really it would be to work in house with the best designer you can. I think it’s easy to graduate in fashion and think you’re ready for the world. If I could have my time back, I would have worked in house for 5 or 10 years and really known my bacon before I launched out on my own. It’s very rewarding but I don’t think there’s any instant success, unless you have a very wealthy backer or parent!

To be honest I started so long ago, the world and the way we work has changed enormously. We didn’t have Internet when I started, you didn’t have a website. I think it was probably harder in a way to break through because you literally got in your car and had to make appointments with buyers. I think now there will be bits that will be much more complicated and there will be bits which are much easier. It’s a hugely rewarding job although if you want to be a multi-millionaire my advice would be to choose something else!



Your business has grown phenomenally since it launched 30 years ago – what does the future hold for Sassi Holford?

I’m really happy with where I am at the moment. My business has grown phenomenally because every two years I do like to do another project or another challenge. Over the last 30 years that has included opening my own shop in London, getting the shop in Taunton, extending the Taunton shop, launching the veil collection… I just go with the ride really. I’m having fun and I think it’s lovely to be established enough now that I can actually enjoy it. A lot of the having to prove myself has gone - I’ve got to the top of the industry and now the challenge is staying there.

 

 

Are You a Sassi Bride? Enter our fabulous competition to be featured on The Wedding Vine!

Are you wearing a Sassi Holford dress on your wedding day? We are looking for a Sassi bride to be featured on The Wedding Vine in the run up to her big day.

The lucky winner will appear in a series of blog posts as she plans her wedding and we will also look to feature the wedding itself in our Real Life Weddings section!

In addition the winning bride will receive an exclusive signed sketch of her dress drawn by Sassi herself - a unique and beautiful memento of her wedding day!

Click here to enter!

 

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