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LIFE

British wedding designer Jenny Packham opens a bridal boutique in the city

Bespoke contemporary designs are a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge and film stars

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 December, 2014, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 December, 2014, 4:25pm

Fashion and bridal designer Jenny Packham sometimes suffers from late night "Pinsomnia". She has become fascinated by how Pinterest and other social media are transforming the bridal business. One of her most popular designs from 2013 was a beaded number called Esme, which was the most pinned dress of the year.

"I love the way that girls turn up at our boutiques knowing all the names of the dresses, and that was happening before we launched our brand Pinterest board," says Packham.

"It means that as designers, we are constantly being judged."

Those savvy Hong Kong brides-to-be who have been doing their homework will be aware that Packham has just opened her first full-scale bridal boutique in the heart of Central.

It's a stone's throw from Vera Wang's wedding shop - which might invite some comparative research.

Lane Crawford has carried Jenny Packham's glamorous eveningwear for some time, and The Wedding Shop in On Lan Street has stocked her bridal gowns, which start at HK$40,000.

Packham and Brenda Ng (of The Wedding Shop) have decided to open a Jenny Packham bridal flagship store, which also will carry a small edit of evening wear.

"The situation has changed a lot with bridal in the last 10 years, as Chinese girls are looking for a more Western-style wedding dress," says Packham. "Opening this store will give me a real insight into the market, with its mix of expats and Chinese." Her most popular markets are Italy, Britain (where she is based) and the US.

"I always see bridal as a cultural thing: you have to get under the skin to find out what is needed in that market," she says. "For instance, the Italians love plain dresses and the Americans loved beaded ones."

Packham still makes the vintage style pieces for which she is known.

Her designs are contemporary, sometimes lean towards Grecian classical draping, and are always exquisitely beaded. But a sinuous, decadent 1930s glamour also has been part of her repertoire.

The Americans love the vintage feel of her gowns. When she took the collection to Saks in New York, "They thought we had done a Downton Abbey," she says, referring to the period television drama.

"Sitting in her spacious all-white showroom in London's Mayfair, surrounded by rails of beaded gowns from her New York runway shows, Packham explains how bridal fashion has evolved since she introduced her first collection in 2003.

"From the 1920s through to the 1970s, bridal was related to the fashion of the times," she says. "Then in the 1980s, it became more historical, decadent and ornate. I am now seeing a tendency to embrace more red carpet looks."

The Italians love the plain dresses and Americans love beaded ones
Jenny Packham

The red carpet, of course, is something that Packham knows a lot about. Jessica Alba, Angelina Jolie and Taylor Swift all wear her floor-sweeping evening gowns - it's her forte.

In early November, Emily Blunt wore a beaded pink sheath dress from the spring 2015 collection; a month earlier the designer scored, on one day, a dress on Kate Hudson and two dresses on the Duchess of Cambridge. One was in grey, and was worn to meet the President of Singapore, and the other a split-level hem, pale blue evening design.

Packham is one of the duchess' go-to designers. After word got out that the duchess was wearing one of her designs, a blue polka dot dress, as she left hospital with baby George, shoppers crashed her website.

The designs are bespoke, and while Packham concedes that she was thrilled when the duchess chose that dress for her post-baby debut, she is far too discreet to be drawn into talk of dressing her; the subject is strictly off limits.

While Packham considers her brand a very British company, she has been part of the New York catwalk schedule for the past decade. "I like the attitude in New York, as it is about business. In London, I did feel a pressure to be more avant-garde than I wanted."

Her latest catwalk collection for spring-summer 2015 was inspired by Marilyn Monroe. The idea formed because she thought it weird that Monroe's image is still seen everywhere, 52 years after death.

She researched the movie star at the Hollywood Museum and sneaked into her bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She also had the opportunity to forage through a large private collection of Monroe's memorabilia, owned by a collector in the Channel Islands.

Packham launched her business with her partner Matthew Anderson (CEO of her brand and father of their two teenage daughters, Isabella and Georgia) in 1988.

She was born and raised in Southampton, and studied womenswear at Central Saint Martins in the mid-1980s.

Last year, when she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her business, she gave a talk at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. Couples came to the event purely to meet the designer because they just wanted to say thank you.

It was a charming gesture made to a designer whose mantra is "design something beautiful; the experience has to be good and they have to go away happy".