Wedding dresses: how do you find The One? It's a dilema any bride-to-be faces. Long or short, full-skirted or body-skimming? Do you have a train? A veil? There are so many options.
Here are one ELLE bride's favourite London bridal shops. This list is by no means definitive and is unapologetically high-end, but it's a great starting point for inspiration.
London’s premier bridal boutique stocks 16 designers of the highest calibre, including Carolina Herrera, Monique Lhuillier, Peter Langner and the current craze amongst fashion editors, Delphine Manivet. Most dresses are exclusive and you’ll have a hard job finding these designers elsewhere in the UK. Dress styles are extensive and, as you’d expect from this designer roster, they do not come cheap, so don’t book in unless you have a budget of over £3k and be prepared to fall in love with the one at £8k. First appointments cost £25, free thereafter, and this is redeemable against a purchase. You’re also offered a coffee or champagne making you feel looked after and it more of an event.
Browns Bride, 12 Hinde Street, W1U 3BE; 020 7514 0056; www.brownsbride.com
I’m sorry to say that I hated this experience. Firstly, the £30 charge is the most I’ve found and there is a clinical way of extracting your cash; when booking over the phone, your appointment is not confirmed until they hear the whirr of your credit card working on the machine. 'That’s all booked then,' they finally say as they rip off the receipt. On arrival, you’re not even offered a glass of water for the costly fee and the service is snippy. When I asked why there were no rear-view mirrors, or even a handheld mirror, I was told crossly, 'It’s not my fault.' Great attitude. I had to use my bronzer compact to see my back. The assistant also said that they weren’t allowed to use clamps, so I was left to imagine what the dress might look like with her holding it together at the back. With a powder-filled view of the back of course.
It’s a shame because the store is delightful and the campaign imagery shows great dresses for the fashiony bride, but I could never have parted with £4,000 for this experience. You need quite some imagination to envisage the results.
David Fielden, 241 Fulham Road, SW3 6HY; 020 7361 0002; www.davidfielden.co.uk
Bridal stalwart Bruce Oldfield presides over Beauchamp Place like the king of the patch. And he is. Designer of society gals' gowns, such as Samantha Cameron and Jemima Khan, this is a destination for the classic bride. Gowns are couture or custom made. Staff feel like an auntie who really knows best and it’s a calm, polished environment.
34 Beauchamp Place, SW1, 020 7584 1363, www.bruceoldfield.com
Since Liberty closed its bridal department, I’ve been desperately trying to hunt down Spanish label Rosa Clara, of which Liberty held the UK exclusive. It’s a fabulously linear collection with a 1950s feel. I tracked it down to Surrey boutique Miss Bush, which is where my sister found her wedding dress and, as far as I can find out (the Spanish email doesn’t reply), it’s the only UK stockist.
Miss Bush has been going 21 years and has dressed almost 1,000 brides. There’s nothing she, or her army of staff, don’t know and its unhurried, familial service is a welcome change from London’s hasty appointments. She also stocks equally sleek labels Jesus Piero, Jenny Packham, Cymbeline and Ugo Zaldi. Well worth a visit.
Miss Bush, Ripley, Surrey, GU23 6AZ; 01483 222 815; www.missbushbridalwear.co.uk
I didn’t expect much from Pronovias. I imagined something a bit mass market, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Service is polite and attentive and the dress selection is vast. You scroll through the collection online and edit your favourites before trying on, so it’s a good idea to have done some research beforehand. I’d also advise that you have a fair idea of what styles you’re looking for and have done a few appointments elsewhere to avoid wasting your hour on experimenting – there is so much choice! Appointments are free (but get booked up weeks in advance) and you’re offered a drink.
I had fun here. It’s a lovely showroom and prices are around the £2-£3k mark, so there’s no inaccessibly priced section that, by its nature, you fall in love with more. This was quite a novelty for me – see above and below.
Pronovias, 94 New Bond Street, W1S 1SH; 020 7518 8470; www.pronovias.com
An exquisite boutique on the Fulham road, Phillipa Lepley’s gowns are couture, meaning that your wedding dress will take around seven fittings and six to nine months to create. Once you have worked out which style you love, you can add the skirt from one style, the back from another, extra beading, sleeves or whatever you like to co-create the dress of your dreams. This cancels out any hairy, 'did I go for the right dress?' moments as the process is organic and you can lengthen, remove and tweak right up to the 11
But please do take their valuable advice: the staff are trained dressmakers, so you receive the most helpful guidance. And my god, do they know how to fit you in to dresses... their skill with pins and sashes mean that you are looking at a very real representation of what your gown will look like.
This experience is on a very different level to anything else on the market. You have a floor in the boutique to yourself, elderflower cordial, teas and coffees are served, and your visit is followed up with emails detailing what you liked.
Of course, the price reflects its couture process and quality of fabrics, and prices start at around £6,000. But they do sell off samples from £1,100 at sales every couple of months. Check back here for details.
Phillipa Lepley, 48 Fulham Road, SW3 6HH; 020 7590 9771; www.phillipalepley.com
Sitting a few doors down from Phillipa Lepley on the Fulham Road, Sassi Holford offers a diverse selection of made-to-measure gowns centring around slinky, lace or princess.
Service is good, but having spent £30 on the appointment I expect the offer of a drink (I know I keep banging on about this but it’s not a production line, you deserve this level of welcome). Dresses are around the £2,000 to £3,000 mark and there’s a good selection of accessories.
Sassi Holfold, 74 Fulham Road, SW3; 020 7584 1532; www.sassiholford.com
I knew from the outset that I probably wasn’t going to be a Temperley bride. The label is beautifully boho and favours the lithe and angular (see Pippa Middleton). Being 5ft with a neat, structured style, this was going to be a long shot but I still wanted to experience it.
I’m glad I did. Temperley HQ spans the entire side of a Notting Hill mews with the Union Jack emblazoned across the front. The bridal quarters are lovely and airy with tons of space to waft around, as only one can in a Temperley gown. I fell in love with the Long Ramona dress – despite its floaty appearance, it was corseted to the hilt and I loved the feeling of being 'held' by a dress.
Choose Temperley bridal for a summer, foreign or country wedding. Price points are around the £3,000 mark.
Temperley London, 2-10 Colville Mews, W11 2DA; 020 7229 7957; www.temperleylondon.com
Sitting on the corner of Brook and Davies Street, the new Vera Wang bridal store attracts coos and smiles from every female passer-by who stops to peek inside the window. It looks upscale and that’s because it is. Wang is probably the hottest bridal designer on the wedding circuit right now, and her gowns are pinned to many a moodboard for inspiration.
Carpets are deep, service is slick, gowns range from classic to 'editorial'. A must-see – if your budget permits.
Vera Wang at Browns, 59 Brook Street, W1K 4HS; 020 7514 0090; www.brownsbride.com
Le Spose di Gio
This Italian label creates sleek, romantic gowns with simple lines. There’s usually one detail focus, like a corsage, but otherwise these are understated, youthful and modern gowns. Do not go here for a full-skirted princess shape. Its USP is light-as-air ethereal and it sells a lot of dresses in blush and pale blue colours. Much subtler than it sounds.
The Ebury Street store is in a very chic location, but the interior rather lets the side down, especially the cramped downstairs fitting room, so ask for the one upstairs. Considering the simplicity of the gowns, I was quite surprised by the price – my favourite, a tulle number, came in at over £4,000. But these are original, chic dresses without the need to shout about it.
Le Spose di Gio, 81 Ebury Street, London SW1W 9QU; 020 7901 9020; www.le-spose-di-gio.it/
Le Spose di Gio
Others to try