Interview with: Annie Lucas
Company Name: Annalise Harvey, Bridal and Occasion Wear
Location / Coverage: Truro based but covers the SW and SE and offers a fittings service in London.
What does Annalise Harvey do?
A Wedding is a big event, and some believe that the dress is the star of the show. We don’t. It is the bride who steals the day, and a good dress should reflect who she is; her passions, her beauty, her style, her originality, her flair. All of the things that, after all, made her future husband fall in love with her!
Our mission, led by a tireless dedication to beauty, is to create a gown which is so natural to the bride that any other would be unthinkable!
Dresses are handmade to the highest finish in our studio in Truro, and as creative director I ensure that my years of experience designing for dance and, more specifically, classical ballet, are reflected in the gowns that we make.
How did Annalise Harvey come about and how long has the business been going?
I always wanted to be a designer since I was a small girl and I found a bin bag full of off cuts of fabric in the utility room at home. I taught myself to sew, got my first sewing machine aged 10, and became a bit obsessed with period dramas and historical costume!
I devoured pretty much every book I could find on how to make things and used to dress up as Scarlett O’Hara and run around the garden in my early teens!
As I got to thinking about careers I naturally chose the theatre path, since my parents were both heavily involved with local theatre groups and I loved being in the audience as well as backstage. After a foundation year I went to Central St Martins to study Costume Design, and enjoyed a professional career designing costumes for dance, theatre and opera for ten years before relocating to the West Country as a newlywed myself!
I had made quite a few wedding dresses alongside my costume work, and I found I enjoyed it more; the attention to detail, the luxurious fabrics, not to mention the personal reward of contributing so personally to someone’s big day – and moving to Cornwall gave me a fresh opportunity to start anew!
Describe your studio
My studio is based in an Old Bakery right in the heart of Truro. The building almost sits in the river itself, there are swans that float along beneath my window, and I have a great view of the hustle and bustle of the city set against the backdrop of the beautiful Cathedral.
The studio itself is designed to be a calming and warm place in which a bride can step out of the stresses of planning her wedding and concentrate just on herself for a bit. I find there is so much hype about weddings in the media that very often couples put far too much pressure on themselves to create the perfect day. The day will be perfect if it’s got the couple at the heart of it!
What sets Annalise Harvey apart from other wedding dress designers?
Through designing for dance I have developed quite an acute sense of the body, how it moves, and the effect a costume can have on both.
Designing a wedding dress is a lot like designing a costume for a character in a ballet or a play – only the subject isn’t fictional, it’s real. My designs are about making something that truly reflects who the bride is, what inspires her, what she loves, who she is and who she wants to be. Oddly, it isn’t about play acting or dressing up, it’s about making something so beautiful and simultaneously so natural, so perfectly ‘her’ that any other dress would be unimaginable!
Do you have a specialist area / style of wedding dress that you create?
Having been passionate about the history of dress since I was practically old enough to pick up a book I would say that my main approach is to reflect historical/heritage/vintage styles in a contemporary way.
What Annalise Harvey aims to do as a business is not reproduction historical costume, it’s about looking back at times when cut was clever, dress-making almost engineering, and the most beautifully intricate details were crafted out of scraps of fabric and a few beads.
Who/what are your influences?
The wall above my desk in the studio is plastered with images from a variety of places – postcards from the costume collection at the VA, scraps of fabric I found and have loved, quick sketches on the backs of envelopes – an attempt to capture a stroke of inspiration at a ridiculously impractical time!
I look everywhere for inspiration, but all the best designers look to each other, as well as the historical sources for some small detail that will spark an idea. Fabric is like paint – the possibilities are absolutely limitless and the best designers are always dreaming up new and exciting ways to drape, stitch, fold etc.
I am in complete awe of designers such as Elie Saab and Vivienne Westwood, and Vera Wang and Jenny Packham take my breath away with every new collection!
Do you only create bespoke wedding dresses or do you have a dress collection?
Annalise Harvey has made a name for itself as a bespoke label, though we are pleased to announce we are working on our first collection, which will be launched in the early autumn of 2012! Not everyone can afford the bespoke option and the collection will bring the essence of the label to a wider audience, whilst still enabling us to work together to create something unique and one-off through details, fabric choices and cut.
What are the advantages of a bride having her wedding dress made for her?
How long is a piece of string?! The advantages are numerous, but I feel the ability for a bride to have some control over the finer details of her gown, and to have something that is made for her and only her, are the most important.
We women have all experienced the variety in ‘standard’ sizing in clothes shops, and this is because no two bodies are the same! There are very very few ladies who are a standard size, and in fact good design is about proportion as well as shape, which means that two people with the same measurements, but different heights, probably won’t suit the same dress.
Proportion is such an important aspect and it can’t be underestimated how great the effect of having something made to balance your own body shape and show off your best bits!
What are the stages of making a wedding dress? How long does it take on average to make a wedding dress?
It’s that pesky piece of string metaphor again! It all depends on the level of finished detail and the complexity of the cut – but the average dress requires around 3 fittings after the initial toile fitting (in which we fit a cotton version of the dress from which we make the pattern). If we were to be working on one dress at a time and the whole workshop was involved we might do it in a couple of weeks!
However it is best to allow a minimum of 4 months so that plenty of time can be given to the design and toile process, as anomalies here are hard to rectify later on!
Do you have a favourite dress you have made?
Every dress becomes a favourite for different reasons, but the all time favourite to date is this gorgeous full skirted gown I was privileged to make for a very good friend. Frances has an enviable figure and would look fabulous in a potato sack, but working on this dress with her was such fun. There are 3 layers of silk in the skirt; a dupion, topped by an organza and finally a gorgeous satin finish silk chiffon – 36 metres of silk altogether! We visited my favourite lace supplier in London and spent a whole afternoon choosing the lace which was bought from a mill in Belgium. Frances’ style is classic and elegant; her wedding was a simple but beautiful event in a barn in Surrey and her dress reflected all of this! She positively radiated gorgeousness on the big day and I loved every minute of making this dress for her.
What’s your top tip for choosing your perfect wedding dress?
ALWAYS try things on and be open minded when you do!
Very often what we think suits us isn’t necessarily the best for us, and our views of what suit us are based on our own, sometimes negative, feelings about our bodies.
There aren’t many opportunities to dress up in big beautiful frocks (unless you are a Hollywood A-lister!), and quite often the shock of the picture of you in a red-carpet dress outweighs an ability to be objective about what works. Try, try and try some more – and by the end you’ll be an expert!
Random question… What was your best Christmas present?
A piano! My husband ‘found’ it somewhere – it’s totally honky-tonk, nothing glamorous but I love it so much. I used to play a lot in my teens – not much Beethoven and pretty much every musical known to man instead, and it’s great stress relief. I love to come home at the end of a day in the studio and bash out something totally cheesy for an hour or so to unwind, and I am very lucky that my husband is patient with my ‘eclectic’ music taste!
Where can I find out more about Annalise Harvey?
There are the traditional routes such as the Annalise Harvey website and our Facebook fan page – but the best way is to give us a call. We’re always happy to talk through the process, and initial consultations with Annie are no obligation and very informal, over a cup of tea and a biscuit…