Emilia Wickstead Re-Enters The Bridalwear Arena. Now, It’s Personal.

By Dan Ahwa
Emilia Wickstead’s new bridal collection also includes bespoke accessories and for, the first time, lace. Photo / Edd Horder

The return of a bridalwear collection and the re-opening of her Sloane St flagship has marked a fresh energy this year for London-based New Zealand fashion designer Emilia Wickstead.

If there was ever a wedding that set a precedent for a certain elegant, provincial Italian affair, the 2010 nuptials of

The Catholic ceremony, held in the medieval town of Montepulciano, has since become the ultimate wedding inspiration for those wanting to have their own pitch-perfect European wedding, saved into Pinterest boards of brides-to-be around the world. An old-world charm, a joyful family garden party and Emilia’s meticulous good taste have made her wedding an examplar of warmth and glamour — two elements essential in creating a special wedding experience.

This is evident in her own wedding dress inspired by the unflinching timelessness of Audrey Hepburn in the 1954 classic Sabrina — a minimalist satin gown fitted at the bodice with ribbon straps, her hair pulled back into a low bun with a simple veil, complemented earlier in the day with a sheer embellished overlay top with long sleeves for the ceremony.

Designer Emilia Wickstead. Photo / Edd Horder
Designer Emilia Wickstead. Photo / Edd Horder

“For so many women, their wedding dress is the most important dress they’ll ever wear,” says Emilia, speaking from her atelier in London. “I believe it should be the very, very, very best dress that a woman has ever worn, and it’s a huge privilege to be a part of that experience.”

Since launching her brand in 2008, she’s stayed true to those time-honoured style references, which has helped her perfect her brand of grown-up glamour.

Her recently renovated flagship store on London’s prestigious Sloane St is a physical manifestation of this universe, with its handsome marble checkerboard floors in Rosa Alicante and Carrara marble. There you’ll also find, concealed behind grand double mahogany doors, a new custom bridal salon housing her newly launched 15-piece bridal collection. It’s the first dedicated bridal line for Emilia since 2016.

“Every client who comes to Emilia Wickstead receives a personal, one-on-one service, and we tailor timelines to specific needs and situations,” she says of the salon’s invested service.

“Our turnaround time for our bridal collection is very efficient and typically takes 45 working days. For international brides, we are flexible and can minimise the number of fittings if preferred. Often we’ll travel to brides to work with them where necessary too. Our intention is that Emilia Wickstead brides can look back in 10, 20, or 30 years’ time and still love everything about the dress,” she explains.

“I feel incredibly passionate that this is our mission and I know from personal experience that the right dress can be transformative, empowering, and fill a woman with confidence. We are lucky that our brides trust us implicitly.”

Emilia Wickstead’s recently renovated Sloane St store in London. Photo / Supplied
Emilia Wickstead’s recently renovated Sloane St store in London. Photo / Supplied

Much like her own wedding dress from 13 years ago and its Audrey Hepburn reference, you can easily pinpoint other timeless moments in pop culture that have helped shape the Emilia Wickstead sensibility — from the neo-realist work of Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni to the riotous bonhomie of Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things, the latter not far removed from Emilia’s own inclination for beauty, intelligence and whimsy.

“When designing the collection, I had our house codes of timelessness and effortless femininity front of mind,” says Emilia. “Our customers have an intrinsic desire for occasion and ceremony. They come to us aspiring to be an Emilia Wickstead bride and to be led by our uncompromising aesthetic.”

Sharing her mother’s love of homewares, Emilia is also looking to expand this part of the business later in the year; it is proving particularly popular for bridal registries.

“When designing it, it was important to me that every detail was considered and that the collection had a sense of place and provenance,” says Emilia.

“Our glassware is made with Giberto Venezia in Tuscany by artisan glassblowers, our plates are handmade in Limoges, France, by Legle and our silverware is made in Sheffield, where cutlery has been made since the 13th century. These are pieces to build on and to be passed down.”

The Eugenia dress with Lucrezia cape and Cosima long gloves. Photo / Edd Horder
The Eugenia dress with Lucrezia cape and Cosima long gloves. Photo / Edd Horder

It’s a sentiment that naturally lends itself to her take on bridalwear too — a beautiful dress to be passed down through generations, helping shape this new era for the brand, now in its 15th year in business.

The collection evokes the propriety we’re already familiar with when it comes to an Emilia Wickstead original. It’s why women of influence like wearing her clothes — including US first lady Michelle Obama; former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern; Catherine Princess of Wales; and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. In 2020, Emilia explained to Viva that though she was grateful for the high-profile endorsements, it’s her family, friends and everyday women on the street who continue to inspire her, which is evident from her campaigns and look books.

In 2019, she returned to New Zealand to photograph a capsule collection in collaboration with Woolmark on a group of extraordinary, everyday New Zealand women who reflected Emilia’s own multicultural roots. Her late father, artist Dennis Popham, was half Samoan-German, half New Zealander; and her mother, the celebrated linen designer and dressmaker Angela Wickstead, is half New Zealander, half Italian. Emilia attended Baradene College, another experience that helped shape her early teens living in the largest Polynesian city in the world, before relocating to Milan with Angela at the formative age of 14.

She went on to study fashion design with marketing at Central Saint Martins in London, before spending a year interning at Proenza Schouler and Narciso Rodriguez in New York. She subsequently returned to Milan to work for Giorgio Armani. Unsurprisingly, Emilia’s exposure to the global market through her personal and professional experiences has, in a way, guided her to create a luxury brand that acknowledges the lives of women from all corners of the world — brides included.

The Francesca dress. Photo / Edd Horder
The Francesca dress. Photo / Edd Horder

“Women come in different shapes, sizes and ages, and we must celebrate that,” she says.

“The collection has a variety of silhouettes, skirt shapes and sleeve styles, along with options for brides to adapt and customise their look, from gloves to romantic, exaggerated skirt trains. To me, this is truly what modern luxury means.

“It’s important to me that we cater to every type of woman with our bridal collections. Our silhouettes are precise, architectural and designed to be flattering. Our off-the-shoulder long-sleeved gown sits in just the right place on the top of the arm, for example. We find that our signature square necklines and fitted bodices are universally popular.”

To complement the bridal collection, a selection of accessories, including veils and shoes, has been included for the first time.

“My team and I are constantly listening and learning from customer feedback, and we noticed time and time again that brides found it challenging to find the perfect shoes to match their dress. So, we decided to fill the gap in the market by creating our own bridal shoe line. It’s very hard to achieve an effortless look without the right accessories.

“Our bridal shoes are made-to-order and we guide brides to carefully select their shape and fabric to complement their dress. We have a range of possibilities, such as textured cloque, which feels modern and bright, to silk Mikado, which feels incredibly luxurious and nostalgic, and will source or develop new fabrics where needed. All our fabrics are woven and sourced in Italy through heritage mills. It’s important that we preserve craftsmanship and that our gowns have provenance.”

Also new is the addition of lace to the bridal offering for the first time — the Eugenia dress with its Lucrezia cape in full lace is in keeping with Emilia’s sense of dignified decorum that feels anything but uptight.

The Ira dress and Vela veil. Photo / Edd Horder
The Ira dress and Vela veil. Photo / Edd Horder

“It’s a very special, hand-embroidered ivory lace which feels sensual and dramatic. We also have a 100 per cent silk Mikado fabric which is beautifully sculptural.”

To be an Emila Wickstead bride also means comitting to the look from head to toe, something the new bridal salon aims to continue to pay attention to.

“We often help shape the wedding look across all fashion touchpoints, including hair, makeup, jewellery and styling.”

The total look is also realised in Emilia’s typically otherworldly imagery, working with long-time collaborator and photographer Edd Horder to document the collection at the historic Raffles London at the OWO, an elegant hotel in the Grade II listed Edwardian Old War Office.

It’s a classical backdrop that supports Emilia’s vision of a bride who honours both tradition and modernity; signature full skirts in a minimalist satin are a 90s take on a mid-century silhouette, for example. The Viva dress, a column gown with a florentine neckline worn with the Sophia scarf train, could be something either Grace Kelly or Zendaya would easily look comfortable wearing. One of Emilia’s own personal favourites is the sporty Mirella gown, with its sleek racerback and A-line skirt. “It almost has a 90s aesthetic that has such a unique, fresh elegance to it,” says Emilia.

“I don’t think there is anything else like it.”

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