Talking wedding dress entrepreneurship with designer Charlotte Balbier

Three generations of wedding dress design has led to the success of UK entrepreneur and designer, Charlotte Balbier. Since the 1960’s, Charlotte’s family have been at the forefront of the wedding dress scene making dreams come true for over 50 years now.

List For Life catches up with Charlotte Balbier to ask about the challenges of starting your own company and inspirations behind her legendary wedding dresses.

1. Can you tell us a little about how you began your bridal design label?

I was brought up in a bridal family. My grandparents owned several bridal boutiques across the UK and were involved in bridal manufacture for many generations. My mother is Amanda Wyatt and she has built up her bridal business for the past 20 years. I was brought up surrounded by beautiful materials, designs and dresses. I identified a gap in the bridal market. The bridal market was missing a new, fresh and modern look to the industry. It needed our Charlotte Balbier collection in the market to appeal to a younger audience of brides.

2. What are some of the challenges and rewards of starting your own company?

Bridal designing is a real feel good industry as your part of a women’s best day of her life. I receive lots of lovely thank you cards after dressing someone on their wedding day so being a bridal designer is rather a heart-warming role. The challenges are maintaining my place as a leading British bridal designer for over a decade. When I first started my brand was very new and unique. Over the last decade it has been diluted with more and more brands similar to Charlotte Balbier coming to market. To ensure Charlotte Balbier stays fresh, young and relevant we recently re-branded and always evolve year on year. If you look at our photo-shoots for the 2016 Willa Rose Collection and new Separates Collection, our brand has exceeded itself in photography this year and our brand really has an edge.

3. Can you describe the average working day?

There is no average working day at Charlotte Balbier HQ. One day I’ll be hosting an event to meet with stockists and train them on how to best promote Charlotte Balbier gowns to their brides. The next day I could be travelling to a trunk show at a bridal store. We have events coming up in Essex at MiliMili bridal in January and I usually put in personal appearances on these days. I love to meet with my brides in person and getting to know them. This is one thing I have prided my business on is being extremely proactive at getting to know my client base and hearing their feedback. On other days I could be travelling to Asia to oversee production of our gowns. I love to entertain journalists too and sometimes they will pay me a visit in Cheshire and we have lunch to chat bridal! I love the way no day is the same.

Image credit: Charlotte Balbier

Image credit: Charlotte Balbier

4. What are the inspirations behind your designs? Does your own style come into play during the process?

My biggest passion is high fashion and haute couture and I love to keep an eye on all the latest collections from my favorite designers. I especially adore Elie Sabb as his Red carpet gowns are simply out of this world. Valentino is my all time favourite and I have huge respect and admiration for Jenny Packham and Vivienne Westwood. All very different designers, but I love them all. There is so much you can learn from watching a catwalk show. Our newest ‘Willa Rose’ collection is feminine, ethereal and romantic. Combining boho free spirited designs with classic Balbier designs and attention to detail that make them instantly recognisable as a Charlotte Balbier design. Inspiration is around me daily and I draw on so many sources.

5. When designing the collections, where do you begin in the process and how does the collection then unfold?

I’ll collect up ideas all the time. Idea elements will come from high fashion, the catwalk and keeping images of dresses I love. Pinterest and catwalk shows are a great way to get the creative juices flowing. I will clip images I like onto mood-boards all year around. Plus I always have a notebook handy to scribble design ideas in. I am constantly buzzing with ideas. Everywhere and anywhere, every day brings a new lease of inspiration and ideas. My brides are amazing and I love to hear from them with all their wedding news and journeys.

6. What advice would you have for anyone looking to pursue a career in design, particularly bridal?

Running a business is 24/7 and you never stop. For this reason I think it’s very important that you love what you do wholeheartedly. I look at emails into the night and first thing in the morning so you need to be 100% into what you are promoting. Create a strong brand identity and have the financial side also supported as you need to have funds to start the business and build your business.

7. What have been some of your career highlights to date?

In 2007, I launched the ‘Summer Of Love’ collection. This was the Collection that put Charlotte Balbier on the map. This was my 5th collection and I pushed the boundaries to create a collection that was different. I also produced a photo-shoot to go with this collection that at the time was very different to what anyone has ever done before in bridal. The location, model, styling and photography were amazing and I still love it now 5 years on! I’m glad I stood by what I believed in and pushed the boundaries.

8. And finally, what are your plans for the future of the brand?

We are hoping to continue growing and growing. We’ve had a great year and there have been loads of positive changes to the business. This year we had a major overhaul of the Amanda Wyatt label and we’ve had such a positive response about it from our brides and press. I have just newly launched a Charlotte Balbier Separates line and we had some beautiful photography of this done. I can’t wait for next year, I have loads of photo-shoot ideas bubbling away and I just know 2016 is going to be our year!

What now?