We’ve been loving hard on Karen Willis Holmes for a lot longer than a hot minute. Why? Because this Aussie bridal veteran serves up gorgeous new designs on the reg, across five unique collections. And we can tell you for a fact, that with each KWH drop, our hearts find a little extra space to love on the brand even more. With over twenty years in the industry thus far, the designer counts over 15000 gowns that have been handmade over her stellar career and she feels pretty damn privileged to be a part of every single one of those love stories. For more, we sat down with the designer herself for a little chat. Originally published in Issue 30 of Hello May, you can catch all the details below…
What inspired you to become a wedding designer and what has kept you designing? I just love stunning pieces of clothing. I love the time and the skill needed to make them – they are handcrafted and created – we make corsets, trains and use luxurious fabrics. They are the epitome of fabulousness! I suppose the challenge of creating more superb pieces keeps me going. I am so specific with each element of my designs. Each seam, each bead and each stitch has a purpose. Every single part of each of my gowns is so thoroughly thought out and planned. It is a playground for my creativity.
Each collection in a sentence? LUXE gowns make a glamourous statement. Hand beaded and sequinned, they are luxury personified. Wild Hearts and CURVE are soft, romantic, and effortless – a perfect mix of simplicity and grace, with a hint of boho style. Bespoke is where traditional style and modern high fashion meet. These gowns are designed to be mixed and matched so every bride can create her very own unique gown! Elope sits left of centre and is designed so that every bride has the chance to feel exquisite no matter what their style is.
Who is the Karen Willis Holmes bride and how has she evolved over the years? It is the same girl. Confident loves fashion – but is not a slave to it – knows her own style and wants something special.
What do you feel she is looking for in the perfect bridal gown? To shine and be her best self. A wedding gown isn’t just about being the best dress. It is the ultimate statement. The perfect culmination of who a bride is and how she sees herself. Weddings are about love and a wedding gown should be an extension of that.
Can you please explain the creative process from design to dressmaking? I love having the workroom in our Sydney HQ. I like to be able to see, feel, touch and test when I am designing and creating. I think it’s important that we are truly an Australian brand at the core of what we do. When I am designing, I start with images – they could be anything – street style, trees, pictures I take of whatever I see that I like the shape of, the texture, the fit. Sometimes, if I have something in mind, I research it. For example, I saw a very fabulously dressed woman at my local coffee shop on a Sunday morning and she had a jacket on which I loved. It was heavily embroidered and very colourful – she said it was Guatemalan, so I spent ages looking up Guatemalan costumes for the next LUXE collection! Once I have an idea for inspiration, I draw on my ‘Dolly’s’ – templates so all the sketches are from the same base. I draw anything I can think of after looking at my inspiration pictures. Then I lay them out and edit, redraw, bin etc, until I have my collection. Then we make samples in calico [above] to see how they look in the real world. Once we are happy, we move onto the actual fabrics – from Silk to Twill, Mikado to Crepe. At this stage we get in a house model and tweak and play around and work on the samples, recut, fix, add and take away until the gown is perfect and ready for stores.
What is the price range of your gowns? From $2500 to $12500. We try to cater to every bride while ensuring our gowns are top quality and handmade.
What are the size ranges? Australian size 4 to 16 in Bespoke, LUXE, Wild Hearts and Elope and size 14c to 24c in the CURVE collection. We firmly believe that all women should have the same experience when shopping for their dream gown!
Advice for finding your dream dress? Start with some research – Instagram, Pinterest and bridal magazines. You will find themes of what you like. Take only one or two people – those who you value their taste and opinion in style and keep an open mind.
You employ a large group of talented women. What does that mean to you? We are a great team. When we employ someone, we make sure they are part of the KWH family. Yes, they need to have a wonderful skill set, but it is all about having each other’s backs. I love that most of the team here have worked their way up to where they are, so they understand from the ground up just how this business works. Quite a few have gone on to start their own businesses and I feel so proud of them.
What is the appointment process? We recommend booking an appointment, but we’re happy to see walk-in brides if we have spare times. I always say, when you are ready to start looking, that is the perfect time. Industry-standard is six-nine months [but] we can make many gowns in a shorter time frame so check with us! Appointments are one and a half hours long, with your own stylist guiding you. You’ll try on plenty of gowns, so you’re in very safe hands!
You’re setting the trends in the bridal industry, what are your favourites at the moment, or what is coming that you’re wanting to tap into or showcase? I am loving the Elope collection at the moment. To me, it really is a sign of the times, and it has fitted in perfectly with the direction the world has turned.
You have boutiques all over Australia and New York as well as stockists all over the world. How many do you have exactly? Four KWH stores in Australia – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth and 42 Stockists around Australia and the world.
Finally, what’s new for Karen Willis Holmes in 2022? In 2022 we are launching four new collections to start the year with a bang! We took all our campaign imagery in and around Byron Bay, where I now live, as we wanted to capture the laid-back essence of this stunning area! Bryon Bay is a popular wedding destination, so it seemed very fitting! We are launching our new BESPOKE range in January, our ELOPE range in February and we have our new WILD HEARTS and LUXE ranges launching around March/April. You can see we have been VERY busy in our KWH workrooms!