An interview with Martin Charles Bridal Couture

April 18, 2020

If you’ve got wedding dresses on your mind (and let’s be honest, haven’t we all got wedding dresses on our mind?!) then you’ll want to check out this interview with Martin Charles, owner and designer at Martin Charles Couture.

You’ll find Martin at The Bridal Gallery in Oundle (contact deets at the end of the post). If you haven’t been to Oundle before, allow plenty of spare time because you’re in for a treat! It’s a gorgeous market town complete with cosy cafes and great eateries … a suitably stunning location for a gorgeous wedding dress boutique.

Several of my brides found their dream dress through Martin and couldn’t have praised him, his work or their wedding dress more highly.

I’ve also had the pleasure and honour of photographing his work commercially (check out our most recent shoot). Martin is the definition of perfectionism; he always puts me through my paces to achieve great photos and I very much admire that. He’s good fun to work with too and super easy to get along with.

So I’m quite sure you’ll be in safe hands and very well looked after if you choose a dress by Martin. He won’t stop until he’s happy … and that means you being happy too.

Ready to get to know Martin a little better? I’ll leave you in peace so you can read on.

A Martin Charles Couture wedding dress in the attic at Boughton House

Martin Charles Bridal Couture on Milan, coffee & perfectionism.

How did you get into the world of wedding dresses?

It took me a while to find my way into bridal.

I came home from Milan after designing couture dresses for the catwalk. I wasn’t sure what was next so I started a fashion label. But finding good manufacturing in the UK was impossible; I was used to working with in-house teams.

A lady in London found my contact details and ask me to make something special for her. This developed into a small group of clients around the Kensington area, making outfits for racing events and Henley. But I was spending more time on the train back and forth doing fittings than anything else.

I’d always been interested and skilled in pattern cutting and manufacture, so wedding gowns were a great fit. It was the best way I could use my skills, work with a single client, and make a living.

Martin Charles Couture Two-Piece wedding dress at Boughton House

What’s a typical day like for you?

It starts with a strong coffee from the local coffee shop and a chat with the staff. It can be incredibly isolating working on your own, so I view them as part of my team.

First, I catch up on emails, chasing orders. If I have time, sharing some social media.

I’m a planner by nature so I‘ll have planned my day ahead of time to know what alterations or patterns I have to get done. I work on those all-day until everything is completed. I’m very focused so once I start I don’t tend to lift my head up until I’m happy with the work I’ve done.

Usually, my shop/studio/workshop looks like a bomb has hit it by the end of the day with pattern paper and pieces of fabric everywhere! A quick tidy and re-check on email and my day is almost done.

All that is interspersed with seeing brides on appointments, fitting orders, repairing samples, shop maintenance, marketing and doing the business accounts. Exhausted!

'Tigerlily' by Martin Charles Couture

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Inspiration for designs comes from a variety of directions: fabrics, trends, social media, fashion images or simply working with a piece of fabric on the stand.

If I’m making a dress for a bride I ask them to bring images they’ve collected. Not necessarily of dresses, more the feel of the wedding they want. Before even accepting a commission I make sure we are both on the same wavelength and that we both know what the outcome will be.

Things can develop as the dress is toiled, fitted and made. But I always make sure throughout that we’re still in tune with the result to be achieved.

Martin Charles Couture lace wedding dress with sheer jacket

What do you enjoy most about designing dresses?

I enjoy learning about brides, working with them, making their experience special. It’s an exciting thing getting married and I want to make sure that they enjoy the whole experience.

I also enjoy the technical part of drafting a pattern from the measurements taken. Transferring that to a 3D form in Calico to fit, seeing the silhouette develop and being able to tweak little details to suit the client’s body shape. And then finally seeing the finished result.

A Martin Charles Couture wedding dress hanging in a bedroom on a bride's wedding morning

What is the hardest thing about your job?

That’s easy. It’s the pressure I put on myself to make the bride happy. I’m a perfectionist.

I have memories of all the dresses I have made. Each one has had challenges, either through the fabric not reacting in the way it was supposed to, the design being a challenge to physics and gravity…

But these are what make the job interesting and my hair grey.

A bride wearing Martin Charles Couture on the beach in north Norfolk

What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you at work?

I’m a good designer and maker, I’m not a good salesperson. In the beginning, when I was inexperienced in this area, I’d be nervous; and at that time big parties would come with the bride.

I had one group come in, who brought bubbly with them. Which I didn’t mind but now I would do. I got halfway through the appointment and realised it was getting out of hand. They were all pulling dresses off the rail, messing about, it was mayhem. I had a short 50’s dress in the shop and when one girl put it on, got on her knees and pretended to be a small person, I finished the appointment. I felt emotionally exhausted after that.

Now I have much more experience and know when an appointment is not going in the right direction and how to refocus it. I still get nervous, that’s just me. We still have a fun relaxing time during the appointment and hopefully a helpful one for the bride. I don’t now encourage the type of “Say Yes to the Dress” types of appointments and to be honest they are a bit dated now, preferring that a bride brings with her just a couple of guests for their appointment. 

A Martin Charles Couture wedding dress

Whose wedding dress would you most like to design and make – past, present or future?

I’m not into the celebrity scene but I love making gowns for girls who appreciate the effort you put in and the time you take to make their experience extra special. Clients who trust and know you will do the best you can for them.

I’ve been so lucky, I’ve had wonderful brides to work with. When you’re working with brides there is so much stress and emotion going on in their world; you have to be calm, patient and listen.

Martin Charles Couture arranging the train of a wedding dress

What one piece of advice would you give to a bride looking for her wedding dress now?

Keep the people involved in your dress to a minimum. It’s your big day and your big surprise. Involving too many opinions makes it confusing for you and you don’t get the best from the shop because you can’t hear what the person with experience is saying. Two well-chosen people is enough.

Also … try everything, discount nothing. You may be surprised.

Hungry for more?

Website: martincharlesbridalgallery.com

Instagram: @martincharlesbridalgallery

Facebook: @martincharlescouture

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