From working with award-winning costume designers to creating bespoke wedding gowns, Caitlyn Elliott talks to us about her journey towards turning the visions of bride-to-be’s into reality, and her deep passion in building trust and genuine connections with each of her brides.
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Tell us a bit about yourself…
I have been making wedding dresses under ‘Studio C Bridal’ as a freelancer for nearly three years now. But before all that, I worked as a costume designer for various theatre companies, such as Opera Australia, Bell Shakespeare, Griffin, and Global Creatures, and have worked for award-winning designers like Catherine Martin and Geoffrey Rush. It was an incredible honour but I have always been creative. I went through phases, but there was always art, building, creating, and even baking. Whatever it was, I have always had an interest in creating things.
Can you tell us more about your experience as a costume designer?
I guess everything began from my big love for drama and costuming from High School. I costume designed for our Drama Show at school and fell in love with learning the craft of making dresses, and being able to look at a picture and turn the vision into reality.
I then moved to Sydney from Adelaide when I was accepted into the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). I followed my passion in theatre costume, and completed a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts – Costume. I scored some amazing opportunities to work for various theatre production companies. What I really love about costumes is being able to be part of something that is so phenomenal.
So what led you to the path of opening Studio C Bridal?
In 2013, when I originally launched my own space, Studio C, the key was to do both costume and bridal. I actually still take on theatre work, and I have learnt some crazy wonderful sewing techniques through that world. But I love brides. There’s always a point for every bride where they say, wow, this is it, this is what it’s all about, and that’s pretty special when it happens, and that’s what drew me into bridal.
For most, it is a once in a lifetime experience, and I am just so honoured to be a very small part of their very big day. For costume design however, actors know what it’s like. It’s just another costume, so for them I guess, the novelty wears off.
When did you make your first wedding dress and what did it look like?
The first wedding dress I made was actually my sisters’ in 2011, so I guess that was actually my big launch into making wedding dresses! When making it, I was researching styles, trends and was buying bridal magazines to get inspiration. My sister was heavily referencing a particular Ellie Saab collection, so we took inspiration from that and eventually came up with the style that we did in the right fabric and the right colours.
So how does Studio C Bridal differ from other Designers and Dressmakers?
Having studied over two thousand five hundred years worth of fashion history, I’m very confident in my ability to be able to make any kind of gown – all of my pieces are custom designed and made for each individual.
My main point of difference, I believe, is that you actually have to walk through my workroom to get to the consultation and fitting area. Everything is made by me, in this very studio – no secrets, no shortcuts. Dressmaking is a beautiful process and an occasional mess, but I’m not a fairy godmother. I can promise you that everything does get made by me. I’m not sure I’ll ever want to be so big a company that I won’t get to meet my brides. And if I believe there is a better way to do something, then I will diplomatically say so because I want what is best for my brides. I will never let a girl walk out of my studio if she is not happy with the result, and I will never let a bride make a bad decision.
“I know I am just a small part on their wedding day but I absolutely love what I do and that makes it all worth it.”
And how do you do that? Never let a bride make a bad decision?
My process is very open and friendly. It starts with the design consultation, a sit down, where we collect all images in one place and look at all the images. Brides can bring in their Pinterest board and their bridesmaids, and we just sit and have an informal chat about what they want the dress to be. We look at different shapes, fabrics, and talk through each detail and element of every picture that is her favourite. If brides can’t articulate it, that’s okay too! That’s for me to work out. It might be the feel of the image. And sometimes it goes down to using technical terms like “squishy” or “crunchy”. At some stage I’ll start to sketch a few designs and go through the different designs together. I always ensure I consult with the bride throughout until she is completely happy.
What happens next?
Over the course of the fittings, the dress really comes to life, and I adore seeing my brides get increasingly excited as it all comes together. Every girl that books with me actually gets a pamper pack to help her along the wedding process and as a thank you for choosing to have me along for the ride. I know how stressful a wedding can be, so it’s just a little something that hopefully helps them with any surprises that comes up along the way. It has things they can enjoy and share with their girls on the day. There’s a piccolo of champagne, a little makeup case and inside the make up case, an emergency garter, some rose gold nail polish, some herbal rose flavoured tea and some breath mints.
What do you think is your biggest challenges?
Earning a bride’s trust can be difficult at first, but rightly so. For a lot of women, their wedding dress is one of the most lavish items they’ll ever wear and ever splurge on. But, to form a personal connection with each bride, and to see her face light up each fitting as her dress ‘materializes’ in front of her is such a wonderful feeling. Just as it’s difficult to form that connection, I have to say that having to let go once it’s all over is also one of the most challenging part of my job. In those few months, you really get to know a lot about each other – their values, beliefs, their story.
The odds of a customer ever coming back is low, and unlike any other service or product industry, it would be unlikely that I would ever see them again, and sometimes it can be hard to say goodbye. If I’m lucky, I’ll see their photos from the day or they’ll recommend me to their friends. I know I am just a small part on their wedding day but I absolutely love what I do and that makes it all worth it. I want to help with all that I can through what I do, but it’s bittersweet once it all comes to an end.
What advice would you give to couples currently looking for a Dressmaker/Designer?
Treat it like a job interview. Find out what they’ve done in the past, and what they will do for you in the future. If you get a good vibe, or a bad vibe, stick with it – you don’t want to be dreading your appointments and fittings. Don’t let the dressmaker/shop assistant tell you what you want, you know you better than they know you. Try to start looking eight months before the wedding day. Although it’s possible to turn around a dress in two to three months, with the changes you will likely go through during the wedding process, it’s worth being able to book in early.
What advice would you give to the men and women who are thinking about starting their own businesses to pursue their own passions?
Don’t give up. If you really really want it then go for it. Work hard, and it will pay off. Learn something new from every job you take, every client you meet, every time you fall.
Where can we find you and where are you based?
My studio is at 18/20-28 Maddox Street Alexandria NSW. Opening hours are by appointment only, so that sole focus is on you. I’m happy to meet after work or on weekends if those are the times you’re available.
All images owned and copyrighted by WePlanr.
Experience more passion and dedication at www.studiocbridal.com
To schedule a consultation with Caitlyn, send her a message at www.weplanr.com
From creating bespoke dresses for a bride’s special day, contrasted with curating products that ripen with timelessness for the groomsmen, Caitlyn and her husband Adam marry integrity and style. Keep an eye out for our next interview as #WEMeetTheMaker Adam from Can’t Skate Manufacturing Co. to talk about his infatuation for sustainable and ethical fashion while helping us realise the impact of how our collective choices can affect the environment and people.