Designing a Couture Dress

COUTURE COMMENT: Designer Inspiration – Designing a Couture Dress

So where does it all start, the idea for a couture dress, or as some would say a custom made garment?

Working 1–1 with a client is for me an exciting process, and I would like to think for the client too, once commissioned to make a garment, in this case designing a couture dress, the discussion of style, body shape, fabric, the event for which the dress will be worn, all become part of the conversation.

I am looking at the best style of shaping that will complement your figure, we then discuss neckline, sleeve length, dress length, what do you want to emphasise, and what would you prefer not to be on show, there’s a myriad of elements that I take into consideration, before we speak about dress fabric.

I will draw from a variety of resources, magazines, look books, photographs of previous work, as reference points for design ideas. The Eclipse Summer Racing Fashion Guide 2017, with its many fashion pages proved to be a brilliant resource when I met with a client who required a dress to be made for her to attend a wedding.

Flicking through the magazine we looked at shapes, silhouettes, and necklines, the client decided upon a raglan cutaway shaping for the bodice of the dress, (raglan shaping is often seen on halter-neck dresses), its a lovely shape for when you want to show off your shoulders. We also decided upon a V-neck and waist shaping; as her frame is petite this also elongates the body. A slim fitting pencil style skirt, with a front thigh split, the skirt mid-length as too long can make you appear shorter, ending just below the calf creates the illusion of height. Not too long a split as to be uncomfortable, and providing a comfortable walking stride.

The back of the dress would have cross-over straps with diamante buttons closure, creating another focus point when the dress is viewed from the back.  We had already decided upon a colour, a deep purple, which was also wonderful for the client’s skin tone.

The fabric would be wool jersey and lined. However, in order for the dress to come to life, I would have to make a pattern and toile (which is a mock-up of the garment) before working in the main fabric. With a toile, the client and I were able to make subtle changes, such as deepening the neckline, we also look at wearing ease, how comfortable the garment is, are there restrictions in the fit? When a garment is close fitting you still want to be able to breathe!

Once the toile is completed, it’s then for me to work in the main fabric, and this is where the various couture sewing techniques come into play, this particular wool jersey was quite springy, meaning that the seams would not lay flat.  A lot of hand-sewing had to be used for the seams keeping them flat, not just  for a neater finish but also the shaping it provides to the body, little details such as this make a huge difference to the overall look of a garment.


A fitting in the dress as it was taking shape was also required, this ensures that the fit and designed style look are achieved, we also discuss the type of buttons that will be used, all these little details make a huge difference.

Once the client and I are thrilled as to the look and fit, this now means that I can complete the garment adding the finishing touches, ready for her final fitting.  It’s at the point of the final fitting that I say goodbye to a dress that has become a dear friend, as she is handed over to her new owner.

The transformation from a few metres of fabric into something really special is a wonderful experience; the client was happy to provide a selfie and later told me that she had a brilliant time, as well as receiving many compliments!

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