Rhiannon D’Averc sat down with Louise Allison, the creative mind behind Louise Rose Couture, to talk about style, retro fashion, and brides.
Tell me about your background – when did you start designing?
I started off designing dresses from the age of about 15 – I’m 32 now, so quite a while! I went straight out of school into college and studied fashion, then studied at uni. I worked for various designers and production studios and then set up alone in 2015. It’s been great since!
How did you decide to go in your current direction?
I’ve always loved vintage eras, but I also love modern fashion, so I combined a bit of the two. A lot of my silhouettes are influenced by vintage styles, but they’re designed more for the modern woman as well.
Where does the name ‘Louise Rose Couture’ come from?
Obviously, my name’s Louise, and I didn’t want to use my name – mainly because my maiden name didn’t quite fit the right way. So, I was always thinking of something else that would work with the style, and ‘Rose’ just seemed to fit. It just enhances the branding really.
I see that you sell dresses, but you also have bespoke services.
I do occasion wear and bridalwear, so I have my silhouettes and designs and they’re all customisable. As they’re made to order, they can choose the neckline, the sleeves, the skirts, and then it’s made into a one-of-a-kind dress. I rarely make the same dress twice as they have a lot of variations, which I think is quite a good selling point as well.
How do you choose those silhouettes and what options you’ll have available?
My starting point for silhouettes was to find a style that suited and flattered all women, any age, any shape, any size. I definitely wanted to include everyone in my brand. With my love for the 50s era, they worked quite well together – with all the nipped-in waists, it tends to flatter a lot of people, so that was my starting point.
Do you have any particular influences or inspirations?
The obvious iconic one for that sort of style is Christian Dior, the ‘new look’ that he produced. That’s a really key one from back then. Then other influences from more currently as well.
Tell me about starting with a degree in fashion design.
It feels like a long time ago now! (laughs) But that was a time to learn, to experiment with everything, with all different styles and try out some less wearable pieces but just really get creative, which was fun. Whereas now it’s all slightly more commercial, so I need to create things that will sell but try and keep it inspiring at the same time.
Do you feel like your degree really set you up well?
I think it did, but I only really started learning when I got out there working for other companies. I found that you kind of learn the basics of everything at uni, but it’s not until you get out there that you suddenly realise there’s a lot to learn. You’re covering so much in that space of time, your skills develop constantly afterwards, particularly with sewing.
Working as a freelancer – is there any big lesson that you learned on the job?
Yeah, it’s hard work. I worked for a designer and had one experience there, and it was long hours, getting home really late, really early starts. So I think you have to be really prepared for that, and that you could be asked to do absolutely anything! Then I went on to work for a fashion production studio which was more mass-produced garments, and that came with a whole different set of challenges, because if you make one mistake then a whole factory of a thousand garments is going to be wrong. There’s a lot of pressure in that role as well. It made me learn for when I started my own business what to avoid and what not to do, so it was really helpful!
You’ve had the experience for both sides.
Yeah, I worked for both a designer and mass production, and from that I decided which way I wanted to go. I thought about the production, but actually I wanted it to be more personal and individual, and I wanted to put more into each piece.
That’s important to you, so that all women can wear your work, like you mentioned before.
I’ve had customers ranging from 12 years old to 85! I had this old lady, she had all her dresses made and every year she comes back, so it’s really sweet. My key audience are women in the 30s and 40s, but it does expand to a much broader range as well. I just feel like sometimes, fashion doesn’t cater for everyone, so it’s important to me to break that. Plus-sized ladies as well.
Your dresses walked at Top Model – what’s that like?
I’ve been doing Top Model for four years now – next year will be the fifth year. I got introduced to Geoff, the organiser of Top Model, through a friend who’s also a designer, and I’ve just been doing it every year since. It’s a really great opportunity to see everything come alive on the catwalk, and also it’s for Children With Cancer as well and raises a lot of money. It’s good to get involved.
How does it feel to see your clothes on the runway?
It’s a real buzz seeing them come down the catwalk. It’s one thing seeing them in the studio, and it starts to come to life in a photoshoot, but when you see them walking down the catwalk it’s just got that extra excitement to it.
Do you have any more shows planned?
At the moment it’s just that one I do, but maybe in the future…
But in the past, you did London Fashion Week and also Ottawa Fashion Week?
Yes, I did. So, when I first graduated I was looking for opportunities and I found this company that was organising a fashion show for charity. They took me on to organise the show, coordinate all the other designers and the models. I organised it all, and designed my own collection! It was a big project, a full-time project for nearly a year. From that show I got contacted by Ottawa Fashion Week, and they asked me to take it over there, and I thought, why not? I had a really great time over there as well.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is quite a mix between vintage and modern. I’m not one of these diehard vintage fans that only dress in a certain era. I like to mix it up, so I do like to have elements of vintage but still keeping it current as well.
Did you go through different styles when you were growing up, or was it always vintage?
Oh yeah, I definitely went through all kinds of phases. I went through a bit of a gothic phase when I was a teenager, very grungy stage, then suddenly everything was rainbowcoloured – so I went from one extreme to the other! Then I finally settled into this kind of style, for quite a long time now.
I’m interested to know – you have a shop on Etsy as well?
Most of my stuff is made to order, so most people come to me for fittings. But for people further afield, I do offer things in standard sizes as well, which is what I sell on Etsy. They’re just made and shipped out. That way I’ve managed to reach people in America, Australia, and all different places in Europe, so that’s a good way to expand.
Do you find it’s a different experience versus your own website and your bespoke dresses?
It is – it’s completely different, because my bespoke stuff, I really get to know my clients. By the time you hand over a wedding dress, you feel kind of sad to not see them again, and then it’s really nice when you get the pictures back. It’s a bit less personal online. They order and you ship it out – but it is nice to have that balance, the easier orders coming in.
How do you handle work-life balance, because you’re having to do everything in the business?
It is really difficult. I think I’m getting a bit better, finally! (laughs) Before, it was quite full-on all the time, and it’s hard to stop at weekends or in the evenings. A lot of my appointments are on Saturdays anyway, but I try to now, unless it’s a really busy period, to have at least a break on Sundays. But it is difficult because you’re constantly checking messages, emails, and doing social media updates as well as all the other work you need to do. It’s a bit of a juggling act.
Do you have any tips for someone who would want to start their own business?
I’d say you need to be prepared in the beginning to just really put in a lot of work, and be patient. It’s easy to get down-hearted when you first start and think ‘Oh, where’s all my orders?’, when you’re just sat there waiting for them. They don’t come straight away, and when they do come it’s slow, and it does take a few years before it picks up really. You just have to really persevere and believe that it will come together in the end.
I saw that you’re a supporter of Equality Weddings.
Eva, who set up Equality Weddings, has set it up recently. I met her at a wedding fair and I just really liked her ethos within the industry. There’s sometimes a bit of a stigma with different couples with LGBTQ+ people, so it’s just to make it clear that everyone is welcome. It should go without saying, you shouldn’t feel like you even have to say it, but some couples are still unsure about how they’ll be treated. So, when I saw Eva was setting that up, I got on board.
Find more of Louise’s work at louiserosecouture.com