This week’s designer for The Bridal Series Sydney is Darlinghurst’s Rhonda Hemmingway.
And was shot by the multi-talented Angela Rose Photography.
Rhonda Hemmingway truly is Australian couture royalty. With a career spanning decades at the forefront of the Australian fashion and bridal scene I knew interviewing Rhonda would be nothing short of fascinating. Full of surprises and great stories, enjoy getting to know the one and only Rhonda Hemmingway.
Located in Darlinghurst, Rhonda’s new boutique is in a fabulous creative building on Oxford Street shared with the likes of graphic designers, production companies, fashion designers and PR firms. As soon as you step into the beautiful lift (like something out of Narnia!) you know that you’re about to discover something truly special. Rhonda’s space is intimate, comfortable and very inviting.
Truly blessed to have known her calling from the young age of eight, Rhonda’s story of how she got started in design was a delight to listen to.
“My father worked a second job at The Roxy Theatre in Parramatta and we used to go and watch movies on Saturday afternoons. I was totally mesmerised by that 1960s period of beautiful dresses and gowns.
Mum would come and pick us up when she finished work in the afternoon and by then everyone would start arriving for the evening cinema sessions. And they sure did dress! Women wore fur stoles and great big tulle skirts while the men would come in bowties and suits. It was just gorgeous and I used to love watching that. Then I’d go home and do little sketches as an eight year old and make clothes for my doll.
The art deco Roxy Theatre building in Parramatta in the 1960s. Image courtesy of Cinema Treasures.
I was also the youngest cousin on both sides of the family and attended so many weddings when I was a child and became obsessed. I always knew I wanted to get into it.
We lived in a street that was all girls (only two boys at the bottom of the street- who had runny noses and weren’t very nice!) so we had a little club of girls, all older than me and I used to make them ball gowns.
From a really young age that’s how I found my calling.”
A lecturer at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), a photographer (early on in her career Rhonda used to make the gowns and then photograph the weddings on film!) and gowns now stocked in the prestigious ‘Bridal at David Jones’ suite, I ask the hard-working Rhonda about her inspirations…
“It comes from everywhere. Like a door handle might inspire me… A tree might inspire me… I’m mostly inspired by Elie Saab. I love Elie Saab. He does really simple designs, the same shapes every year but he changes his fabrics and I think it’s made me work harder with fabrics.
Obviously you have to experiment with design but he inspires me because he keeps everything simple and I think that’s what it is all about. Really beautifully cut, well-shaped, well-fitted but simple.”
When asked about her favourite part of her job, Rhonda does not hesitate to describe the joy her brides bring her.
“I think creating a gown for a bride who, when starting off doesn’t really know what she wants and when she walks out the door, is overwhelmed at how amazing she looks… It gives you so much joy to see that.”
Rhonda cites Grace Kelly’s wedding dress as her favourite celebrity gown. She’s not alone there, I remember seeing this actual gown in 2010 at the “Grace Kelly – Style Icon” exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It truly was a work of art.
Classic beauty: the dress designed by Helen Rose of MGM Studios for Grace Kelly when she married Prince Ranier III, Prince of Monaco, in 1956. Images courtesy of beyondgracekelly.com
Featuring 125-year-old Brussels lace, meters of silk taffeta and thousands of tiny hand-sewn pearls, it took six weeks for 36 seamstresses to make the wedding gown. Images courtesy of beyondgracekelly.com
I ask about the photo of Carolyn Bessette which Rhonda has on display in her boutique…
“She changed wedding fashion forever. Because when she wore that dress, everyone was having strapless bodices, very boned, with massive beading, crystals and pearls and great big skirts. All of a sudden she came along in something very different and changed everything.”
Carolyn chose (then un-known designer) Narciso Rodriguez, a former Calvin Kelin staffer to design her dress. She walked down the aisle wearing a fluid, bias-cut dress of pearl-white crepe. Image courtesy of celebritybrideguide.com
For someone who has seen her fair share of trends come and go, I ask for her favourite style icon and was not at all surprised when she named Edith Head- one of the most revered and idolised costume designers in cinema history.
American costume designer Edith Head was nominated for 35 Academy Awards every year from 1948 through to 1966 and won eight times- receiving more Oscars than any other woman. She was a favourite among many of the leading female stars of the 1940s and 1950s such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwuck, Shirley MacLaine, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Image courtesy of searchengineland.com
And finally, Rhonda’s best advice for a woman deciding on her dress:
“Listen to an expert and add your own touches.
I like people to add their own touches. In fact a lot of the girls come here and say, ‘I like this top and that neckline and can I have it in that fabric’. I’ll sketch it up and guide them as to what will work or what we could do differently.”
Together with Amber our model, Angela Rose behind the camera, Rhonda’s styling and myself on hair and makeup, this is what we created.
For a description of how I styled the hair and makeup as well as an insider’s look at which Indeed Labs, Make Up Forever, Ardell and Label M products I used, click here.
And now for two minutes of fun with Rhonda Hemmingway…
Sunrise or sunset?
Favourite pizza topping?
Peking duck! Pizza Moncur- never tasted anything like it!
What is your most used word or phrase?
*Rhonda laughs… “beautiful”. When I was writing my book my husband did a check on how many times I used the word “beautiful”… It was about 2000 times. He said, “we’ve got to go back and find other words!”.
What fictional character do you wish was real and why?
Woody from Toy Story, he seems like a lovely guy.
After our interview, Rhonda kindly gave me a signed copy of her book Secrets and Confessions of a Wedding Dress Designer and it was full of great stories and anecdotes. If you’re after a great read, I highly recommend it!
Thank you Rhonda for taking part in this blog series. The joy you have for your work is contagious and your accomplishments are nothing short of inspirational. Your vivacious personality is so much fun to be around and I wish you every continued success.
You can follow Rhonda Hemmingway on Facebook and Pinterest as well as visit the website for more information. The boutique is located at Studio 23 (second floor), 94 Oxford Street Darlinghurst NSW 2010.
If you are looking for a wonderful wedding photographer, get following Angela Rose on Instagram and Facebook or check out her website.
I hope you enjoyed this post and be sure to keep an eye out for the rest of the designers profiled in The Bridal Series Sydney! Last week we showcased Karen Willis Holmes and talked about the hair and makeup in a behind-the-scenes post. As always, feel free to leave comments and questions below.
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