In every profession, there are always people you look to for inspiration. Leaders in their field and great at what they do. For me, this was meeting Australian designer Karen Willis Holmes.
Accomplished, driven and fun; stepping into Karen Willis Holmes’ beautiful Paddington boutique was a re-affirmation of just how much this designer has to offer and is captured beautifully by the photography of Angela Rose.
Get to know Karen Willis Holmes, in her words as told to me…
Always interested in fashion, Karen studied fashion design and manufacture at Bentley TAFE in Perth. She worked for herself and another company before moving to London. It was her years in London working for companies specialising in evening and special occasion day wear that she really honed her skills.
“One particular person I met while I worked for Arabella Pollen in London taught me some of the best lessons. We would make the sample patterns in the studio and after the shows I took the patterns to this older gentleman (there was no other word for him) and he would tweak them and turn them into production patterns which were masterpieces, he had such love & passion for his work and showed me so much.”
Upon her return to Australia, Karen started a store designing eveningwear. During this time people started asking her to make wedding gowns for them. When the lease finished on her store, Karen’s husband Geoff suggested she change direction and specialise in fashionable wedding couture. And that’s just what she has been doing ever since, both in Australia and New York.
“I love my job and all of the different levels of what it entails to run and grow a business. It is my full time commitment and love affair. Luckily my husband works in the business and supports me fully in this.”
A hard-working woman, Karen is driven to create a bigger and better business. She can be found either in the workroom designing and sampling the new collections, or in the office planning trade shows, overseeing the boutiques and working on the new designs and paperwork.
Having an overseas presence means travel is also part of Karen’s work.
“I travel not only between the four Australian boutiques (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth) but I now also travel overseas a few times a year to visit the boutique in New York and to show at bridal market in New York and London. I consider all my trips working holidays so I like to try and block out a few days to go and explore – especially in the US!”
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 for a dedicated behind-the-scenes post.
Some of the highlights:
Asking any artist what inspires them can be one of the most challenging questions to answer. However Karen’s passion really shines through when she shares with me her design process and from where she draws inspiration.
“I always draw reference from the fashion period of the 1940’s. In particular, Christian Dior’s revolutionary ‘New Look’ in 1947, following the Second World War. The construction, fit and hourglass silhouette – cinching in and defining the waist, of the collection is always a source of inspiration.
Designing is not just for the outer aesthetics of a gown, you also have to consider how the design is going to work internally – on a structural level. I also take inspiration from the history and the art of making corsets, how they manipulate the body and how they work within a wedding gown.”
And now take a quick five with Karen Willis Holmes…
What special touches are signature of a Karen Willis Holmes gown?
Gowns from the BESPOKE Collection and the WILD HEARTS Collection are made in Australia. This is something I am extremely proud of, as it is becoming rare to have beautiful product made here. We also sew a blue bow into our gowns – it is our ‘something blue’ for our brides!
What trends can we expect to see in bridal couture?
I don’t believe lace will completely vanish and everyone is loving the bohemian trend at the moment, but I do believe that lace is slowly making way for luxurious simpler fabrics incorporated in to beautiful structured and flattering dramatic silhouettes. Think clean, tailored lines in fitted dramatic shapes or full ball gowns.
Who was your favourite celebrity wedding gown and why?
Kate Middleton (Duchess of Cambridge) – I do love a Royal and I love the work Sarah Burton does with Alexander McQueen. This was a win for me, fashionable, it had to be so classical but then not boring. It was a perfect gown for a Royal Wedding.
What would you name your autobiography?
“Live the life you dream of and try and make it happen!”
Thank you Karen for collaborating on this project and for sharing your journey so far with us. We can’t wait to see what’s next for Karen Willis Holmes!
Many thanks also to The Print Room for allowing us to shoot in your space and for being so accommodating. I definitely recommend a visit to this restaurant/bar if you’re on the lookout for a unique drinking/dining experience. And if you find yourself there, be sure to let me know if you find this beautiful inscription…
I hope you enjoyed this post and be sure to keep an eye out for the rest of the designers profiled in this Bridal Series as well as the behind-the-scenes hair & makeup post to learn more about which products I used for our model. As always, feel free to leave comments and questions below.