WFH Diary | Australian Bridal Designer Helen O’Connor

Helen O'Connor Bridal

“Everything is new to me, but then again it’s all very familiar to my experience of building Thurley. The handcrafted embellishments and appliqué have always been my signature…creating made to measure bridal has provided me with the opportunity to fully explore and develop my ideas so they reach their full potential.” Helen O’Connor of new label, Helen O’Connor bridal on what’s new at the brand

Helen O’Connor, the Australian designer behind the much celebrated label, Thurley has unleashed a new chapter on the world with the launch of Helen O’Connor Bridal. Arriving this March, the designer’s first collection, Phoenix will not only sweep you off your Manolos with it’s glittering embellishment, sublime appliqué and meticulous attention to detail, but unveil this extraordinary designer’s innate sense of style for the aisle. Crafted with the modern bride in mind, the debut line symbolises ‘rebirth and renewal’, a reflection of Helen’s own journey, from Thurley to the present day. I caught up (digitally, of course) with the designer herself to get the lowdown on her lockdown… 

Discover Helen O’Connor’s Phoenix collection in full on Bridal Editor.

Helen O'Connor Bridal
Helen on her own wedding day
Photography by Pheobe Dunn | Image Play


Photographer: Eliza Harrison Photography | @elizaharrison_photography

Model: Shanali Martin @ Chadwicks 

Hair & MU: Mae Taylor | @maetaylor_makeupartist

#1 We’ve just gone into Lockdown 3. In three words, describe how you are currently feeling…

“In Melbourne, Australia we have just been released from lockdown 3.0 home arrest, while the rest of the country has been relatively free of the virus and able to live their normal live. So, as a Melbournian I am feeling frustrated but hopeful that it will be the last lockdown and that things will improve with the vaccine rollout. 

I also used to travel the world twice a year for work pre-Covid so the thought of not being able to fly internationally for an indefinite period makes me feel trapped. But when I see the position many countries are in and watch the virus tearing peoples lives apart I am grateful that it has been virtually eliminated in Australia.

So, in summary I have felt frustrated and trapped but remain hopeful and grateful.”

#2 Talk to us about your usual daily routine for your business and how this will change in lockdown…

“I have had a really big transition from being creative director at Thurley for 15 years until the start of 2020. This coincided with lockdown and becoming pregnant with my second child so I went from working 50+ hour weeks in an office with 15 people and travelling the world to being in locked down at home while trying to build a new business (and a baby!) while looking after a two year old.

My daily routine consists of starting at 8am (earlier now I don’t have a commute!) I try and get as much time as I can to bead my gowns on the stand until my (now three year old) gets bored and interrupts me and insists on being taken to the playground. So, I take a two hour break (which was all that was permitted for most of the year) and take a walk, which is a really important time for me to take a breath and exercise helps me reflect and think creatively. 

The afternoons at the moment consist of building the website and focusing on the marketing and social growth of the brand. I have found working from home means that there is never really any break from emails, social media and working on my garments but I honestly love it that way. I am doing something I am so passionate about it doesn’t feel like work at all as they say if you are doing what you love you will never work a day in your life! I do think that lockdown provided a rare opportunity to stop, relax, reflect and incubate my ideas. I was so used to going a million miles an hour and not devoting enough time to my passion of handcraft, but lockdown enabled me to give it everything I have creatively.”

Helen at work at home

#3 How will/does lockdown impact your business, and how can people (brides/the wedding industry) support you throughout?

“I was in the fortunate position of building my brand and in collection development stage during lockdown. It did mean however, what would have usually been a three month process took almost a year, but as I was in brand build phase I relished the opportunity to not work to a strict deadline that I was always working toward in ready to wear. 

Now I am in launch phase I am just hoping that brides are confident enough to start planning their weddings again and start looking for their perfect dress within my range. I am so excited to be a part of their wedding journey and make their big day unforgettable.”

Helen O’Connor Bridal

#4 Name three small businesses on Instagram you are supporting or would like to support more…

No.1Lana by Lana Wilkinson – a gorgeous stylist turned shoe designer, they are fun and fabulous, just like her!”

No.2Leletny – my new favorite independent accessory brand based in NYC, their pieces would be the perfect match to my dresses.”

No.3 Eliza Harrison Photography – she shot our first campaign and is an amazing talent that was heavily impacted by the wedding cancellations during the international lockdowns.”

Helen on her own wedding day
Photography by Pheobe Dunn | Image Play

#5 Favorite lockdown snack?

“Nutella on a spoon (sometimes dipped in muesli for a dash of texture)… it somehow makes me feel less guilty than eating half a block of Cadbury chocolate and is easier to hide from my three year old!”

#6 What’s your most recommended lockdown pick-me-up when you’re feeling down during lockdown?

“I honestly found beading to be very therapeutic, it gave me something to work toward every day and made me feel like I was building something special, which gave me a sense of achievement as the months literally melted away. Also, a glass of wine helps at the end of the day!”

Helen O’Connor Bridal

#7 What’s the item you can now NEVER find in the supermarket (and consequently dreamt continuously about) during lockdown? 

“There was a serious toilet paper shortage in Australia at the start of lockdown 1 and panic-buying gripped the nation. Things turned violent at the supermarkets as fights broke out over the remaining toilet paper and there were some pretty stressful and creative scenarios with friends getting down to the last squares on the roll that made everyone realize that it’s the small things that really matter! My dad had to drive 40km outside Melbourne to find me some!”

Helen O'Connor Bridal
Helen O’Connor Bridal

#8 Name a dinner/meal or beverage choice you feel might bring someone joy to their lockdown life…

“I was never a cook before lockdown but have started cooking due to the impossibility of going to my favourite restaurants and the disappointment of Uber Eats so I have a few treat dishes that I started cooking from a recipe book from my favorite café Alimentari. For brunch corn cakes with grilled bacon, avocado salsa and poached eggs and pork and fennel lasagna for dinner (and as previously mentioned Chardonnay or a G&T are also a source of much joy!)

Helen O'Connor Bridal
Helen O’Connor Bridal

#9 Talk us through what’s new at your brand…

“Everything is new to me, but then again it’s all very familiar to my experience of building Thurley. The handcrafted embellishments and appliqué have always been my signature but being in ready-to-wear meant there was always limitations due to commercial price points. However, creating made to measure bridal has provided me with the opportunity to fully explore and develop my ideas so they reach their full potential. I also added a more modern category for the younger brides who seem to be embracing simpler styling in more architectural statement shapes. This has had a really positive reaction so I know it is something to build on in future collections.”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

#10 What’s your lockdown outfit most days? Have you, say, developed an unhealthy attachment to the elasticated waists of your leggings like myself?

“I have to admit for someone who was always renowned for over dressing for every occasion my new uniform consists of Asics, black shorts (substituted with leggings for winter) and a black t-shirt, fitted waistbands need not apply!”

#11 What series have you now completed on Netflix/Amazon Prime etc.? Any recommendations?

“I devoured Emily in Paris in a weekend, it’s been far too long since there has been a movie like The Devil Wears Prada or a series like Sex and the City or Gossip Girl that consider fashion as an important character in the plot.”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

#12 The person(s) you will hug first when social distancing is no longer in place?

“My friends have actually joked that I get all embarrassed with hugging and air kissing so social distancing has been a blessing for my awkwardness, offering me a brief reprieve from awkward social encounters!”

#13 An act of kindness towards you that you’ve really appreciated during lockdown?

“I had my baby in August and due to restrictions was not able to have any visitors or deliveries in hospital, even my husband was only allowed to visit us for two hours each day so I was alone in an empty room for the whole week, but when I returned home was treated to a house full of flowers and food hampers and gorgeous little girls clothes and candles sent from family and friends.”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

#14 For a little Instagram-escapism and positivity, what account would you recommend?

“I always go to The Fat Jewish and Celeste Barber for a little giggle!”

#15 Name three things the lockdown has made you grateful for:

No.1 “My family.”

No.2 “My friends.”

No.3 “Their health.”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

#16 Which restaurant will you dine at first once restrictions are lifted again?

Stoke House St. Kilda, enjoying a meal and view of the ocean with friends in my favorite restaurant is one of the things I missed most in lockdown.”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

#17 What would be your five film recommendations to watch during lockdown…

Bridesmaids – it’s still hilarious even though I have watched it 20 times! The jokes and characters are still as funny and fabulous as the first time I watched it!

Eat Prey Love – reignites my love of travel and long lost freedom!

The Devil Wears Prada – reignites my passion for fashion before stretchy pants became my uniform.

The Beach – it’s disturbing in parts but there is something about the memories of music and the smell and salt on your skin and Leonardo that always takes me to a better place.

The Great Gatsby – the dark side of an indulgent pampered party lifestyle makes me feel better about my FOMO of all the cancelled 40th birthday parties I missed in 2020.”

#18 What book would be top of your lockdown book list?

The Subtle art of not giving a f*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson. It seriously helped with my lockdown anxieties and is a lot cheaper than therapy!”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

#19 Name an odd purchase you’ve made during lockdown…

“10 boxes of tissues as a substitute for toilet paper!”

#20 The best gift you received this festive period?

“A bottle of Si by Giorgio Armani perfume from my mum, it was the one thing that lifted my spirits and a little spray on my wrists made me feel like my old self every morning, even if I was just wearing stretchy pants!”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

#21 Name a brand you would love to collaborate with…

Lelet NY for hair accessories and Aquazzura for shoes.”

#22 What’s your advice to lockdown brides?

“Enjoy every minute you have locked down with your husband-to-be, you will rarely get the opportunity to be together without interruption again after you marry and you will reflect on this time as one of rare intimacy before all of the interruptions of the outside world once again overwhelm your lives.”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

#23 Your favorite beverage?

“Aperol Spritz always brings back memories of summer.”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

#24 Name your favorite magazine to curl up with.

Vogue UK.”

Helen O'Connor Bridal

Discover more by heading to the brands beautiful new website STAT. 

Helen O'Connor Bridal

Want to read more WFH Diary entries from your favourite bridal brands, boutiques and designers? Head on over to the Bridal Editor WFH Diary page. 

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