“I would try and gain as much experience as you can with as many people as possible. Experience is truly the best way to learn. Think big and set your sights high!” Creative Director & Founder, Phillipa Lepley, on advice for taking the plunge
Celebrated across the industry for her exquisite couture wedding dresses and faultless, attentive service, Phillipa Lepley’s international reputation (of over 30 years) precedes her. For a bride searching for something bespoke, a truly extraordinary bridal experience awaits at the designer’s Chelsea atelier. Starting with the label’s signature body-sculpting corsetry, Phillipa and her team of talented, skilled artisans will tirelessly attend to your dream vision of a gown, stitching that renowned Phillipa Lepley magic into every seam. I managed to catch up with Phillipa of Phillipa Lepley to talk about her business journey and her version of Taking The Plunge, including the highs, the lows, the first jobs, the worst jobs and the tech she can’t live without…
#1 In a nutshell, describe your business/brand – what do you offer?
“At Phillipa Lepley, we create bespoke luxury wedding and evening dresses. We have now been established for over 30 years and we are renowned for our feminine, refined style. By combining traditional couture tailoring with an unparalleled attention to detail, we are able to create extraordinary timeless pieces that show off the best of British couture.”
#2 What’s your career background? Has it always been in the wedding industry?
“I went to art college where I completed an apprenticeship before continuing my studies at The London College of Fashion. After this I worked for a bridal designer for a short period of time before launching my own couture design business.”
#3 What planted the seed of your business idea? Did it strike you suddenly?
“I grew up in a family that was filled with entrepreneurs, so starting my own business seemed like the natural path for me to go down. That, coupled with the fact that I have just loved making things since such a young age, contributed to where I am now. When I was a child, I begged for a sewing machine!”
#4 Describe the moment you decided to TAKE THE PLUNGE (what did this involve? Handing in your notice?)
“At the time I was working for a designer from home, but I was making my own evening dresses and ball gown designs in the background in the evenings and at weekends, literally working around the clock. Demand for my own designs took off quite quickly, and so I had to take the plunge and leave my job. There was suddenly so much work to be done, making bespoke pieces for my own clients, and I couldn’t juggle the two anymore. It was a natural progression.
There have been many more moments when I have had to ‘take the plunge’ again since then too. Most recently, we opened up a beautiful new fitting space called ‘The Conservatory’ next door to our shop in Chelsea. It houses a small number of couture pieces on display and a large fittings area. I opened the space to enable our team to meet demands for more couture orders that were coming in, and it coincided with the launch of a new evening-wear collection too.”
#5 Describe how the first day of building your own business felt:
“It was so small at the time I started, so it felt very organic. Making my first wedding dress was scary though – I remember that extremely clearly. By that time I had created quite a few evening wear dresses before taking the plunge and agreeing to make my first wedding dress. It was so important to me that is was faultless and perfect – there is so much pressure to make something that is arguably the most important part of the bride’s day just right and to exceed all expectations.”
#6 The highs – what have they been so far?
“There have been so many highs. 15 years ago we were able to move the business from Fulham to Chelsea, which was a huge step for me and a high I will always remember. It was a reflection at that time how the brand had been built and grown, with such an amazing team behind it. Seeing photographs come through of our brides looking stunning in their Phillipa Lepley dresses is still a surreal experience for me too – they always look so happy. I also take great enjoyment from watching a design idea come to life through hours upon hours of skilled work from the Chelsea Atelier’s ‘petit mains’, who are able to turn each design into an exquisite, refined piece.”
#7 The lows – how did you move past them? What did you learn?
“Remaining calm, staying positive and keeping a sense of perspective is vital during any challenging time, to keep things moving forward. Running a business through lockdown was frightening, as the goal posts were always moving all the time, which I found very tough. I am a very onwards and upwards person, so generally I just get on with things, standing by my motto that ‘nobody will do it for you’!”
#8 If you could tell yourself three things when you first started the business – what would they be?
“The main thing is be confident in your design, trust your instinct, and just go for it!”
#9 Your tips for those dreaded lying-awake-at-3am times? (Counting sheep? Glass of water? Get up? Meditate? Read?)
“Personally, I get up and do more physical things around the house to make me tired, like chores etc. I do NOT do any work.”
#10 Your top organisational tip?
“You are only as good as your team and your organisation skills! I am obsessed with organising, and I have lists for everything, both for myself and for the team. I use Google Sheets to create live to do lists for everyone so that they can all be updated when things have been checked off and added to at any moment.”
#11 Who inspired you? Or inspires you in business?
“As a child I took inspiration from my grandmothers, both of whom were passionate about fabrics and sewing. That’s where I got my creative side from, for which I am very thankful for. I also took great inspiration from my father and grandfather, who both have very strong work ethics. I think that’s where my determination comes from. I take inspiration from a lot of people in fashion, but also from happy and positive people who run businesses all over the world. Instagram is great for giving daily access to what people like that are doing and how they are succeeding in whatever it is they are doing.”
#12 An app/piece of tech you now couldn’t live without for your business:
“I need my phone and laptop to organise the business! I actually have two phones in case one breaks or I lose it.
And again, Google Sheets is perfect for coordinating the team’s agenda, so that would be my app of choice.”
#13 Your first ever job was…
“I had a paper round when I was 14 – that was scary!”
#14 Your top social media tip?
“Try not to get too taken in by it, it’s not all real! And it’s definitely not good for your eyes!”
#15 The brand you’d love to collaborate with and why…
“Anya Hindmarch – I adore her organisational solutions and attention to detail.”
#16 Name a business/social media account(s) that has helped/inspired you with your business?
“I love Sarah Blakeley and her husband – they are inspiring and also very funny! @sarablakeley”
#17 Your fav social media tool: (Pinterest? Instagram? LinkTree? Etc.)
“I love Instagram as it’s great for sharing photographs of our gorgeous brides in their Phillipa Lepley couture dresses. Unfortunately, I’ve found that the update has made it harder to navigate through.”
#18 Your advice to those looking to TAKE THE PLUNGE:
“Go for it! I would try and gain as much experience as you can with as many people as possible. Experience is truly the best way to learn. Think big and set your sights high!”
Rapid Fire Questions | Phillipa Lepley
#1 You’re in Starbucks, what do you order?
“I actually don’t like their flavours, I prefer Cafe Nero!”
#2 Instagram feed crush:
“Again, Sara Blakely and her husband – @sarablakeley!”
#3 Your worst job was…
“Working at Butlins when I was 20. I only lasted a week…”
#4 If you didn’t do what you do…what would you do?
“If I could sing I would be a rock star. Chris Martin is my hero.”
#5 Work day pick-me-up:
“Bananas and a yummy Pret salad!”