The British bridalwear designer Caroline Castigliano talks about her life in fashion.
Retail therapy with Caroline Castigliano
I have been making clothes since I was about five years old. My mother taught me to sew and I used to make things for my dolls. By the time I was a teenager I was making nearly all of my clothes. I started in an entirely different business, doing active sportswear for women. I took my first collection to the States and sold it to everybody, to Bloomingdale's, Macy's and Neimann Marcus. It was a fantastic start and that was how the creative spirit began.
My mother sewed but neither of my parents were from a creative background. My mother was a nurse until she met my father, and he was on the board of a British company, so no creativity there. It definitely comes from the fact that I made clothes and that, fortunately, my best friend was brought up in much the same way; her mother also made clothes. I think it must have something to do with the age of our mothers. Just after the war, all young girls were taught to sew. You never see that any more.
I stayed in the US for about five years. I was having a fabulous time and it had given me this amazing opportunity, but I wanted to go home. What I had developed in the States was great for America but it definitely wouldn't have worked on a larger scale in England. So I was looking at what my talents were. I was still very young and I had never stopped making dresses. At the time, there were only big bridal brands like Berketex Bride and Pronuptia, which sold polyester wedding dresses. I thought: "Ah, there's a hole here in this market." I was so lucky; I opened my first boutique 19 years ago in Esher in the county of Surrey, and I very quickly had queues for appointments. I ran it all by appointments, which everyone told me I was mad to do. But I said: "No, that's the only way you can give people a proper service."
It just took off, and it had a big effect on stores like Harrods which did wedding dresses because I started to take a lot of their clients outside London. That I am designing the dress that will be the most important thing a girl will ever buy is what makes it fun. That's the reason you stay in bridal, because you are literally producing the dress that's meant to say everything about her personality and style.
I would like to think that people in 20 years' time who have worn a Castigliano gown will look back and say: "I loved my wedding dress and I still love how I looked in it." Our look is classic, understated, relaxed glamour. That is what we're about and what we're known for, and why people come from all over Europe to get their dresses in our Knightsbridge store. I think these days people want something that's going to make them look like a woman with style. Girls are older now when they get married - they're usually a good 30 - and they want something that's going to say: "Not only am I glamorous, but I'm a confident woman and I have style."
They don't want to stand there in some sort of rigid meringue that is "a wedding dress". My favourite label is Dolce & Gabbana. I absolutely love their gowns. I think they've got a fantastic classic feel but with a modern twist. I work insane hours so I dress pretty comfortably during the day in over-the-knee boots, nice Joseph leggings and big tops or blouses or blazers. Ever since I was about 16, I always said that if I only bought very few clothes, they would be good quality. For instance if I bought myself a dress, I would make certain that it was by a great designer with an excellent cut.
I've always been really into the cut of things. The other day I had to do a show in London and I couldn't find anything to wear. I ended up choosing a tailored jacket that I bought from Browns in London 23 years ago. It was the most beautiful red, exquisitely tailored with shoulder pads, a long pleated front and a very high-waisted back. It was just so now I couldn't believe it. I was at the beginning of my career then and very young but I would always rather have put a lot of money into having a few pieces that were fabulous.