Woman in Progress: Caroline Arthur, bridal design
With a Royal marriage later this year we thought we'd get in early and interview a bridal designer. Our latest Woman in Progress is Caroline Arthur, couture designer, who launched a successful business by teaming her creative talents and eye for the beautiful with what many women anticipate as the best day of their lives. If I had a wedding to plan Caroline would be on my list of people to meet! Thank you for taking time to answer our questions and for the insight into your life.
I'm a middle-aged mother of a six year old, happily married to an awesome man for nearly 20 years and together we live in leafy Surrey. I started my own dressmaking business from the spare room in 2002.
My business has grown from one-woman-at-her-sewing-machine into a much bigger enterprise, with several amazing women working for/with me in sales, manufacturing, fitting, pattern-cutting and marketing. They are all working mums - I have structured the business to be agile enough to allow plenty of freedom for them to fit it around family life, rather than the other way around. I trained at the London College of Fashion, but years before that, was taught to sew by my mum, and come from a family of hobby dressmakers. The course at the LCF brought me up to a professional standard, and allowed me the confidence to begin working in the sometimes high pressure, but very rewarding field of bridal gown design and making.
What’s the one thing in your life that makes things easier?
When I’m tired & stressed, reverting to my inbuilt factory setting of “thank you, but NO” to all requests for my participation or commitment. I can always go back and say “actually, I am now free, and can help with selling cakes at the school fair...”
What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?
Choice. About how I spend my day, how I react to others and how I feel.
What’s one thing that you would stop if you could?
Intermittently being anxious about things that happened in the past and things that might happen in the future. I’m a work in progress!
What one piece of advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?
5 years ago, my daughter was one. I was knackered, and also started to get ill (in one year I developed epilepsy, mitral valve prolapse and polycythaemia). My way of coping with my beloved but tiring baby, endless hospital appointments and work was to completely shut out my friends as I convinced myself there weren’t enough hours in the day, so I prioritised family then health, then work. In hindsight, it couldn’t really be any other way as I still feel these were the right priorities, but the advice I would give myself 5 years ago when I was living it is: don’t try and control everything - it only makes you feel worse. You’re doing your best. Your true friends understand. And they did. And they’re still there.
What one piece of advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
Try your best. You don’t have to be your own perception of (or other peoples’ versions of) absolute perfection
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at work?
Be organised. And learn to negotiate.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at home?
Understanding and forgiveness through parenting... I constantly revel in my new found understanding of why my own mum (who died before I had Holly), was so bad tempered and impatient at times...she was probably just knackered. And maybe she too tiptoed into my room at night and whispered “I love you" and "sorry I was a bit shouty today darling” in my ear. It reminds me to forgive her and set her free.
What top tip would you pass on to other women in progress reading this?
Your best is good enough and, never stop learning.
Are you done yet? What’s next?
More of the same...as I’ve got older (I’m now 47 ¾), I’ve realised my talent is in facilitating. The drive for money, recognition and glory is not as great as it once was. I just want to enjoy the day and to make a positive difference in the day of anyone I meet during the day. But not to beat myself up if I’m in a grump and it doesn’t happen!
You can see Caroline's designs and wonderful pictures of her brides on her website or on Instagram here. If you have a moment to daydream, her couture kit design tool is lovely for a play - would my wedding dress be different ten years on? We look forward to seeing her dress predictions for Meghan Markle.
Cover photograph and London studio : Gabriella Norton
Bride Valentina: FayAndrea Weddings
Sketch and label by Caroline.