Meet the Maker | Karen Willis Holmes
Celebrating handcrafted treasures is within our DNA, much like Australian bridal designer ~ Karen Willis Holmes. For over 20 years, Karen Willis Holmes, has been at the forefront of bridal fashion providing beautifully handcrafted wedding gowns for the elegant, modern and timeless bride.
In celebration of our latest Wedding Collective capsule and bridal event with KWH, we connected with Karen herself, to learn more about her journey, vision for the brand, design process and some advice she can offer our community in turning your passion into a living. Meet the designer, creative and voice behind each KWH gown below.
Tell us a little bit about yourself - what journey did you take to become the maker that you are today?
I always wanted to work with something I loved of which I could work hard at and be proud of what I do each day. – I always loved fashion and beautiful special pieces of clothing – as a wearable art form. – this part of what has driven me. I stated in mainstream fashion but converted to bridal many years ago as I love the attention to detail and the wonderful special nature of each piece of clothing.
What informs your vision and philosophy at KWH?
I am always working towards: Making wedding gowns which I think look beautiful, are feminine with an edge, but not a slave to fashion. Quality hand crafted pieces is what I strive to create each day.
We truly admire your commitment to designing and hand making each gown here in Australia. This is a shared passion of ours, and we know too well that it is often a conscious choice with unique challenges. What drove you to commit to this approach and what challenges have you overcome to establish your reputation as a leading bridal fashion house in Australia for over 20 years?
I think it is very important to have our own workroom, it helps me create and craft my gowns and collections. I started working on made to measure gowns and my business grew from this, so really it is part of the KWH DNA to handcraft our main collections and most of our gowns are made in Australia. Our LUXE collection are all handmade in India and finished in Sydney, with wonderful craftspeople creating gowns we could not make in Australia. The manufacturing industry has changed a lot throughout the years in Australia and we no longer have skilled workers that can bead and embroider to the quality of India.
You strive to ensure that each bride feels valued, respected, and cared for throughout every step of their journey. Why is it important for you to have this approach?
I started making couture wedding gowns and worked with each bride myself over many hours, it is important for me for this to be carried on with each bride and that she feels special and safe with the KWH company. We train everyone to work with each bride as if she is your new best friend.
Tell us a little more about your design process - where do you draw inspiration from and how do you decide on the detailing and fabrics for each style?
I save lots of images of inspiration of just anything I love, I take lots of images of anything and everything street fashion, a picture of something I liked for whatever reason, a tree, look at my archive designs, look at what has been selling in our stores, listen to feedback from the store managers …. and then I think for a long time! After this I sketch and sketch to see what pops out of my head! – then I go back and look at my sketches and start editing and see what I love and what I think works and I would want to wear if I was my bride. Then I edit the collection from here and start making sample gowns, using our library of fabrics that come from all over the world including Australia and Europe.
The fit of each gown is then tailored to our fit model – this is where it starts to all come to life and we can see what is going to be successful. This part of the process is so important as some ideas don’t always work out and we must work back through the process again until we have a collection of gowns that we think reflect the original inspiration and vision. My work starts solitary and then our skilled workers are all brought in at different stages to bring to life all the gowns from pattern makers, cutters, fitters, drapers and sewers to name a few. We then work closely with our marketing and creative team to develop a campaign concept and shoot the gowns before they are delivered to our 4 stores for brides to fall in love with.
At NMJ we are all about handmade artisan objects and understand the love, time and effort involved in creating. What does it mean to have your gowns play such a significant role in the bride’s special day?
It’s an absolute privilege for someone to choose one of our gowns for their most special day.
What is your most treasured piece of jewellery in your jewellery box?
An emerald cut amethyst ring – I purchased this over twenty years ago in an antique store and fell in love. I always wear it for special days and good luck. it’s a beautiful large shape but quite minimal.
But the only piece I wear every day is my wedding band – which of course is the most special but part of my hand, so I did not think of it.
Do you have any advice on how to turn your passion into a living?
Love, Hard work, dedication, and perseverance!!!
Discover Karen Willis Holme's collection here.