All About Us. A Bespoke Gown For A Real Wedding At The Bowdon Rooms, Cheshire – Hayley & Damian
Posted on: 14/08/2013
I adore everything about today’s wedding. The venue, which I happen to know rather well (The Brides Up North Luxury & Vintage Wedding Exhibition reprises at The Bowdon Rooms on Sunday 3rd November – have YOU pre-registered yet?), the relaxed ethos, the bespoke gown, the blue velvet bridesmaids, and most of all, the spirit of the bride herself.
I’ve never met Hayley, but I have a feeling that I’d like her a lot. Take it away my dear…
With images by Jonny Back.
Hayley says: Damian proposed to me at home on Christmas Day 2011, after categorically denying he was going to the night before. I didn’t notice he was on one knee at first as I was struggling to open a bag of Christmas cat treats (for our cat, not for me!)
We were married on Saturday February 23rd 2013 at The Bowdon Rooms & Cinnamon Club in Altrincham, Manchester.
From the start, Damian and I knew we would get married in Manchester, which is where we bought our first home. Neither of us are great at planning and I had no idea where to start when looking for a venue, so I went where I always go when a question seems unanswerable – trusty Google.
Typing in ‘alternative wedding venues Manchester’, I found a blog post that listed ten places. I booked appointments at the ones that stood out and The Bowdon Rooms was the second we saw. I knew within seconds I had found the place I wanted to get married. The fact we could hire the whole venue for the full day sealed the deal. You know when you’ve found ‘the one’!
The theme caused me many sleepless nights, and spending my days searching through endless wedding blogs convinced me I couldn’t compete. In the end I let myself off the hook and did away with the idea of a specific theme. Instead we went for an overall theme of "retro".
The ace thing about The Bowdon Rooms is that you have not one but three spaces you can get creative in. For the wedding ceremony, my mum and I bought loads of peacock feathers and displayed them in vases instead of flowers. The entrance hall was a cosy retreat from the snow (albeit just a few speckles) with tea light candles everywhere and a fire. For the wedding breakfast I took inspiration from the roaring twenties and rented palms and ferns, which the florist placed around the room. However, my favourite room on the day was the upstairs bar, which we decorated with horrendous vinyl album covers, like ‘Respect Yourself’ by Bruce Willis (check it out – you won’t regret it). We had bowls and a cake-stand made from LPs and my friend baked a pyramid of tiny cakes to arrange on it. The room was lit with candles and another friend played the grand piano, in between the speakers pumping out the soundtrack to Twin Peaks – mine and Damian’s favourite show.
I guess in the end the theme became ‘us’, but isn’t that the true theme of every wedding?
There was no colour scheme to speak of. The bridal party wore blue, my flowers were red, we walked down a red carpet and the flowers at the wedding breakfast were white. As a result, the colours were a touch nautical – or patriotic as some people pointed out.
Wedding dress shopping was not the dream experience I thought it would be, mainly because I am 4ft 11" and had to stand on a box to try on everything. The resulting effect was rather like a child playing dress-up as Glinda from the Wizard of Oz.
I found a couple I liked but none really felt like ‘me’, so my mum suggested we talk to dressmakers about making something from scratch. She found the lovely Susan at Greensleeves Bridal who put up with me rocking up to our first consultation armed with some very poor sketches I had done on greaseproof paper.
We came up with a few designs, and then Kate Middleton wore Jenny Packham’s Aspen to the London Olympics gala. Using this amazing frock as a starting point, Susan came up with a gown that incorporated my other ideas, like a deep cowl back.
It is a bit daunting having a dress made as there is no going back and I didn’t see mine in completion until two days before the wedding. However, it was great to be able to pick out all the material myself and know it was unique. Susan also made a chapel-length veil edged in the same lace as the waistband of my dress, and a blue velvet sash to wear in the evening.
I didn’t want my friends to feel uncomfortable on the day, or to look like carbon copies of each other. I also wanted them to have a dress they could actually wear again without having to be invited to a fancy ball first. After chatting with them, we decided to go for knee-length dresses with sleeves and a flippy skirt. I love blue velvet (the song, the film, the material) and had always envisioned my bridesmaids wearing it. Rather than force them to traipse around endless shops looking for such a specific design, I asked Susan if she could make the three dresses.
My friends all have such different styles, so I decided to take advantage of them having bespoke dresses by asking them to come up with their own designs. We picked the material together and then they chose what sleeves and necklines their dress had. I also wanted them to accessorise in any way they wanted. I would have felt like a bossy Trinny and Susannah-type telling them how to style their hair and what makeup to have and I loved the fact they all looked like their fabulous selves on the day.
Damian didn’t want to wear the whole morning suit and tails getup and we decided it made more sense to get a suit he could wear again. He chose a dark charcoal colour suit and matching waistcoat to complement the bridesmaids’ blue dresses, and Susan made him a matching tie – he looked very dapper! His best man and usher wore their own suits on the day too.
Before the day itself, I thought my highlight would be the speeches, or the dancing. However, it was the ceremony that was my absolute favourite moment. I can’t describe it but exchanging our vows and becoming husband and wife was just a perfect feeling.
We used two florists who were both so lovely I couldn’t choose between them. Barkers was recommended to us by Karen at the Bowdon Rooms as they had provided the flowers for several weddings there before. I love hydrangeas as they are the first flowers I managed to grow successfully in our garden without killing, but they were out of season. Luckily Barkers had some lovely silk ones, which they arranged in tall vases on the tables with asparagus fern and pearls.
Designer Flowers by Rodgers made my and my bridesmaids’ bouquets. My friends carried posies of white gerberas and foliage. I had Grand Prix Roses with a waterfall of petals and ribbons trailing off it. This was to recreate the love knots brides in the 1920s and 30s often had on their bouquets to represent union.
Our photographer was Jonny Back, who was a friend from university so asking him to photograph our wedding was really a no-brainer.
The theme of the table plan was ‘Music’s worst romantic lyrics’ and included such classic lines as "Shawty was hot like a toaster" by Flo Rida. It was the only thing I actually got my DIY on for – and you could tell.
The touch I am proudest of is our favours. I wanted to give all our guests something special that was more about them than us so I decided to give them individual badges featuring a picture of something they loved, like a band, film, sport or hobby. My mum rashly offered to make them all and I’m surprised she didn’t get repetitive strain injury by the end of it. It took months to compile the nearly 100 pictures we needed, but it was worth it to see everyone wearing them on the day.
I let my mum take total control of the cake so it was a surprise on the day. Together with Kimboscakes, she came up with a traditional four tier cake in three different flavours: chocolate fudge, jam sponge and maraschino cherry. The (warning: terrible pun alert) icing on the cake was the miniature Damian and I on the top by Artlocke Designs, which I now have on our mantelpiece at home. They were far better than the two glow cats I had planned to put there.
We also had a cake of cheese because, let’s face it, no wedding is complete without a cake of cheese.
Music was always going to be one of the most important parts of our wedding, as we met at a gig and forged our relationship at endless more of them (I am happy to say Damian and I have lasted longer than most of these bands). We both decided we would prefer a DJ to a band but actually booking a DJ was the last thing I got round to doing. In the end we booked Big Big Love DJs who promised we could throw as many song requests as we wanted at them. Our decision was cemented by meeting DJ Simon for a boozy afternoon in Chorlton talking about Bowie, Blur and The Rapture. They were brilliant on the night and even managed to play the theme to Bigfoot and the Hendersons (my favourite childhood film) at the end of the night (a highlight for me, but probably a low point for everyone else).
The week after the wedding we escaped to Wales to relax and have our traditional February BBQ. Then, in May we jetted off for our dream holiday in New York and Boston.
My top tip for other Brides Up North would be: chill out! It sounds silly but my main priority was not to get stressed to the point I would be worrying about the little things rather than enjoying the day. I don’t handle stress well and I’m pretty rubbish at organising anything, so I made sure I didn’t set myself any impossible challenges. Whatever you do, your guests will have a blast on the day because they will be happy to be there celebrating with you, and you’ll be on cloud nine even if your chair sashes are all the wrong colour and your chocolate fountain breaks down. There’s no point sweating the small stuff.
I also wrote my own blog about the experience of planning a wedding and all the craziness that goes with it. In the end it just became somewhere for me to rant about chair covers, ice cream carts and croquet. It was pretty therapeutic!
Finally, don’t wear uncomfortable shoes/headpieces/underwear – you’ll only regret it!
Congratulations Hayley & Damian!
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