[ Image: Hugo Burnand ]
Nicki Macfarlane is best known for designing the fairytale bridesmaid and flower girl dresses for that wedding. Yes the W-day of the century, that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. She’s also the woman behind Poppy Delevigne’s flower girl and page boy creations from her wedding last week to James Cook, as well as a whole host of other fabulous society and celebrity weddings.
I met Nicki a couple of months ago when I was also fortunate enough to see her exquisite designs up close and personal. Since then I’ve quizzed her about how she was chosen for Kate and William’s big day, how she developed her business from zero to 60 (pretty much immediately!) and how she lets off steam…
So Nicki, what’s the ’Nicki Macfarlane’ story? How did you start your company and what’s happened between then and now?
The whole business started by mistake! I have designed children’s clothes for a very long time, but the eponymous bridesmaid and special occasion business came about after I was asked out of the blue by a bride to make 22 flower girl and page boys’ outfits for her wedding. So I started with my own sewing machine and one part-time seamstress making only bespoke dresses. That seems an eon ago — but it is only 10 years. Absolutely everything has changed since then.
How did you first get the word out about what you were doing? Was there anything in particular that you did that was instrumental to it?
I enjoyed that first wedding so much that I decided to go to a couple of wedding shows to gauge the reaction. Happily it was very good and so the business was set up and we went from zero to 60 pretty much immediately.
What is a ‘regular’ day for Nicki Macfarlane like?
There isn’t anything resembling a regular day I’m pleased to say. Every one is different. It could be spent meeting clients in the studio, or working with my team in the workrooms and office. Sometimes it’s fabric sourcing, and then there are the trade and consumer shows which we exhibit at. There are a few photo shoot days each year, most of which are spent praying for good weather and choreographing large numbers of small children into pictures that look relaxed. No easy task. I also travel quite a bit to see overseas clients and also to International shows.
The question that everyone wants to know… how DID you get that dream ticket of a booking, designing the bridesmaid outfits for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding?
I’m told it was word of mouth.
Now more than ever, standing out and having something unique or different to offer is really important in this industry. How you do feel you’ve done this and do you have any advice for people who want to do the same?
The company has grown organically, and the right things have happened exactly when they should. Every opportunity has presented itself just when we have been ready for it.
My daughter, Charlotte, joined the company when the decision was made to launch the ready to wear collection, bringing with her a wealth of business management experience from her background in luxury designer fashion and accessories. Her arrival in the business alone opened many new doors.
It is vital to any company to have a unique feel to the service offered. With us I think it is the personal contact with Charlotte or me, the high standards of craftsmanship that go into every piece, that they are all British made and the attention to detail that the team give to every order, be it large or small.
How would you define the Nicki Macfarlane style of bridesmaids dress?
I suppose we are known for the classic look, but I hope that we interpret it with subtle style changes and use of colour to add an extra dimension. We try to achieve elegant, timeless designs that appeal to, and are loved by, both the child wearing it and their parents alike.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
There are two pieces of advice that have influenced me. The first was to stay true to myself with both direction and design, and not be tempted to change our look because of fashion trends or to be like someone else. The second is to understand that no-one is expected to have every skill required to run a company successfully, and not to beat yourself up because you haven’t. Surround yourself with people who can do all the things you can’t, and concentrate on what you are good at.
If you could be trapped in a lift with any 3 living people, who would they be and why?
No-one else but me……for enforced time out where no-one can get to me.
Maybe Miranda could join me for the second half to have a really silly laugh.
How do you let off steam?
Probably singing loudly and out of tune in that same lift where no-one can hear.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
Meeting so many people from different backgrounds and with different interests, and interpreting what they are visualizing.
…And the worst bit?
Time pressure! Children grow, so there is no getting ahead, and there is no deadline quite like a wedding.
Finally, what’s next?
I’ll find out tomorrow.