5 Minutes With Charlie Brear, Founder, Charlie Brear

Charlie Brear is a successful fashion entrepreneur, with her eponymous bridal and haute couture range stocked in more than 50 boutiques worldwide as well as a thriving online store. With a Royal Wedding just around the corner, we profiled her for this week's 5 Minutes With profile.

Charlie Brear

Tell me the story behind your brand.

The Charlie Brear story started somewhat by accident. In 2005, whilst working as a fashion stylist, I was tasked with selling off vintage wedding dresses sourced for a music video and was struck by the growing interest among my circle of friends for something alternative to get married in, which at the time seemed limited.

This motivated me to launch my own bridalwear company, selling one-off original pieces. Subsequently, I began designing my own collections and fell truly in love with bridal.

The addition of a red carpet-focused line in 2013 has also made Charlie Brear a destination for beautifully made eveningwear.

Your grandmother was a seamstress. How did she inspire you?

My maternal grandmother Betty worked as a seamstress for the famous haute couture designer Elsa Schiaparelli in London’s Mayfair in the 1930s. When the head cutter moved to Norman Hartnell, he took Betty and her exceptional skills with him.

The fact that she took a bold step back in those days and made a move to Norman Hartnell reinforced the drive in me to shift the direction of my career and believe that anything is possible.

You have an impressive list of celebrities who have worn your clothes. How does it feel to have your work recognised like that?

When the likes of Sienna Miller, Alexa Chung, Carolina Issa, Cat Deeley and Edith Bowman want to wear Charlie Brear, of course it’s hugely rewarding and fills me with immense pride but it’s equally humbling every time.

These women are massive style icons and I’m flattered that they are choosing to wear my designs.

Will Charlie Brear branch out to physical retail anytime soon?

We opened our flagship showroom on Lonsdale Road in London’s Queen’s Park design district in 2016. A showroom is a far more private and intimate place for a
luxury destination appointment.

We have an amazing central London stockist, The Wedding Gallery – the world’s first wedding department store – where we sit alongside iconic brands such as Vera Wang, as well as over 50 UK and worldwide retailers of the brand.

We have never felt the need for a traditional bricks and mortar retail shop as it doesn’t fit with our business model.

This month we’re launching our 2019 bridal collection – named after the 1970s French film Day for Night starring Jacqueline Bisset and takes the brand back to its roots with a strong focus on our styling additions range. It embodies the cool, contemporary style that we’re known for.

With another Royal Wedding coming up, what impact do you think this will have on bridal, haute couture and eveningwear fashion?

There’s no question that the Royal Wedding and the style it emanates will impact and inspire fashion across the spectrum over the coming months. As a great role model of an independent, strong-minded woman, many brides-to-be will want to replicate Meghan Markle’s style and designers will embrace that in their own collections.

Similarly, haute couture and evening wear brands will undoubtedly bring a piece of Meghan to their new designs. The best of guests’ outfits – from colours to fabrics to styles – will also play a part in collections for the seasons ahead.

How is Charlie Brear different to other haute couture/bridal fashion retailers and brands?

What really makes us different is the fact that as well as bridal wear, we offer ready-to-wear. Our experience in both sectors allows our bridal collections not to be dictated by conventional wedding style and this is what makes us unique in the market. Often brides will shop both collections in order to create their desired bridal look and that’s a rare offering.

The Additions collection of styling pieces and the fact that our collections are produced from start to finish in London both give us another edge. London has an amazing heritage of cult fashion and this helps us keep our designs fresh and innovative.

How is Charlie Brear addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

There’s been a lot of challenges in retail over the last few years and the bridal sector is no exception to this. Brides are overwhelmed with choice and the introduction of bridal ranges from high street brands is further diluting the market and pushing prices down.

Our signature styling additions range enables retailers to get much more bang for their buck by allowing them to choose a smaller collection of dresses but create a multitude of looks and really customise a bride’s look to suit her style.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate? (Especially Brexit)

Keeping the prices accessible whilst the quality high will continue to be a challenge for the retail industry as a whole.

Describe your role and responsibilities as founder of Charlie Brear.

Since founding the brand as creative director and designer, the journey has been an all-encompassing one. Drive and a true passion for my craft has enabled me to grow a fledgling start-up to a global success story rooted in Britain.

This was my first baby and now, with an amazing team of 10 permanent employees, a strong team of specialist freelancers and three London factories, I’m able to focus my time and attention on the creative side of the business to ensure our collections continue to lead the way in fashion-forward bridal wear for the modern woman.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Charlie Brear.

I was born and raised in Hertfordshire but moved to London in 1997 and Queen’s Park has been my stomping ground for the last 20 years.

After university, I did some work experience at ID magazine which helped me land the role of stylist at MTV and within a year, I was heading up the wardrobe department. The shoot involving vintage dresses inspired me to start my own fashion label and Charlie Brear is what it is today through sheer determination and hard work.

I got married in 2006 in an original 1960s dress that was one of the first pieces I sourced for the new business. It was laid back and I loved everything about it but still changed into a short D&G lace number for the evening.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

Fashion is in my bones and the decade spent as a stylist gave me a solid foundation for truly understanding the role fashion plays in a woman’s sense of identity and personal style.

A beautiful bride is one who appears relaxed and comfortable, so it’s really important that she picks a wedding day look that’s in keeping with her own signature style – whether that’s romantic and floaty or pared back and minimal.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Juggling it all but I wouldn’t have it any other way! As well as a growing team to manage, I have three children including a set of twins so know only too well the devotion needed to oversee a business alongside family life.

And the most rewarding?

It’s a huge honour to dress a bride for her big day and there’s nothing better than feeling that you’ve played a part in making a woman feel truly amazing. It’s so rewarding seeing how happy they are in their dress when they send us their photos of the day.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Today in any industry, you need a really high level of sheer determination to grow a successful business. You need to work hard and expect the unexpected. Be aware of how fast things change and recognise that today’s market is much more transient.

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