This week on ‘Behind The Door With…’ I’m really excited to visit a wedding business that’s all about the boys for a change, Hank in Chief. Owner and creator Ashley Grace was inspired to create Hank in Chief in 2013 after making the bow ties for her own wedding. “I was searching and searching for the perfect bow tie” says Ashley Grace “and ended up settling for the perfect fabric to make my own.” The bow ties were a hit and Ashley Grace found herself with requests from friends and family to make the bow ties for their own weddings, and soon enough the business was born.
Hank in Chief is run from a studio in Ashley Grace’s own home in Sydney, but they have stockists all over Australia. Ashley tells me she especially loves to find stockists out of the main cities where her brand can be truly appreciated in a handful of specialty stores. Hank in Chief also has a beautiful website and online store.
The studio is set up with a sewing machine, desk and cupboards overflowing with fabric and sewing supplies which Ashley Grace uses to create handmade bow ties, pocket chiefs and cufflinks. It can get pretty busy in there and Ashley Grace tells me there can be a lot of juggling involved when she is snowed under with custom orders. I love that Hank in Chief can make special bow ties to match your wedding theme or colour palette.
Ashley Grace tells me that when she first started the business, packaging was very important to her. “I really loved the idea of grooms giving the bow ties to their groomsmen as a gift” she says “so I needed something that looked dapper while still keeping the bow ties clean and safe.” The result was a handmade calico drawstring bag with a fabric swatch sewn on, which is also perfect for keeping the bow tie in after the special occasion is over.
Of course I’m curious about any unusual wedding party members Ashley Grace has made bow ties for and she tells me that she has made many for babies, cats, dogs and even a rabbit! Hank in Chief also makes bow ties for women who might be playing the part of best woman or just enjoy wearing bow ties to weddings.
I ask Ashley Grace what her favourite part of her job is and, like many vendors, it’s when she receives some wedding photos back from happy couples. “I love to spot my bow ties in people’s weddings” says Ashley Grace. “I feel as though I’ve played a small part in their very big day.”
Ms Chinoiserie Says: Perfect bow ties and accessories made with perfect fabrics; so smart for the suave groom!
About Amelia Waddell of Make Your Day Wedding Styling: I’m a wedding stylist and proud store owner who loves to chat weddings with everyone and anyone! I love to talk shop with other business owners (particularly over some chocolate cake!) and am the first to try and have a sticky beak behind the scenes of any event. My free time is spent ‘investigating’ new cafes, stores and events.
Choosing a wedding gown is an experience like no other and is often the highlight of a bride’s wedding journey. The pleasure that Anne and Gill of Bertossi Brides at Paddington Weddings get from choosing the fabrics, and designing the gowns is evident in the finished product – created with care, love and respect for the process and above all for the bride who will be wearing their creation. If you are after a sophisticated and elegant gown that you will still love 20 years from now, made with exquisite European lace, then become part of the Bertossi Brides family – a great place to be.
Where is your studio situated?
Paddington in Brisbane.
Why wedding gown design as a career? Anne: When I first came to Australia from the UK 25 years ago I worked in a bridal shop and realised there was a need for simple, elegant designs in natural fabrics. There seemed to be a lot of hot and heavy polyester gowns which would be very hard to wear in Queensland’s warm climate. I had been designing and creating ‘corporate’ and ‘race wear’ back in the UK so it felt like the perfect transition for me and it allowed me to be surrounded by beautiful fabrics.
What do you love most about being in the wedding industry – particularly designing and making wedding gowns? Gill: Nothing makes us happier than creating a gown that shows the true beauty of each of our brides. We make dreams come true every day and we feel honoured that brides choose us to be part of such an important day. Our showroom is a very happy place, it is infectious and we are surrounded by smiles and laughter, it is a very special place to work.
Why is personally choosing European fabrics and laces important to you? Anne: Quite simply because they are the best! I love fabric, it is my passion. I love to use quality fabrics and then cut them exquisitely into simple, timeless designs. I believe the quality of the fabric is reflected in the beauty of the finished gown.
How do you choose, and what influences do you draw on, in choosing the laces, trimmings and fabrics for future collections? Gill: We are lucky enough to be able to visit the silk and lace mills in France, Italy and the UK regularly. This is like Disneyland for Anne, we view the collections and the inspiration for her designs start to come to her, often she will start sketching on the Metro on the way back to our hotel! She also loves to absorb the European feel of Paris, Milan and London, such elegance and sophistication which Anne loves to portray in her designs.
Do your fabric choices dictate the final style of the gowns in the collection? Anne: I believe that you should use fabric in the way it was born to be used and not fight against the way fabric drapes or how structured it is. The fabrics always tell me what to do with them.
What is the design process?Is your wedding gown design trend driven – or do you tend to design around a classic style that will never go out of fashion adding modern touches? Anne: As Gill said I often start sketching designs while I am away on my fabric buying trips, of course I will keep in mind certain trends and styles that brides are liking but I don’t like to design a “Fashionable” wedding gown as it will become very “Unfashionable” very quickly.
Once the fabric arrives from Europe I will start draping and playing with my ideas, often a gown will be taken apart 2 or 3 times before I am happy with the final design. My favourite saying is “Less is More” and I love the timeless feel of designer labels such as Dior and Chanel. I just want to let the quality of the workmanship and fabric shine through.
I am also always mindful that I need to be able to make my design for real women, of many shapes and sizes and not just models on a catwalk. It is important to me that my gowns are beautiful but also comfortable to wear for the whole day and give support when needed. I want our brides not just to look good but feel amazing.
Your gowns are made on site with a team of very talented people. What are your roles within the team and is being a close knit team important to being able to translate your vision into reality? Gill: Team Paddington are a very special group of ladies. We all have our special gifts, from Anne’s amazing ability to individually cut and fit each of her gowns, to the very talented ‘Ellen’ and ‘Anna’ who sew each of the stunning gowns and craft them into masterpieces. Anne and I are sisters and our beautiful Mum Josie does all the intricate hand finishes, from making each silk covered button for a bodice to sewing on crystals, trims and finishing them with her signature ‘blue bow’ for good luck on the day. For myself I am ridiculously organised and co ordinate all the brides, the workroom, importing our fabrics and generally making sure the whole business runs smoothly.
Are brides able to make their gown choice unique by changing the fabrics used or sleeve length, for example? Gill: We have a stunning collection of gowns for our brides to choose from but it is important to Anne that the gowns are perfect for each bride. So we are happy to allow brides to have the top of one gown but the skirt of another, or adding sleeves or changing around necklines etc. As long as it is physically possible within the fabric constraints and more importantly it will look good, we are happy to play with the design. I am constantly having the ‘edit’ ideas however, putting too many features on one gown is not always a good thing and we will always be honest if we think this will work and often say no to designs if we really do feel it is not best for the design for the bride.
Do you see the customer experience as being as important as actually choosing the gown? Anne: We call it ‘The Paddington Weddings Experience’. When you have a gown created with us it is more than just picking up a gown. You become one of the family during your 5 fittings while your gown is crafted just for you. It is essential our brides love their gown and enjoy their time with us and have a memory of their wedding that they will cherish forever.
Are you able to give a bride honest advice about whether a particular style will suit her figure type? How do you assist her to choose a style that she might not have previously considered (but looks perfect on her)? Gill: This can be a hard part of our job but it is so important to us that brides don’t pick a style that is wrong for them. It is so easy with all the wonderful images on blogs and social media for a bride to love the idea of a gown but they may not have the right body shape or skin tone to be able to wear it. We are always 100% honest about this – normally when brides are putting on gowns that don’t flatter them as soon as you put on a style that is right for them they can see it themselves and we don’t have to say a thing. I work very closely with Anne on what variations we can offer in each design and normally there is a way of making the style they are looking for the right dress for them.
What else do you offer brides? Gill: Josie is an amazing alterations specialist so we help our brides’ wedding parties with any alterations for bridesmaids, mother of the bride and mother of the groom outfits. This is often very helpful to our brides when their bridesmaids are flying in the week of the wedding. We also have a wonderful selection of bridal jewellery, veils, headpieces, bags, and shapewear. This really helps brides achieve the final look while they are in their gown rather than trying to pick these important pieces when they don’t have their gown on.
How do you celebrate the end of the working week? Gill: My husband Ian is a great cake maker and he kindly makes up cupcakes every Friday. This is our treat at the end of each week that we all look forward to.
What are you passionate about outside of your business? Anne: My family of course. I have a wonderful supportive husband Pete and two handsome teenage boys Joe and Alex. I have to admit I am a bit of a soccer mum and I just love to go to the matches and cheer them on.
What’s the first thing you do when you start looking for a wedding photographer? Think about who you know right! You ask around friends and family and see who knows who. Or you might have seen a photographer from a wedding you recently attended.
Wedding photography is an extremely personal service. You are going to sharing one of the biggest days of your life with this person. You want to feel confident this person has what it takes to capture the moments and memories that will last a lifetime. A good photographer can help your day flow smoothly, can create a fun celebratory atmosphere, as well as facilitate the more intimate moments.
So here are some of my suggestions for things to consider when choosing your wedding photographer.
Do they have a portfolio that makes you go wow?
Does their style of photos match your tastes? Can you see yourself in their images?
Are they flexible? Will they work around your wishes and vision for your day or are they trying to get you to fit into their packages?
Can they capture a large variety of images? Ask to see a full wedding shoot.
Are they experienced?
With an experienced photographer, capturing the moments that melt your heart and take your breath away comes naturally. They have developed a 6th sense for where they need to be and when in order to get that shot! So I think it’s important to ask how long they have been a wedding photographer, and how many weddings they have shot in that time. Below are some rough guidelines you might find useful in gauging answers to this question.
0-2 years – beginner
2-5 years – medium
5+ years – professional
But as I said this depends how many weddings have they shoot each year. A good average is 3+ years with 40+ weddings shot.
Are they presentable and professional?
Your photographer needs to look the part! They need to blend in with your guests, and not be the focus of too much attention. Thus enabling them to get those more relaxed, candid shots that you don’t notice were taken.
Are they polite and curious yet assertive and proactive to stay on schedule?
When you met with them did they arrive on time? Were they confident, professional and personable in your interactions? Were they easily able to answer all your queries and concerns. Perhaps most importantly did they put you at ease during your meeting and did you leave feeling excited or stressed.
Are they good with people?
Do they have the social skills to get the best out of everyone on the day? Taking great images of people is not just about being able to take a good photo. It’s also about being able to build rapport quickly with your subject, and having the emotional intelligence and social skills that can get a laugh and a giggle out of even the most stressed out bride or anxious groom. These skills are also fundamental in getting the best out of all the various groups of people at your wedding. Having a photographer who can engage with the kids, grandparents and teenagers alike is a real asset to being able to get the best shots on the day.
Ms Chinoiserie Says: Wonderful advice – for those beautiful images and a lifetime of memories, it’s so important to find a photographer that fits with your style.
About Kit Haselden: Hi there! I’m known for my creative, natural and engaging style of wedding photography. I get the best out of my brides and grooms by quickly making them feel relaxed and the last 10 years as a professional photographer has given me the skills and experience to never miss the important shots.