What Would They Know? Leah Sukroo of Leah S Designs

by | Fashion Wisdom, What Would They Know?, Wisdom

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Polka Dot Bride
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When you have a natural talent sometimes a business evolves from that; as a progression on the road you are already travelling. And so it is with Leah S Designs – from a start altering a neighbour’s dress to a fully fledged bridal salon in Melbourne. Not only does Leah design bridal gowns from sizes 4 – 38, she also has a jewellery range, shoes, bags and is very particular about her veils (which are all made in-house). The complete outfit can be found in one place – saving you lots of time and effort. To ensure a perfect fit, they provide an in-house alteration service and, best of all, you can try on as many dresses as you need, with no pressure to buy. Here is Leah’s story.

What was it about the wedding industry and being involved in it that attracted you?

Going in to the bridal business was not a choice, it was fate. A neighbor of mine visited with a debutante dress she needed modernizing. It was 2002 and the high-shine dress she brought with her was a dated, early 1990s, Princess Diana-inspired number. I really wish I had a before and after photo, it was truly hideous! I removed the sleeves (they were big and poofy, and had to go), removed the extra layers in the skirt, cut down the high neckline. Voila! Two days later, it was a cool modern dress that wouldn’t be an embarrassment to wear. From then on, the seed of dress design had been planted in my mind.

Images by LX Creations Photography

How long have you been in business?

It’s so easy to lose count! I was about to have a 10 year celebration party, then added up the dates and realised it has been 13 years. I used to be one of the young ones in the bridal business and now I’m just young at heart.

Image by Emily Howlett Photography

How has the bridal gown industry changed over the years?

You have to think smart to stay in business now. You used to be able to make a collection of six dresses every six months, have an advert in the Yellow Pages and brides would come to you. Now you have to market your business and collection intensely. Through photoshoots, collaborations, social media, blogs, bridal fairs and then present the styles to the bride-to-be through innovative store design. Lucky I love social media and getting creative.

Image by Peter Soulis

Would you please describe the collections you stock in store?

When I’m constantly asked for something, I listen. This is how I got the idea of the Plus Size Perfection Collection, which I helped co-develop. Plus size dresses, only for size 18 plus, made from a different pattern that is cut to an Australian plus size body shape. Most styles feature straps, sleeves, lace up the back, higher necklines and backlines.

Hello Lovers Australia started out as a passion project with a collection of bohemian bridal jewellery that I designed. I was ready to launch the new range when I realized I needed dresses to match for an upcoming photoshoot. I made up some simple boho dress styles and would you believe, now the dresses sell 70% more then the jewellery. There is a market for Australian made dresses and I wanted to explore that.

My first baby, the Leah S Designs Collection, is a range of classic and timeless wedding dresses. For the bride that wants the magical wedding day, but is more sensible when it comes to price.

As a designer do you have a particular style that you are known for?

Yes, I’m very much a fuss free designer. I love to design wearable dresses with out too much fuss. I’m not a fan of heavy crystalised beading, no super full skirts or long trains. I try to make dresses that can be worn with a bra and love incorporating some type of shoulder coverage into the designs.

 

Image by LX Creations Photography

How many collections do you design per year?

I’m always thinking of new styles through out the year (usually inspiration hits at about 2am for some reason). I will design six new wedding dresses and release them between January and March. For the Perfection collection, Lyn and I will design about 12 dresses and about eight new styles will make it in to the January collection. Hello Lovers is still a new brand, not so many dresses for her – about four to six styles per year.

What is the starting point for a collection? What influences your designs?

Good question! People always ask me this, my best inspiration is when brides show me photos of dresses they have saved on their phones. If a lot of people are showing me the same style of dress, then it’s time to get creative and design an even better dress! I also look at my best selling dresses over the past year and will do new designs based on the element of that dress that is popular. For example a soft gathered skirt has been popular, I will then do a new bodice but keep the same skirt.

Images by Rachel Breier Photography

What do you love about the process of design?

When designing a collection I love to make the samples, then go to the factory and see the dresses being cut out, sewn and embellished and then we make any changes that need to happen. I also love when a new design becomes a best seller, sometimes I know straight away if a dress is going to be a hot seller. Then there are the dresses I would never expect to become very popular, I love being proven wrong in this way.

 

Images by LX Creations Photography

Is there a style or fabric or design that brides keep asking for – and that never goes out of fashion?

A great fit with a pulled in waist is always a favourite silhouette.

What do you see as an emerging trend for 2019?

More soft and relaxed dresses, a glam boho vibe with soft chiffon or tulle skirts and less strapless. A lot of my brides are getting married overseas, having garden weddings, country weddings or even home weddings. They want dresses that are beautiful with uncomplicated design elements.

 

Image by Peter Soulis

What do you particularly love about providing a plus size gown collection?

I love the fact we have one of the most extensive collections of size 18 plus dresses in Australia. Sometimes on a Saturday we will have more interstate brides trying on, then local brides. I have so many brides coming from Sydney saying there is nothing for them at home compared to what we have. I went on a research trip one weekend and it’s true. I love when they find their dress and carry it home with such exhilaration and relief.

Do you design these yourself?

I co-design the Plus Size Perfection Collection with Lyn who helps me with the technical elements, the patterns and giving me great advice.

Image by Emily Howlett Photography

How do you and your stylists guide a bride to choose the gown that is most flattering for her figure, colouring and whether it is a more, or less formal occasion?

We don’t usually tell a bride what to wear, it’s more about her trying on and seeing for herself what works and what doesn’t. Then our stylists make suggestions from there onwards. I’m a big lover of the mystery dress, that is where I will choose what dress I think will suit the bride the best.

Are you also able to advise on bridesmaids gowns?

About 3 years ago I swore off bridesmaids dresses, it got to the point where if I saw one I almost hyperventilated. It was more dealing with the suppliers, than the bridesmaids that scared me off. Anyone running a bridal store will know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’m in recovery now and we have a small collection of bridesmaids dresses in store, we design and make them ourselves in our work room. With a choice of six colours and four styles we are now in control of colours, sizes and have very short production times.

 

Image by LX Creations Photography

What accessories do you provide for brides?

I’m an accessories nut, and that shows with our bling-tastic range in store. The majority of our jewellery is designed and made in Melbourne for my Hello Lovers Australia jewellery collection. I’m so lucky to have met some really amazing suppliers over the years that have helped me with this collection! You don’t have to spend a fortune on jewellery, just quality pieces that compliment your style.

I’m also a tulle snob, I just love English tulle – nothing compares to this veil fabric. We design and make all our veils in store, it’s a lot of work but I just can’t compromise.

 Is it a popular option – being able to buy shoes and accessories from the place you buy your gown from? What advantages are there?

I believe its all about the total look. Choose one statement piece, like a pair of earrings, then smaller complimentary jewellery pieces to go with the earrings and to tie in with your dress while you are wearing it.

I don’t have a poker face so if you bring in a piece of jewellery from a costume jewellery shop, it’s fine, but you’re cheapening the complete bridal look.

 

Images by Leah S Designs

You say “It’s not just about the dress – the overall experience is just as important.” What do you mean by that?

I understand that when you go looking for a wedding dress you have been thinking about the experience for days, weeks (maybe years) before you even step in to the store. No matter who you are it can be a nerve-racking experience. Looking for a wedding dress should be a fun and satisfying experience with different styles to try on in your size.

 How do you and your team celebrate the end of the working week?

We love our nights out! We normally head out to our favourite Greek restaurant in Oakleigh, with a combination of present and past employees or we will have a breakfast before the work day starts.

Thank you Leah for sharing your story. My favourite part of this story is that brides of all shapes and sizes have the choice of stunning gowns – everyone can feel beautiful on their wedding day! Check out Leah’s new collection here. And visit Leah S Designs via the website to find out more.

Headshot by Emily Howlett Photography

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