After spending her childhood sat underneath her dining room table catching the scraps of fabric that fell from her mother’s sewing machine, Kate Halfpenny has always had a passion for fashion. Founding bridalwear brand Halfpenny London in 2005, she has launched her first occasionwear collection for autumn 17.
kate halfpenny head shot
How did you first become interested in fashion?
As a child my mother was a knitwear designer and I would take scraps of fabric and make dresses from them. My grandmother was a denim machinist and she taught me how to sew on a beautiful Singer machine. After leaving the University of Huddersfield I came to London to intern at Vivienne Westwood in 1997, but realised that I didn’t want to work for anyone else, so I went to Central St Martins and fell into styling and costume designs. I have always been obsessed with bridal – I love the drama of a wedding dress and creating that moment.
How difficult was it to set up your own business?
It wasn’t difficult initially, though it gets more difficult as it grows. So be careful what you wish for! It was quite easy initially because it was just a little hobby and a labour of love.
How many wholesale accounts do you have for the core bridal business?
We have nine UK stockists at the moment and eight international stockists across Spain, France, Germany and Japan. We also have two stockists in the US and we have upcoming meetings in China.
Do you have plans to wholesale the occasionwear line?
We are looking at a couple of different options. We are happy to go global as we have done with the bridalwear.
Who or what inspires your designs?
The new occasionwear collection is inspired by the archives of my bridal collection from the last 12 years. Ideas come to me in the most bizarre places and I’ve always got a notebook by my bed. I love designing dresses for Kate Moss – she looks effortless in them.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
I could design a dress every day. The minute the collection is out and photographed, I am desperate to make a new one. I visit art galleries: in the Hockney exhibition [at Tate Britain] it was the colours that, for me, were just so inspiring, even though I use ivory most of the time.
Why did you decide to launch an occasionwear range?
Because of demand from clients –- people who have bought from the bridal collection were asking for it.
How does it differ from your bridal collection?
We have been a little more risque [with this collection]. For example, a classic bridal skirt, which is lined in a beautiful lace, has been given a leather waistband. It’s sheerer, it’s edgy and it’s got that rock-n-roll leather trim to it.
Do you have a favourite piece in the collection?
I would say it is The Black Edit pieces – the beautiful bow sheer coat or the Alexa skirt. I just think they are so easy to wear.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Making people’s dreams come true, creating a dress that they could have only ever of imagined. It’s such a gorgeous job to have: to make people so happy. It allows me to be creative with no boundaries. It’s my own collection, I don’t adhere to trends, and I don’t abide by rules. I like to break and challenge the constraints of bridal.
What’s the best piece of business advice anyone has ever give you?
Don’t try to grow too fast. Be sustainable and grow organically, creating a heritage rather than being a one-hit wonder. We have been here 12 years now which is quite a long time considering people think this is actually a relatively new business.
What piece of advice would you give anyone starting their own brand?
Identify that you have something unique to sell, and don’t be put off by the competition. Customer service is so important, as is the quality of the product – it is no good having amazing customer service if you have inferior quality. Of course great design comes hand-in-hand with the brand.
Favourite clothing brand
I love Céline. I think it is beautifully designed. I love its fabrics and accessories.
Favourite place to shop
Dover Street Market. They have a great edit of the Comme des Garçons stuff.
Last fashion purchase
A pair of Issey Miyake culottes.
Galicia, northern Spain
What was the last book you read?
Living the Dream by Lauren Berry
What was the last film you watched?
I worked at a vegetable shop
I’ve already got it!
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
Going to galleries, cooking, taking my two-year-old son to the zoo.