Unit 501 Flourmill Studios, 3 Gladstone Street 2042 Newtown NSW, australia
Phone: 61 2 9519 3901

Feature // Hello May Issue #16

Posted on 21 Apr, 2017
Feature // Hello May Issue #16

Hello May recently visited our Newtown workroom to catch up with Karen have a look around our beautiful studio. Issue #16 of Hello May has done an incredible 6-page spread on Karen Willis Holmes and how she has built the brand to what it is today.  We are excited to share with you some exerts from the interview...

What sparked your interest in fashion? I always wanted to be a designer of some sort.  It's a cliche, but yes I was always cutting up and sewing dresses for my dolls.  My sister would complain because every time she wanted to play, my dolls required a new outfit for the occasion.  
I made dresses for my little sister as well.  I can still remember the first dress I made her; I was about 5 or 6 and my Grandma had given me some navy polka dot fabric with white spots.  I laid my sister on some sheets of newspaper and cut a pattern around her.  I don't know how (and I remember my Mum asking what I was doing) but I knew I needed to add extra when drawing around her to make the pattern so it would fit.  Then I hand stitched the side seams together to create a little shift dress and my Grandma helped me make a belt using the sewing machine.

Well, it's safe to say designing is in your blood.  So when did you know you wanted to work in bridal? I worked for myself and another company while I was in Perth before moving to London.  I stayed in London for a couple of years and worked for companies specialising in evening and special occasion daywear. When I moved back to Perth I started a store designing evening wear.  During this time I started to get people asking me to make wedding gowns for them. When the lease finished on my store at the time I had to make a decision about what I was doing and where I was going to go.  My husband recommended I specialise in wedding gowns.  I don't know why I couldn't work this out myself and it took Geoff to suggest it for me - designing wedding gowns is perfect for me, I love the quality, the fabrics, corsets, trains...

Are you self-taught or did you study fashion design? I studied fashion design and manufacturing at Bentley TAFE in Perth.  I have also learned from different people I have worked with over the years, including one particular person I met while I worked for Arabella Pollen in London.  We would make sample patterns in the studio and, after the shows, I'd take them to this older gentleman and he would tweak them and turn them into production patterns which were masterpieces.  He had such a love and passion for his work and taught me so much.  I have always been interested in, and focused on a high level of workmanship and focused on job opportunities that involved this craftsmanship, which also allowed me to self-train. 

Talk us through how you produce your designs? We have four collections, and each one is made slightly differently.  Gowns from the BESPOKE & DYG collections are made in our workroom in Sydney whilst gowns from our WILD HEARTS collection are made in small production runs in workrooms across Sydney and our KWH by Karen Willis Holmes Collection are hand beaded and embroidered in India.  We source our fabrics from all around the world- France for lace, the UK for tulle and beading in India. We are proud that the majority of our collections are made right here in Australia.  

We are obsessed with our DYG collection- can you explain how it works? I was actually doing this concept with the BESPOKE collection for years because the gowns are made in our own workroom we have the ability to mix and match bodices and skirts from different gown designs.  The DYG collection is a more practical way to illustrate this concept- we have created samples (separate bodice and skirts) which brides can try on, and mix and match and customise the gowns they want- it is like having your cake and eating it too!

What is the best part of being a bridal designer?This might sound cliche but it is designing and creating beautiful gowns.

How would you describe the "KWH bride"? They want to look and feel beautiful on their wedding day.  They have an interest in fashion and know their own style, so they are after a gown with exceptional fit, a gown they can personalise and make their own with accessories or small changes, and they want a design which is both functional and fashionable. 

How do you balance creativity with running a business? I find running a business just as creative as the design process.  When you are growing a business you have to be open to change, and constantly evolve how you do things to keep up with the times.

Describe a typical day in the studio? I am a workaholic, but out of choice.  I'm very lucky that Geoff (my husband) supports me with the business. Mt work is also my hobby - I love what I do and I am very driven to create a bigger and better business. In a normal week, I work 6.5 days per week. During busy periods I will take my laptop home with me at night to do some work. Sunday mornings is my time off and I usually start work at 12-1pm. My day usually begins at about 8 am when iI will check my emails before meeting my husband for a coffee at 8.30am. I am then back at HQ either in the workroom designing and sampling the new collections, in the office planning tradeshows, overseeing the boutiques and working on all the paperwork and notes on new designs. 

What can we expect to see from your brand in the future? We are currently working on the aesthetic/interior of all our boutiques, we are opening a brand new store in Brisbane and working on plans for Melbourne as well.  We are also continuing to expand our presence in the US and UK. 

Gowns featured - The BESPOKE 'Jasmin' gown • The BESPOKE 'Alesha' gown • The KWH by Karen Willis Holmes ' Nerada ' gown • The WILD HEARTS 'Shima' gown • The BESPOKE 'Blake / Prea' combination gown with the 'Webb' cape


Photos Jack Steel // Cover image by Lara Hotz

Hair and makeup Liv Lundelius

Model Annabelle Harbison for Chic Management

Location Karen Willis Holmes Head Office

Production, art direction and styling Hello May Magazine