Karl Bowman - the dress designer that went from horses to haute couture

Karl Bowman loved the thrill of show-jumping but winning accolades for his couture gowns is just as big a thrill, writes Amanda Griffiths Photography by Tommy Martin

Former show-jumper Karl Bowman has swapped his spurs for a needle and thread to mount a successful career in the equally competitive world of fashion.

The 26-year-old was always interested in design and how clothes are put together so when he hung up his spurs in 2010 he decided to develop his other passion.

Dresses designed for friends and family got rave reviews and early efforts were placed second and third in the ‘best dressed lady’ competition at Carlisle races.

Now Karl, from Penrith, can more often be found sitting in front of a sewing machine than on horseback and, although he misses the competition and atmosphere of the show ring, he says the thrill for him in the world of fashion is seeing the delight on his clients’ faces.

‘I love the designing side of things and making my customers feel really special,’ says Karl. ‘I think that’s the main pull for me, getting the fit correct and I just love seeing clients really happy with their outfit and knowing they have a one-off item.

‘They leave feeling really glamorous ukand special. It’s very important to me that the client has their input into the design.’

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The majority of his customers come from Lakeland and Lancashire but also from Durham and Scotland – anywhere within travelling distance for fittings and the initial consultations.

‘As a couture designer my collections are more a reflection of what I can do rather than a set series of designs people can choose from. I work closely with the client to design something bespoke, using the colours, fabrics and details they want. Of course, if they see one of the dresses in the runway collection and absolutely love that, one can be made especially for them.

‘It’s quite something to have an item made especially for you and I don’t think it’s done as much as it should be. I’ve got nothing against ready-to-wear fashions, in fact I’d like my own line of ready-to-wear at some stage in the future. But I will always prefer the couture side of things.

‘There’s nothing like knowing that the dress you’re wearing is completely bespoke to you and no-one else at the event you’re attending will be wearing anything like it.’

With prices starting from �250 (depending on the design and detail) a bespoke option can be as inexpensive as some ready-to-wear items.

Karl, who is completely self-taught, designs and makes his gowns in Penrith where he grew up. He credits local ladies Barbara Labram and Pat Swainson for their support and encouragement along the way, but it’s really his mum who was the catalyst for his change in career:

‘My mum saw a designer dress on the internet that she really liked and although I hadn’t done anything like it before, I’d never even used a sewing machine, I took it upon myself to say I would make her a version of the outfit for her,’ he says.

‘Even when she was having her first fitting she didn’t really believe I would do it, but when she saw the final version she was over the moon. After that family and friends asked if I could make them one and it all spiralled from there.

‘I was encouraged to put together a runway collection for a show in October, which I did and it was such a success it just went from there.’

Karl’s third collection, pictured here, has just been launched to an audience of around 350 at The Garden of Eden at Carlisle Golf Course.

Focusing on the glamour of Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s, the evening dress is the key element of the collection.

Karl cites celebrities including Nicole Sherzinger and Rhianna amongst those he would ultimately love to dress as well as pop singer Florence Welch and, of course, he would love to see his designs showcased at prestigious fashion events in this country and abroad. However, as the photography for his latest collection shows, Karl has an innate love of the Lake District and intends to make the most of his roots here.

Credits

Photography: Tommy Martin, Askham, www.tommymartin.co.uk

Models: Lucy Chapman and Naomi Lowther

Hair: Tanya Nicholson, Salon Rouge, Penrith

Make-up: Marie O’Niel, Icon Beauty, Brampton

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