Rene K. Couture - the Barrowford based fashion designer to the stars
- Credit: Kirsty Thompson/Archant
A growing army of celebrities love clothes made in a Barrowford studio, whether they’re on screen or on the red carpet.
When the stars of television shows such as The Only Way is Essex want beautifully made clothes, they head to the hills above Barrowford to meet Carrie Kay, owner and chief designer of Rene K. Couture.
‘I have become known as the TOWIE designer and it’s true that they do call on me a lot, I’ve even spent days at a time in Essex, so I could be on-hand while they were filming. I may have even appeared on camera, although I am pretty camera shy so I try to avoid that whenever possible,’ says Carrie who also counts the stars of Geordie Shore, several actresses such as Sair Khan and singers like Paloma Faith among her client base.
It’s not just celebrities who are fans of her work though. Since her work has appeared in celebrity magazines, Rene K Couture has attracted clients from all over the UK and across the world, who are all keen to wear the hugely flattering designs.
‘I want to make women look and feel beautiful, whether they’re wearing one of my leisurewear pieces, swimwear, daywear, gowns or even a wedding dress. That’s the job of my designs because I know that, for many ladies, knowing their clothes flatter them, can give an extra layer of confidence and I should know all about that because my weight can fluctuate and I’ve also had a little boy,’ laughs Carrie, who uses a stretchy material that is often lined with a scuba type fabric – a bit like a more comfortable Spanx.
Carrie should also know because, when she left university, armed with a sociology and psychology degree, she was all set to become a psychologist but, like any psychologist worth their salt, she began by analysing herself and realised she couldn’t resist the call of fashion.
‘I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised: my friends and family certainly weren’t! My grandmother, Rene, had taught me to sew when I was five and I loved helping her, although, looking back, I suppose I might have been more a nuisance than a help but she was too nice to say so.
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‘We made soft toys to sell in aid of Burnley Hospital and, as I became more experienced, I began making clothes. It was all done on her old-fashioned sewing machine, which she left to me in her will. Today, I have state of the art equipment but my grandmother’s machine will always be special,’ says Carrie who then undertook a variety of roles within the fashion industry including a post as a university fashion lecturer.
When Carrie decided to launch her own brand from her beautiful 18th century studio, she decided to name it after her grandmother.
‘That sense of heritage is important to me. My grandmother was part of the Lancashire textile industry and so am I. Wherever possible, all my materials are sourced locally and, as my studio is perched above the town, every time I look out of the window, I see the mills our county was famous for and that, and the amazing countryside, is an inspiration,’ says Carrie who also donates any left-over fabric to local schools, so nothing is wasted.
For the moment, Rene K is not stocked in boutiques, as she prefers to keep low stock, often beginning a piece only when an order has been received.
‘A customer can choose a piece from our ready to wear collection by telling us her standard dress size or she can choose bespoke by mixing and matching a design in any of our 500 fabrics – sleeve addition is always popular. She then sends us her exact measurements. That can sound a bit daunting but we give detailed instructions and yes, measurements are a strictly guarded secret between a woman and her dressmaker.
‘It is worth it because nothing fits like a piece made to your own exact measurements. I had a breast reduction but before that, when I was a student, if I bought a piece from the High Street, it would be difficult to get a standard size to fit beautifully, so I do know the problems – those pulls and gapes – that women encounter,’ adds Carrie who keeps each client’s measurements on a data base, ready to be used for the next time and there nearly always is a next time.
A custom-made design service is also offered and clients can make an appointment to go along to the showroom room attached to the studio to meet Carrie and discuss their dream outfit; an outfit Carrie will name after them.
‘It is a beautiful room, complete with flowers, mirrors, chandeliers and refreshments, including champagne. I know many of my clients look on it as an occasion and many ladies like to bring a couple of friends, although that said, I once – pre-Covid – had 21 members of the same wedding party come along-the bride, bridesmaids, flower girls and mother of the bride!’
Carries’s grandmother would be rightly proud of her.