Lizzie Malcolm - owner of Elizabeth Malcolm Bridalwear, Wirksworth

Lizzie Malcolm (c) Matt Low

Lizzie Malcolm (c) Matt Low - Credit: Archant

A couture wedding boutique shop in Derbyshire is making its mark amongst brides to be.

The boutique in Wirksworth (c) Matt Low

The boutique in Wirksworth (c) Matt Low - Credit: Archant

Three times finalist of the Regional Wedding Awards, designer Elizabeth Malcolm handcrafts bespoke and couture dresses at her shop and studio in Wirksworth.

Lizzie Malcolm ensures that every trip for a future bride to her boutique shop, Elizabeth Malcolm, is a memorable and special occasion, from the initial meeting to the final fitting. Over tea and biscuits Lizzie discovers the bride’s sense of style and what she might be looking for before introducing her to the collection of dresses hanging on the rail.

Lizzie says, ‘People put so much pressure on finding the perfect dress, so always be open-minded and willing to try on anything – a dress may really surprise you. Brides put a lot of stress on themselves but I always say to them, the most important thing to remember is that you’re marrying someone who loves you and you’ll have an amazing day!’

There are over 40 dresses of varying designs on display in the boutique. Some brides will occasionally find a dress from the rail that is perfect in style whilst a few will choose a completely bespoke design. For most, however, the dress design is created in a series of stages, closely guided by Lizzie.

Some of Lizzie's creations (c) Field Photographic Ltd

Some of Lizzie's creations (c) Field Photographic Ltd - Credit: Archant

She says, ‘I try not to overwhelm people with too many choices so I design my dresses in a way that they can be easily transformed as people are trying them on.’ Sleeves can be added or removed and necklines altered. Dresses can be embellished with intricate lace, ribbon, sashes and bead work, and trains and veils can also be added.

Lizzie says, ‘Every piece of lace and bead work is hand stitched. It doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as it’s perfect on the day. There’s just one chance for the photos to be right so we always make sure the dress is absolutely perfect.’

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For Lizzie the most important choice is the dress fabric, from heavy silks and satins to lighter crepes and chiffons. She says, ‘The choice of fabric can determine the design of dress and if you choose it well the dress will look superb. You have to love the fabric from the way it moves and feels to the way it sounds.’

Lizzie sketches the chosen designs with the bride on the first consultation. ‘Once the bride has placed an order her date is secured, which is important as I only take on a limited number of dresses per month to make sure everyone gets the attention they deserve.’ Five months before the wedding the bride is measured before Lizzie creates a pattern to her exact measurements. From this she cuts out the dress in practice fabric: ‘I make the dress in calico so I can make any tweaks and alterations before creating the dress in the actual fabric, which is normally four appointments in.’ The brides then return at regular intervals, allowing Lizzie to make any alterations before crafting the dress from the final chosen fabric. ‘Brides come to the shop for about eight to nine fittings which will last for one to two hours. I get to know them and become involved with their wedding. When I put their dress in the car after their last appointment and say goodbye I feel happy at a job well done but it’s also sad as I probably won’t see them again,’ she smiles.

The boutique in Wirksworth (c) Field Photographic Ltd

The boutique in Wirksworth (c) Field Photographic Ltd - Credit: Archant

The Elizabeth Malcolm collection blends classic vintage style with contemporary design and much of Lizzie’s work is influenced by the fashions from the 1920s–50s. She says, ‘People always looked so glamorous and I like the way the fabrics were cut. When they moved the swish of the fabrics was nice and this influences a lot of my work. My own wedding dresses are very English, very traditional, yet with a quirky modern twist.’

Lizzie keeps abreast of fashion trends and what outfits are gracing the catwalks but remains true to the signature brand she has created: ‘Whilst trends are good, I don’t want to be constantly doing something everyone else is. I want people to look at photos and say, “that looks like an Elizabeth Malcolm dress.”’

Lizzie studied Fashion at the University of Derby before embarking on a year’s work experience that included a placement in London with renowned wedding couturier Phillipa Lepley whose work Lizzie had long admired. She says, ‘It was incredible to work there and also to see how they treat the wedding dresses. There are even certain foods you can’t bring into the studio. such as broccoli, because they’ll permeate the fabrics.’

She then moved to Leicester and worked for Nicola Anne where she helped to make wedding dresses for the wholesale market. ‘My work experience and time at Nicola Anne gave me a good foundation as I was sewing every day, so it was practice, practice, practice! I don’t think you ever stop learning.’ But Lizzie found that supplying wholesale wasn’t the career path she wanted: ‘We would make a collection, then go to the Harrogate Bridal Show and shops would come and buy the stock. I missed dealing with brides and making one-off pieces. I didn’t see the bride get the dress, so for me it wasn’t extra special.’

The boutique in Wirksworth (c) Field Photographic Ltd

The boutique in Wirksworth (c) Field Photographic Ltd - Credit: Archant

Returning home to Derbyshire, Lizzie set up Elizabeth Malcolm in Belper four years ago before moving to larger premises in Wirksworth earlier this year, enabling her to increase her collection of dresses and also have space for a dedicated studio. With the help of her design room assistant, Lizzie designs and makes every dress exclusively in-house.

She has always loved wedding gowns and the stand-out dresses from musicals: ‘I loved the dresses from The King and I and The Sound of Music. One of my grandmas worked in a charity shop and she would buy me wedding dresses from there to dress up in. When my other grandma was getting rid of some lovely red velvet curtains I cut them out in the style of Julie Andrews’ dress from The Sound of Music and tried to hand-sew my own dress!’ Lizzie continues, ‘Both my grandmas sewed and I always remember a sewing machine on the dining room table. When I was 15 my mum and stepdad bought me my first sewing machine and I would go to the fabric shop each weekend.’

Lizzie’s love of design and sewing continues to this day, except that her attempts to replicate gowns out of velvet curtains have been replaced by custom-made couture wedding dresses. While every dress is bespoke in its design, they still retain a signature style that is quintessentially Elizabeth Malcolm.