Wednesday 20th October

| BY Scarlett Conlon

Say Yes To The Dress: Scarlett Conlon on saying ‘I Do’ to a Bold New Look

“I don’t know, something simple, nothing fussy, I want to feel like me,” was my response when I was asked what I was wearing for our wedding back in 2015. As anyone who’s tied the knot will know, it’s one of the first things most people tend to ask you when you say you’re getting married.

This has always baffled me a bit when there are other more important questions to ask, but that’s another story. When you work in fashion, it becomes the first thing. Well, it was for me anyway. Truth is I had thought about it, but not a lot by any means. I remember having a vague idea, which looked a bit like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and Kate Moss’ 1990s sartorial love child. But I was not a bride-to-be who wanted to talk about it for hours on end, let alone have champagne appointments at bridal boutiques. I allowed my arm to be twisted once – I went to a hotel suite that was selling everything from garters to overpriced honeymoons with a side of glitter macaroons,
and I practically did a Julia Roberts out the door.

It wasn’t that I didn’t care – of course I did. But firstly, remotely arranging our June wedding in Italy took up the lion’s share of our wedding planning. Secondly, the intimate ceremony we were looking forward to was more of a party than a traditional wedding, with a dress code of “whatever you want”. In other words, I didn’t feel any pressure about finding something to wear. And so, despite being organised enough to have sent invitations out a year before and with everything from guests to menus locked in by late March, I found myself turning my attention to my outfit in early April.

At the time, I was online news editor at British Vogue and one morning – in between getting stories live on the site and scoffing toast and tea – my bestie and colleague Lauren spun around to me and said: “You know you’re gonna have to get something sorted soon, right?” “Yes,” I side-eyed while typing and chewing. “Have you thought about Sophia?” she asked. “Her designs are so you.” She was referring to the brilliant Sophia Kokosalaki who had recently shifted her focus from being a pioneering ready-to-wear designer to the most gifted creator of bridalwear. Her sculptural creations carried her fluid and sweeping Grecian goddess signature, but retained the contemporary hallmarks of her previous lauded collections. It was a recipe for success and she was a natural at it. I had interviewed her the year before about the launch of her spring/summer 2015 collection for the website, which proved to be a meeting of minds, and we had become fast friends.

Yes, I thought about Sophia (I always remember her saying when we met: “We don’t do cupcakes,” which I had loved and quoted), but I had nowhere near the budget her dresses commanded. I knew at this point that I actually needed to get busy with it and, from that moment on, allowed myself to imagine wearing something of hers. I soon plucked up the courage to see if she would consider loaning me one of her pieces. I knew it wasn’t something she did, and so my email request was full of apologetic “no problem AT ALL IF NOT” clauses. It was met with a speedy reply: “Come see me next week.”

As we sipped tea and caught up at Sophia’s North London home-cum-atelier in front of the rail she had assembled, she asked me the same question countless others had. Like a robot came my “something simple, nothing fussy” reply. “Why?” she asked, in her disarming but direct way. “I’m interested. You have planned a Dolce Vita wedding, why not go for a dress to match it?”

She pulled out what can only be described as the most va-va voom look on the rail. “This is the dress for a Dolce Vita wedding!” she deadpanned. “It’s beautiful, but I don’t know if it’s me?” I replied (I was thinking, “no way”). She put the va-va-voom dress to one side, and wasted in no time getting me into all the other dresses on the rack.
They were just what I had imagined but on a sublime level. One was satin and bias cut with a beautiful deep V-neckline; the next was a cowl-neck number with delicate tulle cap sleeves. Another had an integrated bustier with a gathered silk skirt and another was a long-sleeved lace, knee-length party number.
Sophia directed me like one of her models as she snapped pics on my iPhone (“you’ll want to show these to your mum,” she purred) and we had so much fun. For the first time I was really feeling the joy of the whole process. They looked so simple, but were constructed with so much skill that they felt sensational. It was the same for all of Sophia’s creations.

They were exactly what I had in mind, but between me not having enough boob to fill the bustiers and actually feeling self-conscious of some being too silhouette skimming, they just didn’t fill me with confidence. They also, I suddenly realised, didn’t feel enough.
I turned to Sophia. She knew. It was the moment she had been waiting for. Putting down my iPhone she pulled out the va-va-voom dress. “Just try it, if nothing else for me so I can see how it fits you… please?” Of course, I agreed.

As I stepped into it, everything felt different. It was like time stood still. Up close, this dress was so detailed, so extraordinary that I suddenly forgot I was down to my pants and treated it like handling a rare artefact. “Oh, sorry!” I said as I clumsily stepped on the wrong bit. “Don’t worry about anything, come on, just let’s get it on you,” laughed Sophia as she gently pulled the dress up around me.

I remember feeling it was a seminal moment. There was so much more fabric than the others which made it feel more substantial, yet even with its layers and layers of tulle it felt so comfortable, so light. It had volume at the waist which gave me curves I’ve never had, and it was backless so felt a bit daring. “No bras allowed!” laughed Sophia (not a problem for me). It had long lace sleeves, appliquéd with hand-woven roses that balanced the bare skin and felt so subtly sexy. And – unlike the others – it had a long sweeping train. I had discounted a train entirely, but bloody hell it felt great. Clever Sophia had given it a dipped-hem front, which exposed my legs up to just above my knee – giving the classic train a contemporary twist.

From the moment I put it on, I knew it was the one. The opposite of “simple and nothing fussy”, it was bold and it was beautiful. I swirled around the room touching it, swooshing it, feeling my body in it, giving my best back glance in the mirror as Sophia encouraged me with cheering applause.

“Would it be okay if I …?” I started. She laughed out loud and said to me something that will stay with me forever: “It’s yours under one condition: I expect it to come back with rips and red wine stains, otherwise it means you didn’t have nearly enough fun.”

I could never have thanked her enough for such an insane level of generosity. She made it so easy to borrow it from her, not to mention the fact that she had it altered for me – the buttons wouldn’t fasten because I wasn’t her sample size. She opened me up to a world of contemporary flou and frou that I had dismissed; like all the best designers, she allowed me to see and feel a way I never had before.

I had gone from being someone not fussed about the dress, to someone who was wearing the dress. I was suddenly all about the va-va-voom. When the time came to put it on a month or so later in Italy, exactly the same sense of elation came back to me.

With the nuptials done and a lot of happy tears and wine later, I danced the night away barefoot in this fabulous dress, feeling so grateful to Sophia for tempting me out of what I thought was my comfort zone.

As it turns out I never saw it again, but in lots of ways that made the whole thing an even sweeter experience to cherish. Sophia had a call in from Brides Mag, so the dress went back with my mum to be dry cleaned as we stayed in Italy for our honeymoon.

It was without red wine stains and had only one teeny rip (I was mortified, but also couldn’t wait to tell her), yet it had more than its fair share of fun. It was bold, it was beautiful, just like Sophia. Devastatingly, she passed away in September 2019, too young and with too much wisdom, talent and life-changing dresses left to share. On that very special day, I felt totally like myself in a way I never knew before – and it was all thanks to her.

Sometimes, you just need someone who sees you to give you the push you need. And she did.

Imagery courtesy of Scarlett Conlon. Taken from Issue 67 of 10 Magazine – BOLD & BEAUTIFUL – order your copy here.

@scarlett_conlon