On the cutting edge of bridal fashion, Joanna Southwell of Bowen Dryden reveals all about this dynamic British brand.
Bowen Dryden’s designs are all about high fashion, exquisite detail and unique design - it’s no wonder that the label was such a hit at White Gallery 2019, standing out as one of the most creative British designers around.
Bowen Dryden started in 2015 when Sharon Bowen, who had her own bridal brand in Cheshire married and moved to Cambridgeshire. She became Sharon Bowen Dryden, and at this point she started to design more fashion-focused bridal wear.
As luck would have it, Sharon had a real infinity with one of the boutique’s that stocked her collection, and this business relationship blossomed into a fantastic partnership that has made Bowen Dryden the success it is today.
Read More: Bowen-Dryden to Make Triumphant Return
“At the time, I had my own boutique called Woburn Bridal, and I stocked Bowen Dryden in my shop,” explains Joanna Southwell - Bowen Dryden’s Brand Manager. “I had some of her separates in my shop, and I kept extending and extending this until I basically ended up with her whole collection as I loved it so much!
We got on really well and we took the step to do our own bridesmaid range and then started doing bespoke work together. We decided to merge and work full time together in September 2018.”
Joanna describes the move to working at Bowen-Dryden as an exciting one; it is something she has fully embraced. She adores being part of creating what she describes as glamorous, opulent and sometimes risqué gowns, and is quite rightly proud of the name the label is continuing to build for itself as a specialist in beautiful details and hand embroidery. “There are different aspects of the job that I enjoy and different ones that Sharon enjoys, so it works perfectly,” says Joanna.
Joanna brought one of her team from Woburn Bridal - Lauren - to join Bowen Dryden, and she was the perfect addition to the creative company. “Lauren has a fashion degree and has always loved really theatrical fashion and costume making, so there was a natural attraction for her to the whimsical yet edgy style of Bowen Dryden,” says Joanna.
“She helps with the bespoke work, arranges the pop-up shops and goes out on photoshoots for us.”
Aside from the UK team, there is a team of six in India that make up the garments. “We have always worked with them and we see them often - they do all of the embroidery on the garments. The designs are hand-drawn by Sharon and then we work with the team to see how the embroidery will come to life on the garment; it is a really hands-on process,” explains Joanna.
“Our garments aren’t standard - everything can be personalised, and we are happy that every order is different!
One of the great things about how the label works with its retailers is that it has a turnaround for shops of 12 weeks - but if someone needs things more urgently Bowen Dryden will do its best to make it happen. “The team is quite quick! We had a bride recently that needed something turning around in six weeks, and we were able to make that happen.”
It is easy to see why boutiques fall in love with Bowen Dryden’s fashion-forward styles - the designs offer an edgy look, yet still balance feminine and romantic elements. A typical bride? “Someone who likes fashion and art and design - not necessarily in their job, but something that is a joy in their life,” says Joanna. “Someone that wants to be in charge of their own bridal look.”
But how exactly does this offer of styling your own look translate from theory to reality? “Our shops have what we call a ‘box of tricks’ - it is a box of different sleeve lengths and styles, and brides can match any sleeve with any dress.
There are the capes to match too - and brides can also select from our range of 129 different colours!” What’s more, brides can look at the embroidery styles on all the different dresses and can pick which suits them the best. “There is an ability to say I want that dress in that colour but with that embroidery and a personal message embroidered inside, too.”
It helps with retail relations that Joanna used to run a bridal shop, as she knows what the dream customer service offering is and strives to offer that. She is the point of contact for all of the label’s boutiques and encourages open communication where they can phone, email or Whatsapp her and she’ll get back to them ASAP.
“I go and see people and we do training days if they want them - I show them styling tricks and how to mix and match different elements. Lots of girls want to have the flexibility to achieve a personal look and we know our boutiques are confident in how to offer them this.”
It is a very personal approach and one that means Bowen Dryden has a limit on the number of retailers it can take on. “We need to work with retailers who are creative and fashionable and who would like to work in the same personal way we do - we are never going to be a brand with hundreds of stockists around the world. But if that means we get to keep our high level of quality, then that is the priority. That said we would still love to take on more boutiques - but a manageable amount.”
White Gallery proved to be an extremely successful show for the label - who got a real taste for what retailers were looking for and were delighted with the positive responses. “Our mauve colour, which is a grey lavender shade, went down well - in fact the boutiques really liked all the grey colours,” says Joanna.
Joanna was excited by the responses from retailers about its layering techniques, too. “We have a sequin dress that can be worn on its own, but I dressed it with kimono and a skirt over the top and the retailers really loved that as it is flexible and you can create all these different looks.
The styling side of things is really exciting as the bride can put on as much or as little as they want. Sometimes we make these pieces and we don’t know if the shops will love them as much as we do, so when new people say they love them it is really exciting for us.”
So, what does the future hold for this dynamic brand? There seems to be a lot going on, and we won’t have to wait long to see another new collection as this is what Sharon is currently working on. Bowen Dryden is also working on the launch of its online collection, as well as using its creativity on some of the bespoke brides.
What’s more, boutiques should watch this space for the relaunch of the label’s bridesmaids collection - hopefully in September. “It is all separates, comprising trousers, skirts and tops. This means the bridal party can all find something that suits their shape and size and feel comfortable - they can have the same material, colour and elements or you can mix and match.”
To sum up - Bowen Dryden really are one to watch - they are on the cutting edge of bridal fashion, a truly dynamic label that embraces and celebrates difference and diversity. We can’t wait to see more new styles next season.