I’m going to start this article with the words it ends on, thanks to ethical and sustainable bridal fashion designer, Hayley Neil, of Rolling in Roses; optimistic and excited about the future.
These words capture the zeitgeist for me right now. After a year of turmoil and uncertainty, the arrival of spring and the relaxing of lockdown restrictions has changed the outlook. Things feel lighter, brighter and more positive and with all this in mind, I am so very excited to share this collection and conversation with you today.
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Those of you new to Love My Dress (hello!) – it’s important you know of my commitment to supporting British bridal fashion designers. It’s a true passion of mine, born primarily because I’m married to a former designer who taught me how to love and respect the craft. It is a passion that is continually inspired by the talent and dedication of creators like Hayley, whose York based business, Rolling in Roses are leading the way forward with a very genuine and authentic focus on sustainable fashion.
Today, after what has felt like such a long, long past year, I am just so thrilled to be supporting Hayley in the launch of her brand new Chemistry collection.
A Conversation with Hayley O’Neill, founder and designer at Rolling in Roses
Hayley, please introduce yourself…
Well, hello there everyone! I’m Hayley and I live in lovely York where I run my bridal design label Rolling In Roses. I also have a bricks-and-mortar boutique which used to be called ‘Glory Days’; I used to sell original vintage and antique dresses alongside my own designs but RIR has now grown so much we’ve merged the two sides of the business and rebranded the whole under the Rolling In Roses name. Exciting times!
It has been an extraordinary past year for the industry, how did you cope through it as a business? What things have you done to reassure your clients throughout this time?
Indeed it has. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for sure, swinging wildly from despair to hope on a monthly basis as I’m sure everyone out there can empathise with! Personally, having a new collection to focus on has been the absolute saving grace of the past year; I’m never happier than when designing and making so being able to throw myself into that has helped hugely.
Hopefully, we’ve been able to reassure clients as much as possible because as a business we’re very flexible with our offering and processes; we make all our pieces right here in the boutique which means we haven’t been at the mercy of so many delays due to the chaos of the Covid/Brexit maelstrom!
We’re in complete control of when and how our dresses are made so we don’t have to worry about interrupted supply chains, except when getting hold of some of our fabrics. But happily there’ve been no obstacles we haven’t been able to overcome yet.
It’s been scary at times for sure, but I’m really lucky to have positive, practical, and flexible lasses who work with me who have gone above and beyond to work around all the many shifts and changes we’ve had to endure! Also our brides have been amazing; we’ve had a fair few offering to pay the remaining balances of their dresses early to help with cashflow during lockdown. How lovely is that?
The pandemic has had a profound impact on the way we live our lives and conduct business. How will (if they will) things look different in light of this moving forward for your business and Rolling In Roses brand?
I don’t think the world will ever be quite the same, but I’m an optimist to the core and like to think of this as a positive thing. One silver lining that has emerged from us all having to completely rethink our lives is that
I feel like we’re now more open to change and progression, and embracing alternatives to the status quo. Business-wise, we’ve now got in place even more scope for flexitime and working from home, which we’ve always done but now we’re more in the groove of it all and it’s working brilliantly. Happier staff who have more control over their working hours, and less travel time and a lower carbon footprint, so it’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned!
As a design brand we’ve always catered for a wide variety of brides and weddings, and going forward I’m absolutely expanding upon that idea; designs which are suited to any wedding style, separates which can be worn in various combinations, shorter hemlines for micro weddings and civil ceremonies, and pieces which can be worn again after the big day; all this is so important to me and it feels exciting that the possibilities are endless.
Tell us how you’ve personally coped through the more challenging times of the pandemic?
Well, I’m an eternal optimist through-and-through so that mindset has helped me hugely, but still, I wouldn’t like to even count the number of random emotional meltdowns I’ve had over the last year, both personally and professionally! I’ve definitely purged myself of the accumulation of negative stuff with a good cry on numerous occasions.
The old mantra ‘This, too, shall pass’ has definitely been my general vibe, looking to the future and learning lessons from the past.
Boutiques can reopen as of 12th April – can you describe what the experience will be like for brides visiting your boutique in York?
As relaxed, welcoming, exciting, and fun as we can make it! The RIR experience will be as close as possible to the experience our brides have always had.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the entire fashion landscape. How do you think it’s going to impact bridal fashion moving forward and are you already seeing any signs of its impact on bridal fashion choices?
I think, for some brides, the shifts and changes in the types and styles of wedding people are having have been quite liberating in terms of what they’d like to wear. I think micro-weddings have kind of freed people from gaze of a huge guest-list and the pressure of feeling like they have to go ‘traditional’ with their outfit choice, which is a wonderful thing!
I’ve always been an advocate of alternative bridal choices, whether that’s wearing trainers with your wedding gown or whatever the hell makes you feel like ‘you’ on your big day. And it feels like now more than ever brides are getting bolder at making their own choices and doing things their own individual way. More of that, please!
Sustainability and ethical production have always been important to you and your brand. Can you tell us more about this, and how you are feeling now about these important environmental factors, as we emerge out of the pandemic?
Absolutely, it’s so important to us as a brand and me personally. I remember being called a hippie at school for my passionate views on environmental issues and animal rights!
This, along with my love of traditional, skilled dressmaking with high-quality fabrics is the absolute core of the brand. And it feels like sustainable fashion is becoming more important to the population as a whole, which is so exciting for us.
The introspection we’ve all experienced as a result of the pandemic (both in our personal lives and the planet as a whole) has really fed into this I think, and everyone seems much more conscious of their impact on the world around them, which is so positive.
We’re managing to find more and more amazing sustainable fabrics which just weren’t available a few years ago, and I’m really looking forward to what the future will bring!
Your new collection is truly beautiful. Please tell us about it. What inspired you?
Why thank you very much! When I was beginning this collection, I was thinking about the science behind falling in love; the physical, psychological, and chemical effects which completely engulf your body when you become infatuated with someone.
The euphoric adrenaline-fuelled highs, the dopamine lust, the thudding heartbeats. My meandering thoughts and research drew me to the shapes and patterns made by the chemical formulas and molecular structures of the ‘love’ hormones: serotonin, oestrogen, oxytocin, testosterone.
The hexagonal shapes found there have made their way into my designs as hexagonally inspired seam lines and angles, and hexagon shapes within hand-smocked sleeve details.
The overlapping or interlinked circles seen in elemental molecular structures such as oxygen or water (without which we can’t live or love, right?!) are another motif found within the laces and embroideries I’ve chosen for the collection, and I’ve used many circles in my pattern drafting, creating half-circle skirts and circular frilled sleeves.
I love the idea of marrying modern science and technology with romance, tradition, and ancient techniques like smocking, beading, and embroidery. These artisanal skills are thousands of years old and found in every culture on earth, which serves as a reminder that people from all corners of the globe and every moment in time are one and the same; we all get that heady adrenaline hit when we fall head over heels in love. I adore that.
Is the collection available now?
We’ve literally just finished the catalogue and website this week and I’m busy finalising prices as we speak, so I’m delighted to say yes, it is!
Do you have a favourite design or designs in the collection, and why?
Oooh, tough one. Bias-cut dressmaking is my thing, so I always love anything that’s cut on the bias (like The Addiction Dress), but I have a lot of love for the midi length Visceral Dress as the gorgeous chiffon fabric has worked so well with the design and cut of the dress, plus I absolutely adored having the chance to develop the hand-smocking technique for the tiny pleats on the sleeves.
The Addiction Dress
But I guess the one I might be most pleased with is the Obsession Dress; the fabric was an absolute nightmare to master because it’s so difficult to work with, so I designed and cut five different versions of the skirt before we got it to behave the way I wanted it to! But I’m so pleased with how it turned out, the cut of the sleeves and the drape of the fabric look divine. And the most exciting thing about that dress is that it looks and feels like silk, but the fine charmeuse satin is actually spun from recycled plastic that has been reclaimed from the ocean, so the use of that fabric is actually benefiting the world too! Pure joy.
The Obsession Dress
Do you have any muses? And please describe the typical Rolling In Roses bride.
I like to say that there isn’t a typical RIR bride, which I think is true; we cater for such a variety of people which I love. But having said that I guess we do appeal to brides who value quality fabrics and workmanship, and attention to detail.
And personalities who are drawn to slightly off-kilter styles which are different to the mainstream. As for muses, the brand takes its name from an early Patti Smith poem and I’m a huge fan of her and everything she does, so I must give her a mention!
I always admire people who stay true to themselves and don’t conform, and as I get older I find artists like Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop and PJ Harvey a huge inspiration as they have kept their passion and drive throughout their lives instead of getting complacent.
As I write this I realise these figures are all from the world of music; music is such an important aspect of my existence so inspiration (both artistically and personally) always comes from there!
Sizing in bridalwear has long been a bit of a bone of contention amongst the bridal community – what are you able to say to the more curvy brides who are looking for a super beautiful, ethically produced wedding dress, but worried that standard sizes won’t fit them?
I’d tell them to stop worrying! There’s absolutely no reason for more curvy brides to even have this idea in the first place, and to be honest it really riles me that this is a conversation we’re still having to have in this industry. All our dresses are available to order in any standard size required, which can obviously then be altered to fit perfectly.
Alternatively, I can draft a bespoke pattern for a bride’s individual measurements so if anyone has had specific fitting problems with standard sizes in the past we can always make them a bespoke version of a design. I appreciate that we’re very lucky in that I draft the patterns personally and we make everything in-house, so we are able to be much more flexible than most designers who have to outsource this work which is prohibitively expensive.
So I completely understand it’s not that easy for some bridalwear companies. But the idea that ‘plus’ sized brides somehow have to wear different styles to smaller sized brides is ridiculous! I really hate the thought of some brides being fed the idea that they have to wear a certain style or fabric because of their body shape.
With the right underwear and the correct tweaks and alterations I honestly think that any bride can wear whatever the hell they choose and look amazing in it! I’m quite passionate about that.
Over the past year, the wedding industry had done so much to ‘rebrand’ it’s image, through all the campaigning and lobbying it has undertaken. I don’t think anyone looks at the industry now and thinks we’re a fluffy bunch of hobbyists – I’ve even been contacted by University students keen to enter the industry as a career choice. What are your thoughts on the industry as a whole, and what would you say to any aspiring designer hoping to enter and create a bridal fashion brand?
Agreed! Before I started my boutique, I must admit I was a bit worried that the industry might be stressful and competitive, but I haven’t found that at all. It’s home to some of the most passionate, talented, driven, and supportive people I’ve met, and I find it really inspiring.
Who wouldn’t want to work in a world that’s completely focused on love, fun, and creativity? And I bloody love a good wedding. All these amazing, positive, well-run businesses are working towards an end goal of giving people the most incredible life experience as they declare their undying love for one another. It’s pure magic!
What is the last book you read? And any book recommendations for our readers?
I’m currently reading Jane Ayre which suits my general mood at the moment perfectly; nothing like some Bronte sister magic to soothe the soul! Next up I’m going to re-read Nobody Told Me by the poet Hollie McNish, as I’m currently pregnant and I loved reading it so much when I was pregnant with my little boy (it’s about her experience becoming a mum for the first time, honest, raw, hilarious, and emotional. A must read for any mums-to-be, I always buy it for my pregnant friends!)
What music are you enjoying right now?
Funny you should ask, as I’ve just made a playlist to go with the new collection, which I always do when I launch new designs! If anyone fancies a listen it’s here:
Your top 5 Instagram obsessions right now (just link to accounts)
@holliepoetry – Hollie McNish mentioned above: poetry, observations and witticisms about life as a woman in the modern age. Everyone should follow her, she’s amazing!
Latest film you watched?
We’re having a bit of a Wes Anderson renaissance in my house at the moment, so it was The Royal Tenenbaums. Love it.
In one single sentence, how would you sum up your outlook and approach as we navigate through 2021 and seek to exit this lockdown?
Optimistic and excited about the future!
The whole way through this entire thing I’ve been saying to anyone that will listen that if we don’t want things to slide back to the way things were before life got turned upside-down, the power is in us to make sure that doesn’t happen. So we need to carve out new paths for ourselves and try and make the future we want to live in. And the things we don’t want to change, like seeing our friends and family and dancing and drinking and going to art galleries and gigs, they’re right there waiting for us!
I can’t wait.
Visit the Rolling in Roses website at rollinginroses.co.uk.
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