When we were invited by Sarah Barrett to step behind the scenes at Lyn Ashworth we could hardly wait.
Winding through the beautiful Staffordshire countryside with the sun beaming down, her studio is in a very rural English setting so, it isn’t difficult to see where Sarah gets some of her inspiration for her beautiful gowns. This was going to be a rare treat. A chance to understand what makes Sarah ‘tick’, to see British couture at its very best and to see the stages of a dress being made by hand from start to finish.
So, Sarah, when did you first start to learn your craft?
From a young age I was involved in the theatre and was involved in all sorts of different aspects. There I met two incredibly talented people, Brooking & Chell, who taught me how to sew and the elements of costume design.
What was that like?
It was really exciting and vibrant but hard work. The challenge was having to make costumes from all sorts of different fabric and in all sorts of different shapes, often to very tight deadlines. The costumes would then be worn in energetic performances twice a day so they had to be made from top quality materials and be made well but, inevitably, there would be things break and we would then need to repair them before the next performance. It really showed me what can be achieved with creativity and hard work and that “the show must go on” no matter what. It’s a bit like bridal!
What affect did that have on you?
I loved working with them and they are still great friends now. That decided for me that where I belonged was in fashion and creative design. I carried on working with them through studying fashion design at College then University. For me that was great. It was like having all the theory and design whilst being an apprentice to two master craftsmen. I consider myself very lucky to have had that opportunity and it has meant that I can personally do every single aspect of designing and making a dress and personally train my staff to do that. I don’t ever intend to sketch a design, choose materials and outsource everything else.
How did that lead to bridal?
Bridal is very similar to theatrical design in many ways. Both use high quality materials, both involve a lot of creativity, both work on tight timeframes and both can be bespoke “one-off” pieces. So, it was a natural progression to move into bridal and since I’ve been involved I have done pretty much everything from design and construction of the gowns, to the management of shops. I love what I do which is probably why I’ve spent over two decades so far and have no intention of doing anything else! Although the industry is ever changing, I will have come across many of the problems and issues that my stockists experience and I’m happy to share my experience and knowledge to help where it is needed.
So, tell us about Lyn Ashworth
She created and made some of the most beautiful and well made dresses available anywhere so it was a real privilege working with Lyn. I worked alongside her for many years. We spent years perfecting the Lyn Ashworth signature skirt, perfecting the cut of the skirt to create that movement and ‘swish’.
We know. They feel and move like no other dress I’ve ever tried. You just can’t help but swish!
Thank you. We always intended them to not just look great but to feel very very special when worn. Anyway, after over 30 years in the industry, Lyn was considering retirement and returning to her birthplace, New Zealand. Lyn and I were very aligned in our commitment to creating beautiful hand made couture, made from the finest materials, fitting to perfection and truly ‘Made in England’ from design right through to the finished gown. We were both fanatical about attention to detail, cut, fit and drape to create the ultimate in elegance. So, it seemed the most natural thing in the world for me to take the reins.
Lyn built a reputation for quality and I am passionate about ensuring that that is never compromised. My skilled team of cutters and seamstresses are dedicated to creating each gown with care and attention to every detail. Each dress is made with love and precision using some of the most beautiful fabrics in the world. I like to think that my dresses are not just about ever changing fashion. They are about a unique and special craft and creating something of timeless beauty. From the shape of the buttons to the fine hand couture stitching, these details might seem insignificant to some, but I would not have my dresses manufactured any other way.
How do you find your staff?
It really isn’t easy. Unfortunately, the skills that I need are quite rare and fashion students, and even lecturers, often don’t meet the standards that I need. Each dress is created, from start to finish, by one seamstress so being good at just one thing is not enough. All the gowns are designed and created in my Staffordshire studio and I am committed to keeping “Lyn Ashworth by Sarah Barrett” truly Made in England. I am also committed to showcasing new and up & coming talent. My brother, Paul Barrett, is the Course Director for the Theatre Performance & Event Design Course at Birmingham City University and we have worked on many projects over the years to help give students advice, guidance, and a chance to learn and develop new skills.
What is next for Lyn Ashworth by Sarah Barrett?
I will continue to ensure that everything is done locally and keep manufacturing in Staffordshire and, in practical terms, that does mean that we will not expand dramatically, more grow organically and sustainably in a way that does not compromise on quality. I’m looking for long term relationships with stockists that have similar values to mine, so that we can get a deeper understanding of each others brands. I feel that we (Sass & Grace and I) share similar brand values and it’s great to have representation in the South of England outside of London with a business, like yours. For example, I love that you only offer 2 hour appointments so that you can really understand what the bride wants.
So, for me, it’s really about continuing to build without compromise but there are a couple of things in the pipeline but I’ll share those nearer the time!