Susie Stone is a bespoke womenswear designer and she warmly welcomed the Semple guests into her beautiful studio in Bermonsey, opposite the Fashion and Textile Museum. Susie enthusiastically shares the Semple team’s passion for fashion stories. ‘I love finding out the story behind what people want my dresses for,’ she says, ‘It is such an enjoyable part of the process. I meet a real variety of women, but what they have in common is that they want something special they can take home and love’.
Susie grew up in a fashion industry family and at home ‘there was always a dialogue about fabric, quality and cuts of clothes, a real attention to detail. It was only as I got older I realised that other people just don’t talk to their parents like that,’ she laughs. Susie was always making dresses for her dolls and even created a lettuce dress for her guinea pig.
Although Susie went to Art School to study sculpture, she found herself constantly in demand to make dresses for friends. ‘I just had to admit to myself that fashion was just in my blood’, she says. Determined to go into business for herself, she worked as a receptionist for a year whilst doing evening classes at the London College of Fashion to hone her skills. ‘I made the first 10 dresses for free’ she says, ‘just to get the word out there and build a reputation’. Looking back, she admits that ‘it was a very lean and scary time. You have to be young and naive to want to take the risk.’
Soon she was building a client base through word of mouth. She describes her business style as being very organic, not planning too far ahead and taking time to develop ideas and listen to what customers want. It has certainly proved a successful approach, allowing Susie to set up her beautiful Bermondsey studio and work with a select team of seamstresses to meet a growing demand from customers. Her current collection of ten dress silhouettes, which are each inspired by a Hollywood style icon and adapted to become bespoke for each customer, is complemented by her customisable ready to wear collection. In response to demand she has introduced two new jacket designs for London Fashion Week.
Having a dress made for you by Susie is a very positive experience. ‘It starts with a conversation’, she says and is ‘very much a collaborative process, about building up trust. All women worry about their figures, but I reassure them that I will not let them leave the studio unless they look amazing. I love providing a service that makes people feel happy, that they have spent time and money on something that is going to enrich their lives. For me fashion isn’t frivolous.’
When choosing an item of clothing to share Susie could not restrict herself to one dress. The two she chose both came from vintage shops in Toronto and interestingly reveal two sides of her personality. The first is a black 1950’s prom dress with shocking pink satin bow, which Susie describes as ‘part Grace Kelly and part Madonna’s material girl’. It is so precious that she has only worn it once. It hangs in her wardrobe as a reminder of the little girl’s dream to be a fairytale princess.
In contrast she wears her second dress all the time. A strikingly bold black and white striped cotton shirt-dress, with exaggerated styling, red piping and red buttons. Susie describes it as having ‘a strong feminine feel, like a Katharine Hepburn cocktail hour staple.’ Wearing it makes a statement about having the confidence not to care about what other people think. ‘If I’m having a down day it is the thing I put on and I treasure it.’ The choice of two contrasting garments reminds us of the complex relationship we all have with clothes, ‘one is the dream of what I want to be and one is who I really am’, Susie says.