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Five Years of Chilham Bridal – An Interview with owner Carly

Bridal Boutique at Chilham was opened in 2014, and we are delighted to be celebrating our fifth birthday this month! Chilham Bridal is a Kent based bridal boutique run by sisters Carly and Tiffany whose vision was to open an affordable bridal boutique with a difference. They get asked lots of questions about their experiences running Chilham, what they have learned and everything they know about weddings and all things bridal, so we thought to mark the occasion , we would interview Carly to mine all that knowledge!

When and why did you start up Chilham Bridal? 

Bridal Boutique at Chilham was set up 5 years ago in August 2014. The original concept for the boutique was my sisters idea. She had married the year before and wore a very beautiful Ian Stuart wedding dress, which she was trying to sell on to recoup back some of the cost, and didn’t like the idea of her beautiful dress sitting forever in a box, never to been worn again.

Tiffany really struggled trying to sell the Ian Stuart online, so started to look at pre-loved bridal stores, but there were none local to us, or that felt right- they didn’t seem to offer that special bridal shopping experience, which every bride-to-be dreams of.

A friend then mentioned a studio had become available in the beautiful, rural setting of Bagham Barn in Chilham, situated just outside Canterbury. The location and premises seemed the perfect location for a wedding dress shop. 

We then started to imagine what we could do with the studio, and visualised how special we could make it look and feel for future brides to find their dream wedding dress. 

So that is really where the idea came from…

What is your background and have you always loved weddings and wedding dresses? 

My (Carly’s) background and qualifications are in marketing, so as well as running appointments, I also look after all the marketing side of things- which I absolutely love. I left my home and job in London to relocate in Kent to start up this new business venture with my sister, so it was a lot of change, but has been totally worth it, and I can honestly say I love my job.

Tiffany is actually a hairdresser, and, alongside the Chilham bridal shop, runs a hair salon. And Nicola, who joined the team earlier this year is also a qualified bridal make-up artist.

So between the three of us- we pretty much have it all covered!

We all have a passion for bridal-wear, and still get excited when we have new dresses added to the rails. The three of us have quite different tastes in bridal-wear, so it’s interesting to see which we each pick as our ‘favourites’ when they arrive.

What is your favourite part of running the business and helping so many brides-to-be find their perfect dress? 

I love both aspects really- the marketing side I do from home, which works really well with my little girl and I really enjoy as you can see instant results from any social posts, blogs, website updates etc. The brand image of the boutique is very important to me, so I do like to take extra time to make sure all images and content feels right.

Equally though, it is a wonderful buzz when I match one of our ladies with her dream wedding dress. It’s a real process, finding ‘the one’ and it’s so exciting being part of that journey. I have met some amazing ladies over the years and had such fun times in the boutique, and some emotional times too. It’s a real roller-coaster! But I genuinely love being in the boutique- I always say it’s my little bit of sanctuary away from a hectic mum life at home!

Have you seen wedding styles change over the time you have been in the industry? 

Always yes, each year there are big shifts in bridal trend and styles. When I think back to the dresses we had on the rails five years ago when we opened the boutique, I really notice how fast things move-on. Five years ago, lace was huge, and whilst it is still very popular, we are seeing new modern, simplistic, chic styles hit the rails- crepe fabrics, with beautiful cuts and low contemporary backs are very popular right now. I thank Meghan Markle for the acceleration of this minimal trend, which is just so stunning.

Read more about the top styles of 2019 here.

Do you have a favourite dress designer or dress?

I wouldn’t say I have a favourite designer, as the designers do a wide variety of looks within their collections. We sell a lot of Justin Alexander, Pronovias, Stella York and Martina Liana dresses.

I do have a favourite wedding dress though, other than my own of course! 

It is the Mori Lee, Milly dress. We had it come in a few months ago and it was literally love at first sight! I had to try it on straight away, and actually felt really emotional when I put it on- I had a real connection with the dress and went straight home and asked my husband if we could renew our wedding vows so I could wear it!

It sold a few weeks after coming in- I knew it would go quickly as it is so unique- the stripes, handkerchief skirt, low plunging neckline and back. It’s an amazing dress- and I hope we will get another one in at Chilham Bridal.

What is your best advice for a bride to be? 

Don’t just settle for a dress. Find the one which makes you feel amazing and which you feel so excited to wear. It is not always about having this big emotional moment, where you instantly know the dress is ‘the one’ and burst into floods of tears- I generally only see that happen on ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ in all honesty. But you should feel great, feel beautiful and be so excited at thought of wearing it to marry the love of your life, and not want to take it off. These are the signs you have found your dress and should be ready to say YES! 

Read our blog on how to find your perfect wedding dress here.

What did you wear on your wedding day?

I actually wore two dresses on the day- one of the perks of having your own bridal shop! The first dress, which I wore until just after our first dance, was by Lillian West, style number 6739. I fell in love with the skirt- soft tulle ruffles in a very unique arrangement. It felt very fun to me- a real party dress, and I loved the way the skirt moved when I danced. It really was perfect, and after our amazing seamstress Sandra got the dress to fit me like a glove- I felt incredible on the day. The best I have ever felt in my life- as it should be on your wedding day.

As the skirt was big and heavy, I changed into a shorter Mori Lee dress for the all-night party! It was great having something I could move more freely in and I also loved showing off my gorgeous shoes.

We are so happy to be celebrating five years of helping local brides-to-be find their perfect dress and look forward to doing it for many more years! Cheers to us!

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