Bridal designer Katie Yeung on celebrating individuality and honouring curves

Hera Couture interview with Katie Yeung

Katie Yeung, founder and designer of Hera Couture and Daisy by Katie Yeung. Image supplied.

The modern bride is eschewing tradition for self-expression, with more brides choosing unique looks for their wedding day that reflect their personality, and at a price they can afford. It’s something that local bridal label Daisy by Katie Yeung understands well, with the brand launched in 2016 by Hera Couture founder and designer, Katie Yeung, to cater to that growing market.

Daisy offers contemporary bridal outfits in a diverse size range from 2 – 36, with elegant gowns alongside tops, skirts, suits, wraps and jackets, which are available in mix and match styles. The brand’s beautiful collections reflect a joyful, relaxed feel while being utterly romantic, and perfect for today’s informal approach to weddings.

For Katie Yeung, designing for those special days is a dream come true. As a young girl, she grew up surrounded by colourful fabrics and sewing machines, as her mother was a designer who created stylish bespoke outfits for her clients. Katie first started sewing at the age of eight, with her mother patiently teaching her how to measure, construct and fit clothing. The young Katie quickly fell in love with the process of creating clothing and worked under her mother’s tutelage, learning skills such as corsetry and fabric draping that are essential to Katie’s work as a bridal designer today.

Her journey into the fashion industry saw Katie work with her family for many years, she later attended university studying property and marketing, but fashion was where her heart was.

“I started creating my own label on the weekends while I was at Auckland University,” says Katie Yeung. “I was selling at the markets and I created ballgowns, eveningwear, anything that people wanted, I could make it. I was actually behind the sewing machine all the time and I loved it.”

Those customers that Katie created gorgeous dresses for were how she first started making wedding gowns, as they would come back to Katie when they got engaged asking for bridal wear. The young designer saved money from her commissions to buy beautiful bridal fabrics which are particularly expensive because of their luxurious nature.

She opened her first store in Grey Lynn, before moving to a more prominent space on the corner of Pitt Street and Karangahape Road, naming her business Kei Kei Studio. Alongside making custom bridal gowns Katie had a huge collection of bridesmaids dresses on offer with an astonishing five hundred different colours available that would be custom dyed.

Hera Couture interview with Katie Yeung

Bridal wear from Daisy by Katie Yeung’s new Curated collection for 2022.

Katie’s success in the bridal market saw her take the leap in 2010 to launch Hera Couture, an elegant bridal label offering timeless wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses, mother of the bride outfits and flower girl dresses, as well as matching accessories. Hera Couture has since enjoyed over a decade of success, showing at a number of fashion weeks and bridal events including New Zealand Fashion Week, and most recently at the prestigious Melange De Blanc in New York.

Younger sister label Daisy was introduced as a more relaxed brand offering, and Katie’s charming collections of mix and match styles give brides the chance to create their own unique look for their wedding ceremony and reception. Aside from offering different choices, price was also a factor for Katie to launch Daisy.

“I had a few clients telling me that they loved my dresses but they didn’t think they could afford them because they looked expensive on our website. I realised the imagery probably gives the impression that people need to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for a Hera Couture gown. So, I decided that we needed to launch something that’s a bit more relaxed for the more modern bride and maybe a bit lower in price point by $1000 – $2000. It’s interesting though, ever since Daisy was launched I found that people don’t choose Daisy because of the price point, it’s because they like that style of design – it’s relaxed, has stretch and they can party in the dress or get married in the backyard.”

Another key reason why many brides opt for Daisy is the inclusive sizing as it has always been important to Katie to make every woman feel like the best version of herself, no matter what her size. The designer first learnt about creating clothing for many different sizes from her mother, whose own business specialised in plus size clothing. As she honed her design skills, Katie developed patterns for many different body shapes and innately understands that there is much more to grading a pattern for a curvy body than just adding a few centimetres. Her gowns fit like a glove because Katie pays attention to every detail and knows exactly how to create a garment that flatters the body and makes the wearer feel fantastic.

There currently isn’t a lot of choice in the wedding market for brides above a size 16, and Katie wants Daisy to be a great choice for brides who can come in and try on different options in their size, without having to look at a smaller sample gown and try and imagine what it would look like on their own body. The brand only selects stockists in New Zealand, Australia and internationally that have the same values as them and offer their full range of sizes. Katie’s business also absorbs the varied costs of offering a wide range of sizes as she wants all brides to get the same price for the same outfit. That fair approach is something that Katie extends to every aspect of her business including her design process.

“When I started the business I wasn’t thinking about money, I just wanted to design the best dress for the most important day for a bride. I put a lot of effort into looking at the quality of the fabric, how the grainline and stretch and composition of each behaves. I pay a lot of attention to the sewing and construction of the seamline because I know that brides get stressed out before the wedding they can either gain weight or lose weight, so I want to make sure that the outside and the inside has enough seam allowance to be easy to unpick and alter. For anyone that buys one of our gowns in New Zealand or internationally, a seamstress will be able to alter it easily without having to add a lot of extra cost. Because when a bride has already paid $3000 – $4000 for a dress, and some of them have had to save for a year or two for it, having to pay another $1000 for alterations can blow their budget.”

Hera Couture interview with Katie Yeung

Bridal wear from Daisy by Katie Yeung’s new Curated collection for 2022.

While she now has a highly trained team of showroom stylists to help brides choose their wedding outfits, Katie loves spending time face to face with her customers. It also helps her learn useful information during consultations so that she can perfect her designs and offer the best possible experience for her brides. She understands how small changes can make a significant difference and what drives her is the passion for getting things right, so each bride gets their perfect dress to make memories to cherish in, while feeling comfortable and confident.

The process begins when brides set foot in the showroom door and Katie and her team help each one figure out whether they’re more aligned with Hera Couture’s timeless style or Daisy’s contemporary take on wedding fashion. Katie has found that often Daisy brides will be having a relaxed wedding or elopement with just 10 – 20% getting married traditionally in a church.

While quite often brides will come in and say they that they’re not a dress person and want something they will feel like themselves in, when the brides try on a gown and veil or full skirt and top, they love the elevated look and often don’t want to take the exquisite garments off quickly. Those who opt for suiting also love Katie’s chic take on the pantsuit which is proving increasingly popular.

Most brides will have done their research before they arrive at the showroom with Pinterest and wedding magazines their starting point for inspiration.

“A Daisy bride will come in and have Pinterest on their phone and say, ‘this is what I like’ and so usually we have those silhouettes covered and they will try on those shapes. But 30 – 40% of the time they will change their mind because what they see on Pinterest is not necessarily what they’ll like on their own body. Often we’ll throw in a wildcard dress we think will suit them and it will more often than not end up being their ultimate dress to wear. Then you have those brides who will go to maybe seven bridal stores trying on millions of dresses. I always like to take those brides last as they know the silhouette and style that they want. We’ll guide them through the consultation and you will know when they know they’ve found the dress for them, you can see it on their faces.”

Getting to be part of those joyful and often emotional moments is one of the things Katie loves best about her business. She also enjoys seeing how bridal looks evolve and much like fashion, the bridal business is very trend driven with celebrities also having a considerable influence. When Kate Middleton got married in her lace Alexander McQueen wedding gown in 2011, the entire industry started producing lace dresses. As soon as Meghan Markle wore a plain Givenchy gown for her 2018 wedding the trend moved towards plain over lace.

Another trend has been the evolution of the wedding wardrobe with more brides leaning towards having a second outfit for the reception or having a range of pieces like a jacket, skirt or different tops to change up their look during the day. When Daisy first launched, Katie offered this style of mix and match clothing which was ahead of the trend, in the last couple of years it has really taken off and the brand offers over twenty different mix and match pieces. Daisy also offers a range of gorgeous detachable sleeves called the ‘Floating on Cloud Nine’ range which gives brides further versatility with their wedding day looks.

Campaign film for Daisy by Katie Yeung’s new Curated collection for 2022. 

“That flexibility of the mix and match really gives brides the options to make their wedding outfit their own. And they don’t need to come in with a big budget they can come in with a small budget and create their own look, which is great. I love to see what they come up with.”

Katie’s business recently conducted research with their customers and found that 35% of brides plan a second outfit for their wedding reception. With 90% saying that gowns that reflect their personal style and individuality is the most important attribute of their wedding gown.

That research also shared some interesting insights into how the pandemic has changed weddings, which is something that Katie and her team have also become acutely aware of through their consultations with brides. While love is definitely not cancelled, with 96% of weddings still going ahead in some form for New Zealand brides during the pandemic, one in three brides have had to change their plans, and of those, 62% have pushed their weddings out by up to 12 months, with 30% having to defer their nuptials for over one year.

Many weddings have also gotten smaller with 80% of brides reducing the number of guests by up to half and 32% of brides are planning an outdoor event instead of indoors. While weddings may have become more intimate for now, 28% of brides say they will plan a second celebration when restrictions ease.

For Katie, those numbers don’t change how things are done from a design perspective as brides are still after Daisy’s contemporary style of dressing but it does mean more second outfits are being asked for.

“We have some brides who have postponed five times now and some of them have gotten married in lockdown in a forest with Zoom and literally five people, so they had a beautiful intimate wedding and then they have already booked with us for a second wedding in 2022. So, I think in some ways it’s increased our sales because people have waited for so long and those who still have their jobs and their businesses are able to afford a second dress and a second wedding where they can have the family together. For those who the pandemic has affected their budget they might go a bit more DIY or maybe reuse the first dress but it hasn’t affected them going ahead with getting married when they can.”

Katie has also noticed couples getting married more quickly, and while there have always been some brides coming into the showroom that have gotten engaged after a whirlwind romance, the pandemic has seen some people commit more quickly. The pressure of lockdowns and being together 24/7 has meant relationships have been tested, and strengthened bonds has seen more proposals or those who want to cement their relationship after being separated.

Hera Couture interview with Katie Yeung

Bridal wear from Daisy by Katie Yeung’s new Curated collection for 2022.

“The pandemic has been a very good way to test relationships, there are brides coming in and saying they have only been with their man or woman for the last six months to a year. I’m quite a blunt person and I’ve said, ‘are you sure that’s enough to get married and to be tied to this person for the rest of your life?’ (laughs). But some people do and they live happily ever after. During Covid because they cannot get married and they have been living together they have seen all the ups and downs that your partner can go through emotionally, mentally and everything else and I think they come out stronger. You can tell by the phone conversations and the Zoom meetings we’ve done in the last few months of lockdown; you can really tell who has a strong relationship.”

During lockdown herself, Katie was at home conceptualising a new range for Hera Couture. While she loves the timeless styles the brand offers that are popular in classic hues of white and cream, she was craving a change. The result is the brand’s magnificent Avant Garde collection which is full of coloured tulles, gorgeous prints and unexpected details, the silhouettes are more experimental and artistic while being really wearable and enchanting.

“The collection was designed a year ago but it took a while to source the fabric from overseas and to get the beading done but I really wanted to produce something that felt like a fairy tale. Something that I would want to wear myself because when I got married I didn’t have the budget or the time to think much about it but now I can provide those choices for brides. I started imagining what’s pretty and different, and I didn’t want anything that I can already see on Instagram or Pinterest or anywhere in the world. I wanted something that was completely different. I wasn’t really thinking that anyone would buy it, I just wanted to design a collection that I loved myself.”

Launched early last month, at the prestigious Melange De Blanc in New York which is described as ‘a bridal market reimagined’, Avant Garde has been very successful, selling into some leading international bridal stockists. Hera Couture showcased the range alongside other top bridal designers from a range of different countries and the response to the new collection has exceeded Katie’s expectations. She has been complimented on the uniqueness of the range and is thrilled for it to be purchased by a number of international stockists meaning Avant Garde’s romantic designs will be worn by brides around the world.

As she looks towards 2022 and the busy wedding season ahead, Katie Yeung is grateful for her incredible team who help bring her vision to life and offer thoughtful and attentive service to her many brides. An optimistic person by nature, Katie loves being in an industry that is ultimately about happiness, as celebrating love should always be a joyful occasion.

This story was brought to you in partnership with Daisy by Katie Yeung.

Hera Couture interview with Katie Yeung

Bridal wear from Daisy by Katie Yeung’s new Curated collection for 2022.

Images supplied.