In the first of a new series about creative businesses, Notting Hill-based womenswear designer Lisa Redman talks about her journey from art school to bespoke high-end design.
Lisa Redman is a fabrics-wrangling force of nature, with glowing testimonials from the likes of Sunday Times Style, the Telegraph and Tatler. Conjuring luxurious pieces out of her West London studio, her work ranges from exquisite silks to elegant cashmeres, fairy-tale bridal gowns to classic ready-to-wears.
After leaving Brighton Art College, she studied textiles at Chelsea College of Art and Design, and on graduating worked for British designer Betty Jackson CBE and Calvin Klein. She was right hand to fashion designer Elspeth Gibson for around five years before founding her own, eponymous fashion label in 2007.
Redman works closely with her clients, ensuring they’re part of the process each step of the way. Everything is done in house, including embellishments – all by hand. Now a tight team of three, including a seamstress and a beader, the business has grown thanks to its fantastic reputation and good old word of mouth.
I was once told I was too consumed with detail, and not at all commercial. It was about six months before Elspeth Gibson shut up shop, and I’d been headhunted by another company. ‘We just don’t think you’re going to enjoy the role,’ they said. But they also asked if I’d thought about starting on my own. I hadn’t thought about it at all. But when Elspeth’s leaving coincided with my mum dying, I thought, ‘Actually, maybe it’s now or never.’ My dad, who ran his own business, helped with the original set-up, albeit not financially, and that’s how my business grew, little by little.
The first piece I made under my own name was a massive ballgown. It was about 30 metres of silk chiffon – a strapless, ruched, gathered evening dress in a blush, nudey pink.
As a creative person, it’s exciting learning to run your own business. To begin with, you’re like, ‘Ooh, I can do this on my own!’ And then maybe a couple of years in, when you’ve got to get to grips with the VAT return, you’re like, ‘Christ!’ I’m not good at numbers, I don’t like it at all. But I had to get a grip on it.
Cash flow is a constant juggling act. It’s the biggest challenge from the business side of things. Because we tend to be driven by one-off orders, we have peaks and troughs.
My customers tell me everything! It’s an intimate relationship. I like meeting new clients and chatting to them about who they are, what they’re doing and how they’re going to wear the outfit. It’ll usually be for an occasion – they’re the mother of the bride or the groom, or they’re going to Ascot, or they want a bridal dress. It’s something they’ve saved for. And then afterwards they send you photos, which is fab! They keep me involved, and I love that.
Sustainability and Britishness are definite trends. We work with Italian silks, but a lot of our silks are woven up in a mill in Suffolk, and people really like the fact it’s British.
My pieces are investments, and they last for a long time. Now, with the increased focus on sustainability, clients are coming back asking for dresses to be altered so they can extend their wear.
From order to delivery, the timescale is usually a few months. But I have had some super-tight deadlines. Sometimes our regular client base will push us to the limit and ask for occasion-wear in three or four weeks. I always say yes!
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We just love making an #eveningdress to any specification here ? This woven jacquard column dress in pastels is a particular fave of ours especially as the bodice is scattered with #Swarovski crystals! . . ? by @serenabolton . #lisaredmanbespoke #bespokewomenswear #eveningwear #love #lisaredmandaily
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My favourite dress is always the one I’m working on. And I like that, because it means I’m getting in the zone.
My dream client is Helen Mirren – I’d love to dress her. We dress many incredible businesswomen who are so extraordinary, elegant and inspirational. I love being around all of them, though. They’re really inspiring – an interesting gang.
I want to expand the business. Originally, I just wanted to make really lovely clothes for really lovely women. And now we’ve done that, when people start to know about us, maybe it’ll bring in more clients. There’s definitely a little hole in the market – there are women out there looking for unique, high-quality clothing.
My advice to young designers is to get some industry experience first, perhaps working in a small company, which can give you an overview of the business. I’d then advise them to meet some industry mentors – there are lots, and they’ve been so helpful to me.
Lisa Redman was interviewed by Lysanne Currie, who writes about business and luxury travel for magazines including Robb Report, Luxury Plus, Glass Magazine and Meet The Leader.