The first thing I asked local ladies fashion designer Fiona Dashwood when I popped in to see her at her studio in Marlpit Hill was – what is couture? “Couture,” Fiona told me “is an individual design of which there is only one.” This is what you get when you go to Fiona for an outfit – you’ll not have to worry about anyone else turning up with the same one!

There are obvious reasons for visiting a designer such as for a wedding dress or outfit for mother of the bride/groom (Fiona has designed a great many wedding outfits over the years) or any other special occasions and celebrations. One of her clients had a visit to the Queen so needed something extra special.

Fiona trained at St Martin’s (now Central St Martin’s) in fashion and her first job was as a sketcher to the designer for well known fashion label Jaeger. Some readers may also remember her high street shop in Oxted which she ran for 13 years before closing it in 2013.

Fiona has picked up many regular clients after creating that first outfit for a special occasion. So, just what is the process you go through when you see Fiona for a bespoke outfit?

Firstly, size is never discussed – in the world of couture, clothes are not designed to a particular “off the peg” size but specifically to fit the client and it’s only those measurements Fiona is interested in.

Fiona also needs to understand what occasion the outfit is for and how much freedom of movement her clients need. e.g. will they be dancing? All this information will help determine how the garment will be created to ensure flexibility and strength is incorporated for ease of movement.

While you sit in the studio, Fiona will be busy sketching during the discussion and also looking at the best features the garment can draw upon to really compliment her client.
Of course her client will often have her own ideas as to what features she would like the outfit to emphasise.

The second stage of the process is for the design to go to Fiona’s Pattern cutter who cuts all the intricate pieces in calico. This is made into a toile, which is a complete mock-up of the finished garment and is used to ensure that the measurements, shape and fit are correct. At this stage any adjustments can easily be made to the design before cutting in to the final fabric.

So, how to choose the fabrics for your outfit? Fiona has a large selection of swatches in a multitude of colours and styles in her studio to choose from. She also takes some of her clients on a
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shopping trip to London to a huge fabric emporium which is also frequented by many top fashion designers to make choices there (and it’s rather fun too).

Fiona likes to make sure there is plenty of time allowed for creating the outfits and completion usually takes place just a couple of weeks before the event date in order to allow for any variations in size by the client.

As much as possible, Fiona will source her materials from British suppliers, and locally where possible. Each outfit is made using quality materials and created to last. This is just one of the differences you find when paying for handmade garments. Of course it will be more expensive but it will last you many more years.

Rather than designing clothes in line with the latest fashions, her clothes are designed with style in mind so they won’t go out of fashion.

So, if you have a special occasion coming up or need a new wardrobe for work, make Fiona Dashwood your first stop. If you can’t make it over to her studio for your consultation she’s quite happy to visit you at your home.

Call Fiona on 07887 617 449 or visit