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The Crown and the gown

Portrait of bridalwear designer David Emanuel Fashion designer and broadcaster David Emanuel is a much-loved household name, regarded as the don of bridal fashion since creating that iconic wedding dress for Lady Diana Spencer 40 years ago. CWM's Kelly Andrews caught up with him at the launch of Bromley Brides' new Wonder Room to find out about his plans for celebrating this career milestone.

What advice would you give to a bride-to-be setting foot inside a bridal boutique for the very first time? Try to keep an open mind and be objective. Think about what you've got at home. You might have an evening dress and you love the shape. So, why don't you think about that same shape for your wedding dress? A lot of brides get completely wound up, particularly the ones who've over-shopped. When they tell me they've tried on 200 dresses, there's clearly something wrong there. Equally, they might come in with a set idea – "I want skin tight, I want sexy." It's interesting, as it changes. I'll say to them, "Put it on and look in the mirror. On your wedding day are you going to be comfortable?" Then of course, you've got to take the time of year into account, where it's happening, where the party's going to be and all of that.

What do you need to consider before you start shopping? It's all to do with the personality and character of the bride. If she's a showy girl, that's lovely, put her in a showy frock, but if she's quiet, put her in something more modest. I go back mostly to Say Yes To The Dress, when the first question I ask is: "Do you have a budget?" She might say £3,000 and we can stretch to various styles with that. Then she'll say, "I want more," at which point the mother pipes up saying she'll throw in another thousand. If they'd just said that in the beginning it would have been an easier task. I tell you, that show kept me on my toes!

David Emanuel and Bromely Brides boutique owners Credit: Dave Benett for GettyWhat are the common pitfalls that brides should avoid when dress shopping? Invariably, brides will go on the internet and they'll see these very glamourous models wearing these fabulous dresses, and they'll rip pages out of magazines, but are they being realistic? Look in the mirror and be honest with yourself, try to be objective. I know it's difficult, but look at yourself and think: what do I really want? You'll go through various stages; you're not going to get the first dress. I'll suggest something, and the bride might say she couldn't possibly, but I'll insist she slip into it. Once she realises how great she looks, we go down a different path. So, keep an open mind, and let the girls at the boutique do their job, which is to make you look wonderful. You've got to trust them. Don't forget, they've dressed hundreds of brides.

Based on your experience on Say Yes To The Dress UK, what's your take on the ever expanding bridal entourage? Too much! You might have six people, with six points of view, six different tastes. No, we're concerned with the bride. Sometimes, even the bride's mum can't get it, so you've got to rely on the very good stylists at your boutique, who are there to help you.

What are your tips for creating the ultimate timeless look? You want to keep it relatively simple, but dramatic. You see, an iconic wedding gown has to have something about it – Diana's was a 25ft train. Well, it needed drama, this was St Pauls, it was enormous, you couldn't do a simple, quiet little dress. Or like Meghan's gown – the story on that dress was the embroidered flowers from the Commonwealth. Big veil, but that was her message, and that was a simple dress. It doesn't have to be fantasy; you need simplicity for longevity.

Do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has had an effect on the way brides think? I think, if anything, it's got to completely focus the brides, because they're under pressure. They might have booked, then have to unbook, and they've got to replan. It's changing by the day – at the moment it's 30 guests, but you know what? That's not a bad thing actually. Let's think about it: you don't have to worry about auntie Flossie and uncle Albert who you only see once every two years! All that pressure is gone. You really should want just the people who love you to be there. Then, if you want to have a bigger party next year, or whenever, the heat is taken off. It should be a joyous time, enjoy it.

Tell us about your involvement with Bromley Brides. When I found out (owner) Becky Griggs had been planning to expand and was still going ahead, I thought that was really courageous. I was blown away by the store the first time I came here, it looks great. I like people who take risks, good for her! The Wonder Room is camp and mad, great for a party. Get the dress, then celebrate it! 

It's the 40th anniversary of Princess Diana's iconic wedding dress next year. Do you have any plans to mark the occasion? I never thought I'd be sitting here talking about 40 years! I don't know where the time's gone, it's like a dream. A lot has happened in my life, and this is a very exciting time. We've been bombarded by people wanting to do interviews and documentaries, so we've got to sit down, let the dust settle and go through everything. When I travel the world, designing Diana's wardrobe is my calling card – everyone knows who I am because of it. Everywhere I go, people talk very highly of her, and it's exciting that people still want to do something for her.

What was it like to work with Princess Diana? She was the sweetest girl, as divine as you saw her, no different. It wasn't all done for the TV and press, she really was lovely. One time we were doing a fitting at Buckingham Palace and we didn't have our van with us that day, so she asked us how we were getting back. We were planning to call a black cab, but she insisted on taking us herself. She had this little Ford, so we climbed in - Diana driving, me in the front and Elizabeth in the back. It was hysterical, when we stopped at traffic lights, people were aghast. There she was, giggling, it was so much fun. That's what I remember about her, the fun. I was very fortunate, very honoured and lucky to design several foreign tours for her, and there were a lot of clothes to be done. She'd ring on a Monday and say, "Hi, it's me." She'd go on to say that she'd got something special and had nothing to wear, so I quickly had to think. We'd turn up the next day with sketches and some fabrics, and by Friday it was all wrapped and sent for her to wear that evening. We had to turn it around fast, and do you know, without fail she'd always say, "Thank you so much, I know you worked so hard." It was touching. If you're lucky along this road, you'll meet one or two special people and she was one of them.

You've dressed plenty of famous bodies over the years, who was your most memorable? I was in Paris, as Elizabeth Taylor couldn't come to London for a fitting. She was at the George V Hotel in a huge suite, and I put her in a chocolate brown Chantilly lace cocktail dress. She looked fabulous and I didn't have to put one pin in it. She threw open the double doors, and burst through them crying, "Franco, Franco, what do you think?" There he was, Franco Zeffirelli, the film director! All I could think was: "OK David, keep calm." He loved the dress, but, she said, there was just one little problem. She would be wearing it to the White House and might have to dance with the President, but wasn't sure she could. With that I grabbed her and spun her around the whole suite. "I think I can dance in this dress," she said when we stopped waltzing. Listen, when those eyes fixed on you it was all over. She was special, she was real. It's magic, private moments like that, which make your career, they're precious. As I'm saying it, I could be back there, it seems like yesterday. Yet, I can't believe... 40 years!

Find out more about Bromley Brides and the launch of the new Wonder Room at www.bromley-brides.co.uk