Home-grown designer Lucy Bennett has got her frocks on to the red carpet – but not without a struggle...
WHEN the red carpet at the National Television Awards 2012 beckoned, one of Coronation Street’s new arrivals was determined to dazzle.
Actress Paula Lane, alias reformed Street bad-girl Kylie, wanted a glamorous dress that would ensure she made her mark as TV’s glitterati turn out in force.
But it wasn’t to Dolce & Gabbana, Matthew Williamson or Stella McCartney the screen wife of David Platt and daughter-in-law of Gail went calling on.
She stepped out in an elegant dress hand-made by a girl from Rotherham.
Her sleek black gown, its back falling into a plunging, softly draping swathe, was the creation of Kimberworth 30-year-old Lucy Bennett.
Her Roc and Doll label is gaining recognition. And that dress in particular seems to be creating its own celebrity fan-base.
Paula’s show-stopping look at the awards has led to another Corrie actress, Kim Marsh, asking for exactly the same dress for a ball she needs to attend.
“The cowl-back dress is very simple and elegant and it gave Paul’s tiny figure shape. It has been so popular I’ve added it to my spring-summer collection in black with a swathe of coral and a twist of gold chain,” says Lucy.
“It would look lovely on Kim, but I’m actually trying to persuade her into another style; I’ve emailed her some pictures.
“The thing is, celebrities get the dress for free because they become a walking advert for the designer.
“Shots of Paula in my dress got into OK! and Hello magazines and I got loads of orders on the back of that. In fact, one of the women from the reality show Desperate Scousewives also ordered it. So it would be far better for me if Kim agrees to wear a different one!”
Whether it’s Soap actresses at awards nights or Yorkshire girls wanting an outfit for a sophisticated night out, the women who wear her feminine designs may not know that when Lucy first launched her label, it was from a shed at the bottom of her parents’ garden.
“From garden shed to celebrity red carpet – who’d have thought it,” she giggles.
Her less than salubrious start emphasises how very un-glamorous life as a fashion designer can be. Students hell-bent on becoming the next big name should pay heed – and proceed with the same prudence shown by this determined yet down-to-earth South Yorkshire creative.
Lucy is the first to admit it hasn’t been a glamorous career so far – and that it’s hard work and the ability to keep her feet on the ground which kept her head above water in the early days.
“I was only 23. I didn’t realise how hard it actually was to set up your own label and be successful,” she says, frantically sewing as she speaks to me, to get another order out on time to one of her many stockists.
“I don’t think many people do. My life sounds so brilliant, launching your own label and getting celebrity clients. But it’s a really tough business to be in. The thing that can really trip you up is cash-flow. Lots of big names go to the wall because of it,” she warns.
The former Old Hall Comprehensive pupil sensibly set out to keep her overheads low when she set up in business after graduating in fashion, marketing and manufacture at the University of Huddersfield.
She says: “Not having to pay rent for premises in those first few years was a big help. And my mum and dad were really supportive – although a couple of years ago I knew they were thinking: ‘For God’s sake, Lucy, go and get proper job’. They had seen the difficulties and insecurities of this industry and wanted an easier life for me.”
Lucy, who now works from a studio in Leeds, sells her designs to shops across the country, often making as little as £35 profit per dress.
“I need to sell in volume, but then I have to wait for the shop to pay my invoice and, in the meantime, I have fabric to buy and machinists to pay,” she explains.
“But I slogged away at it, doing virtually everything myself, because I have a passion for designing clothes.”
She took her designs to top trade shows and events – from Alternative Fashion Week in London to the Clothes Show – and cultivated contacts with fashion stylists and boutiques. And as business grew, she needed to find freelance seamstresses.
But disappointed by the lack of skill she was able to find, she realised she needed to manufacture overseas. “It was a difficult decision; I’d have loved to have kept the work in England,” explains Lucy, who won a new design talent competition staged by Meadowhall and one of its former designer boutiques, Fashion Rocks, last year. The prize was the chance to have her clothes on their rails, next to the likes of Vivienne Westwood.
The shop went into administration, but Lucy ploughed her own furrow, finding fresh orders and moving the production of her pieces to the Philippines, her brother-in-law’s home country. “The quality I’m getting is brilliant,” she says.
Until April 30 she’s back on home territory, running a ‘pop-up’ Roc and Doll boutique outside House of Fraser in Meadowhall.
She has over 100 pieces on sale from her latest collection, which includes a collaboration with another home-grown talent, Doncaster artist and illustrator Amber Dickinson.
The pair came up with a witty carousel print which has been worked up into an homage to the fairground theme. Pieces take on all the fun of the fair, says Lucy.
And, while she’s enjoying being back on home turf and nipping up the road to her mum and dad’s for tea after shutting up her pop-up shop of an evening, Lucy has adventurous plans.
She hopes to launch a menswear collection and design her own range of shoes. Then she would like to live and work in Paris... even if it means setting up her sewing machine in someone else’s garden shed.
n Fashion photographs by Steve Gabbett (www.stevegabbett.com)