As a Star journalist, Debbie Carlisle wrote about Sheffielders making the news. Now she’s a headliner herself - in the bridal industry.
Five years ago, she put down her notebook, turned her back on her career and set out to nurture a creative talent she had discovered when she herself became a bride into a business.
Debbie trawls vintage fairs and charity shops for costume jewellery, then transforms them into heritage gems - stunning headpieces, earrings and bouquets that brides all around the world clamour for.
Q. Have you always been creative?
A. Yes, I’ve always drawn, painted and made or customised things ever since I was a little girl.
Q. When did you discover you had a hidden talent for making jewelled bridal bouquets and hair accessories?
A. When I was getting married. I was looking for an alternative to flowers and I started playing around with old jewellery and crystals. After a few attempts, I made my own jewellery bouquet and headpiece, and posies for my bridesmaids. After my wedding I still had lots of designs for bouquets buzzing around in my head and I just had to make them! I started selling them on Etsy.com and within a month I was working on bespoke commissions for brides all over the world!
Q. How hard was it to make the decision to end a career you loved and turn a hobby into a business?
A. It was a tough decision but I’d discovered a new love and I was desperate to run my business full time. It was quite scary to leave behind a job with a regular wage - but I’d saved up money I’d made from the business and I’d done my sums and was pretty sure I was going to earn enough to pay my half of the mortgage and the bills. It got to the stage where I had so many orders I either had to leave my day job or accept I was never going to have the courage to. So I decided to just go for it. I’ve never regretted my decision once.
Q. Being part of the bridal industry - it sounds like every former bride’s dream. But what’s it really like?
A. I love it! All my clients are excitedly looking forward to one of the best days of their lives, so it’s a really happy industry to work in. You get constant feedback from delighted brides and it’s a huge honour to be chosen to make someone’s bridal accessory - I never take it for granted.
Q. Do you think couples spend too much on their weddings?
A. I think most couples decide on a budget they can afford and stick to that. Of course, some people get themselves into debt but I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. I’ve seen amazing weddings on a budget of a few hundred pounds. As long as they are spending within what they can afford I think any budget is fine. It’s all about prioritising – I suggest picking a few ‘must-have’ splurges and identifying places where you’re happy to work to a smaller budget or even do without. I’ve had brides who’ve spent more on their headpiece than their dress, because that was what was most important or exciting to them.
Q. Do you think the bridal industry whips brides into wedding frenzy and encourages over-spending?
A. I think that’s a thing of the past thanks to the current economy – the industry is very aware that brides are on a tighter budget than ever before. Wedding magazines are full of money-saving tips and DIY tutorials and a lot of designers offer budget options or diffusion lines, for example my headpieces range from £35 to £200 so there should be something for most budgets.
Q. At bridal salons and exhibitions, have you ever found yourself gazing at the frocks and wishing you could try them all on?
A. Yes! Although I haven’t worn a wedding dress since my wedding day, not even when I’ve had them at home on loan ready for a photo-shoot, it feels wrong somehow, now that I am married!
Q. Do some of the dresses outshine the one you wore for your wedding, or will that always be your Number One?
A. I loved my dress and felt so special wearing it – and at the time there was no other dress I wanted to wear. But every season I see at least one dress which I think I might have worn instead if it had been around for my wedding. I think this is a positive thing as it shows bridal fashion is always evolving and improving.
Q. Do you have to deal with bridezillas? If so, how do you handle them?
A. I’m very lucky and don’t seem to attract the kind of bride that turns into a bridezilla! As a former bride I know how difficult it can be juggling all the different aspects of wedding planning so I always try to make the process as stress-free and happy as possible. I treat my brides the way I wanted to be treated when I was getting married - for example I always have my bouquets ready at least a month before the wedding so my brides won’t be worrying about whether it will arrive in time.
Q. You make jewellery from vintage bits and pieces. What’s the most unusual item you have been asked to incorporate into bridal pieces?
A. A framed picture of a dog! It was only small and I nestled it carefully in the bouquet so it didn’t look out of place. People like to include sentimental items that belonged to, or remind them of, loved ones – such as rings, brooches, pearls, buttons or medals. It’s a lovely way to include lost family or friends and to create a family heirloom for the future.
Q. How do you keep ahead of your competitors? Do bridal or general fashion trends influence you?
A. I concentrate on designing from the heart and not from what I think might sell well. I try not to look at what my competitors are doing so I can keep true to myself. I do keep an eye on bridal trends but that’s usually in retrospect, as I tend to be designing headpieces at the same time as dress designers are working on their gowns. You just have to hope the two will fit – somehow I usually get it right! Fashion definitely influences; my headpieces mix vintage style with a more contemporary feel and usually appeal to vintage-loving or fashion-conscious brides.
I’ve just released an earrings collection and a new range of headpieces called Adagio, inspired by the grace and femininity of the ballet.
It includes traditional combs and headbands as well as more unusual circlet pieces and hair jewels, which can be seen at www.dcbouquets.co.uk – and I’m moving to a new city centre studio where clients can come to meet me.