October 25 2010
Lucia van der Post
Few of us get to know first-hand the joys of couture. Prices of couture have risen stratospherically, while at the same time ready-to-wear designer clothing has become ever more desirable, so the elite band of couture-buying women has shrunk. Suzie Turner, who has been running her own couture business for some 20 years now, has made it her life’s work to bring proper couture to a more affordable level – down from the zillionaire zone into the realm of the merely well-heeled.
She left school at 15 with no qualifications but her mother had made swags and curtains for a living; so Suzie started to create beautifully-made garments which she sold to the smartest shop in Brighton. Gradually she learned more and more. How to cut (she went every week for years to a master cutter), how to embroider and do beading, how to do pleats and bindings and corsetry and tailoring; and all the while she kept making and her customer base kept growing.
Now she has customers from all over the world. Her main workshops are still in Brighton, everything she does is made on the premises, but she also has consulting rooms in London and Los Angeles, while the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills has made her its couturier in residence. There she is beginning to make clothes for the showbiz set: one über-famous superstar has just ordered her first show-stopping number, while some of her dresses have strutted down the red carpet in Cannes and at the Oscars.
But for somebody with such a whizzy clientele, her prices, given that everything is made to measure and to special order, are extraordinarily reasonable. A wonderful long grey woollen coat (second picture), finely panelled at the back so that it fits beautifully, sleeves adorned with five buttons, each hand-covered in the same wool cloth, a huge grey wool hand-crafted “rose” on the lapel, is about £2,500. A classic navy-blue wool crepe dress given a bit of fizz by a floating pleated panel that is thrown over one shoulder (fourth picture) sells for £1,800.
Also shown: first picture, silk Duchess coat dress with Swarovski pearls, from £4,500. Third picture, cashmere fantail suit with contrasting silk lining, from £4,200.
Most of the designs made for the supermodel set are a bit glitzy for my taste (she’s just done an amazing wedding gown made largely of white feathers), but it’s the more day-to-day numbers – such as the grey coat, the navy-blue wool crepe dress and a very elegant green wool suit with a sexily cut jacket and a mid-calf button-through skirt – where her class really shows. It’s by looking closely that you get to see the beautifully worked buttonholes, the antique or hand-covered buttons, the linings, the exquisite way lace is stitched so that no seams ever show, the way every seam is bound by hand. Every client always gets to see Suzie herself and she does all the cutting herself, though her workers do the stitching, pleating, sewing, embroidery and beading.
Though couture is her great expertise, there is now a small capsule collection of prepared designs. I like best her exquisitely made silk satin blouse, with its six lovely silk-covered buttons on the sleeves, little antique pearl buttons on the front placket and a nice soft floaty shape. These sell in a variety of colours for £500 each and can all be bought from her website.