Designer Julia Barnes from Elizabeth May. Image by Stories by Bianca.
Designer Julia Barnes launched her beautiful bridal label Elizabeth May in early 2017 after a long career in the fashion industry. Her bridal label reflects Julia’s passionate approach to design and sees her create gorgeous custom designs for each bride in her Hibiscus Coast workroom. Elizabeth May has a unique take on bridal wear that includes jumpsuits and two piece outfits along with covetable gowns. The brand debuted on the runway at last year’s New Zealand Fashion Week as part of the always brilliant New Zealand Weddings Magazine show and made a colourful impression on the runway.
We caught up with Julia to find out more about her brand, what inspires her and what you would never catch her wearing.
Tell us about your latest collection?
A Beautiful Chaos, my latest bridal collection for Elizabeth May, embodies the truth and inner power of my passion for pushing the limits within bridal wear. Brave pops of colour, bold and textured laces and detailing have been inspired by my recent travels through India and Nepal, bringing depth and meaning to each collection piece.
The beauty and the chaos of India and Nepal, the landscapes and culture of the country, and the hardworking labour of the people have inspired the layers of different fabrics, tones and textures, the handsewn detailing of bodices and the mindful practice of creating from the heart.
Stepping outside of traditional gowns, A Beautiful Chaos includes a lace jumpsuit, bodices paired with a skirt or trouser separates, hand crafted ethnic jewellery and leather detailing, and plenty of colour – both subtle and bold. The textures of sequins and lace, tulles and satins, tailored trousers, full skirts and large trains create a visual and sensory feast.
What made you become a designer?
Becoming a designer has been a very personal journey. 16 years in the fashion industry as a pattern maker, working with different designers, as well as teaching and sharing my skills in pattern making have created an amazing amount of knowledge and experience that I can now draw on to be able to design from a place of authenticity and understanding.
I moved into bridal four years ago and found that everything about it brought out the best in me as an actual designer – I love designing and creating a one-off bridal look that is an embodiment of both each custom bride’s personality as well as my design aesthetic, the technical and creative side of patternmaking and garment construction, the one on one relationship built with each bride when creating a gown for a very special day, the freedom to go extra with fabrics, embellishments and silhouettes.
What inspires you?
Fabrics and laces are a huge inspiration and are usually where I start for designing my collection pieces as this is where I can truly express my creativity and design aesthetic.
For my custom brides, clients will usually bring their ideas and inspiration to their initial design consultation and then I will always add my spin and interpretation to create a gown that includes their personality and style but also is an expression of my taste and creative values. It’s always a work in progress that evolves throughout the journey until the final handover.
Bridal looks from Elizabeth May’s A Beautiful Chaos collection. Images by Two Little Starfish.
Describe your personal style and how it influences your designs?
I have worked in the NZ and London fashion industry for many years yet have never really been a part of that world. I have never followed fashion or worn designer clothes. I have always worn what I love – bright colours, bold prints, dresses and jumpsuits are my fave, but alot of the time you will find me in my yoga gear.
Bridal isn’t part of everyday fashion and therefore gives me much more freedom to design and create a one-off piece that is a stand out look for a bride to wear. Now that I think about it, my favourite bridal looks currently are dresses and jumpsuits created using bold and quirky laces and adding a little (or a lot) of colour whenever I can, that are beautifully fitted and the bride feels amazing wearing… yup that about sums up my personal style!
What is your all-time favourite purchase?
At the moment it would have to be my jumpsuit from Dangerfield – I love everything about it – the flattering styling and cut, the colours of the bold print. It makes me smile every time I wear it.
What wardrobe item should everyone invest in?
Most definitely an item of clothing that makes them feel the best version of themselves, is a true expression of their personality and makes them feel happy and confident.
Do you have a style rule you always obey?
Honestly, at this stage in my life, I am trying hard to break rules, to challenge societal norms and expectations of bridal wear, to design and create from a place of authenticity and creative passion where I really don’t give a fuck about comparing my work to others and am able to live a truly creative life that is fulfilling and expressive.
Bridal look from Elizabeth May’s A Beautiful Chaos collection. Image by Two Little Starfish.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I feel like I should say that showing at the New Zealand Fashion Week Wedding show should be my highlight… but the highlight for me is the recent mind shift to design and create purely for the love of it. After reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert I realised that I didn’t want to spend a couple of months each year designing and creating a collection, but to be continually creating, evolving, learning, failing, succeeding, collaborating with other likeminded creatives to produce inspiring looks and ideas that create a story to attract the kind of brides who I want to create for. I’ve got some amazing concept ideas planned for collaborations in 2019 with some of my favourite wedding industry people which I am super excited about.
What can’t you live without?
My family – my husband Saul whose unwavering love and support has encouraged me to believe in myself and really start to spread my wings and soar. My two kids Noah and Ayla who spend a lot of time pulling fabric scraps out of the rubbish bag and creating their own designs – it is inspiring to see them inspired, creative and expressing themselves. And also my best friends Rhiannon and Sarah, who have always got a wine in their fridge for the days when… actually, just wine in their fridge!
Finish this sentence – You would never catch me wearing…
Anything that doesn’t make me feel good about myself!