Leeds designer James Steward and his sister Hannah Moody have teamed up to create a new special occasion ready-to-wear collection. Stephanie Smith steps inside their studio.
So, you happen to have a red carpet event coming up, perhaps a premiere or a glittering awards ceremony, but you are stuck for something fabulous to wear? Who you gonna call?
James Steward – that’s your man. For the past 16 years, James has quietly been working away, making a name for himself as a bespoke fashion designer specialising in beautiful gowns for glamorous events. He has created pieces for Kylie Minogue, Victoria Beckham and numerous UK soap stars, both for the red carpet and for the small screen, in particular making dresses for Coronation Street weddings. If you have seen Mr Selfridge and former Coronation Street star Katherine Kelly dressed up for a “do”, she’s often wearing a gown created for her by James. For last month’s British Soap Awards, he made a blue satin gown for eight-year-old Amelia Flanagan, who plays April in Emmerdale.
He has twice been named Yorkshire Brides Couture Designer of the year, because he specialises in making beautiful dresses for women who want something out of the ordinary – a one-off piece that makes them look and feel wonderful.
Originally from Hull, James, 39, trained at the Kent Institute of Art and Design, after which he worked with couture houses in Italy and with Ben de Lisi in London. He launched his first collection at Aqua in Leeds, then began his eponymous label, working from his studio in Farsley, near Leeds.
Now James has teamed up with his sister Hannah Moody on a ready-to-wear collection launching this month, aimed at the special occasion market, for weddings, big nights out and the races.
“We’ve always been so close and did everything together,” Hannah says. “He went off to Italy and I was finishing college, and then we’ve both progressed in our different ways, and come back together, and we’re as close as ever. It’s just lovely to work together.
“James will continue designing and making the bespoke clothing and I will be spending more time managing the business both on and offline, so that he can concentrate on what he does best, which is creating amazing clothes.”
Hannah, 33, is creative too. She trained in footwear design and technology at the London College of Fashion and has worked in Manchester for the past 14 years as a footwear and handbag designer for a company that sold her designs to UK High Street stores. “I travelled the world and worked with factories in countries such as Italy, China, India and Vietnam, which was a great learning experience,” she says.
She lives in Boston Spa with her husband and two young children. “That was another swayer,” she says. “Having that quality of time with the kids and being able to be more flexible.”
James and Hannah have been busy sourcing materials and putting the range together. “We have a lovely factory in Scunthorpe just for the ready-to-wear collection,” Hannah says.
Prices will range from £55 to £220. The target customer is a woman who is “looking for something different that she can’t get on the High Street already, that’s colourful and that’s got a different handwriting, because I think James’s handwriting is quite recognisable”.
They have been working hard with the bespoke side of the business too, making outfits for Aintree and Royal Ascot, as well as Yorkshire races and special events. “We’re doing more and more through social media and have even had a recent order from a customer in America who saw a piece from our summer collection on our Instagram,” says Hannah.
Then there is James’s additional line of work as a designer for the CBeebies channel, creating outfits for a show called Marrying Mum and Dad, a reality series in which children come up with a theme and arrange all aspects of their parent or parents’ wedding – including the dress. In previous episodes, he has created a frilly flamenco dress for a Spanish themed wedding, Lycra bodysuits for a superheroes one, and Alice in Wonderland-inspired apparel.
Looking ahead, there’s a new James Steward menswear range in the pipeline, plus a fashion show to showcase the autumn/winter ’16 collections at some point in September.
James and Hannah, who also have an elder brother called Jonathan, say they never fall out. “I think I’m the one who can be bossy with him,” Hannah says. Working closely together in this way might not suit all siblings, but in this case, it’s a perfect solution personally, business-wise and creatively. Hannah adds: “We both got to an age where we thought, if we don’t try it now, we never will.”
All clothes are available at www.jamessteward.co.uk