Vyn Johns: Through The Lens
Photoblogger Ellie Grace checks out Vyn Johns dressmakers, taking you Through The Lens to their fabulous shop and studio.
I first met both Reynaldo (left) and Melvyn (right) at one of my friend's open studios, who is a milliner, and we got chatting over plastic cups of red wine and got on like a little house on fire. After that we kept in touch over the wonder that is social media – Rey always tweets me to remind me it's #weddinghour as I always forget. I really loved the sound of what they did as a business and how they worked together so I was very keen on getting myself into their studio and spending the day with them, getting to know them better and having a snoop around their business.
I knew that it said on the website that it was a cottage but I didn't expect an actual proper cottage! I felt really comfortable in there, genuinely like I was in someone's home. I had a big snoop around the dresses and fell in love with pretty much all of them, unfortunately there wasn't enough time for me to try any of them on, plus they fed me chocolate biscuits so I'm not sure the biscuit belly would have gone down too well. In the cottage they have their samples on the ground floor for customers to have a little browse through and then a seating area for everyone to get comfy and have a nice chat about exactly what they want, over tea and biscuits of course. A small kitchen is at the top where the tea is made and then a small area with a sewing machine that Melvyn uses for the harder fabrics like leather and denim. It's all completely open plan so wherever you are you can interact with whoever is in there.
Upstairs has a very comfortable changing area where the customers go to be measured, fitted and try on samples, even the bathroom upstairs is homely and luxurious! Also upstairs are the guys studios, and his is where the magic happens. A lot of the interior decor comes from the lovely little vintage store on Abbeydale Road, Vintedge.
Rey is originally from Sheffield and is a trained pattern cutter studying in London. He has always specialised in patterns, fittings and design and was head of the design room for a company that supplied Topshop, TK Maxx and many more. When he moved back to Sheffield Melvyn asked for his help with a dress and then it just seemed like the right thing to do to continue as a business. It has now been officially running for three years.
Melvyn has been a costume maker for years and there are lots of signs inside his studio of his costume designs, along with some incredible uniforms. He was a care worker and did costume freelancing part-time, he was then asked to make a few dresses and then his first wedding dress, which is when he enlisted the help of Rey. He also makes the most incredible but simple flag designs for outside their cottage, so each season or holiday you will see a different flag, a small but wonderful detail that not everyone would think about. Creativity is everywhere!
The guys love to put together collections of dresses which are mainly based on an era. They are currently working on a 1920s collection after a lot of demands for a 'Downton Abbey' themed dress. I've never actually seen Downtown Abbey (sorry!) but I'm very familiar with the fashion of that era so I'm excited to see the collection. They base all their samples and collection dresses on vintage vogue wedding dress patterns, altering them as they go. The collection below is their 1960s collection. I've done a close-up of the necklines with the 3rd dress in the background so you can see the similarities in the dresses which make them such a beautiful collection. You'll be seeing a lot more of the dress in the background in a bit so keep your eyes peeled.
I had to do a very sneaky picture of this dress as it is unknown whether the lady who's dress it is would want it to be shown, but I wanted to show a small example of the vintage re-works that they do, so I shall respect her dress privacy and only show you this snippet. The bride-to-be bought this original 1950s dress at a vintage fair and Melvyn has had to do some serious work on it, but it looks truly beautiful already even with the changes he's done so far. Here you can see that he is going to bring the whole of the back of the dress down into a scoop back and remove the zip to replace it with buttons. The lace is so unbelievably delicate its incredible that he's able to do these things, I hope I get to see the finished product!
Another example of how they can re-work and redesign things is with this dress here. The first dress, which you can see pictured in the front, was made using a vintage vogue wedding dress pattern and is already absolutely beautiful. However, when a bride-to-be saw the dress she fell in love with the general shape of it but wondered if they could make some changes? Oh but of course they can! I'll leave it up to you to spot the changes.
As a customer your first step is to book an appointment, or if you walk in they might have a couple of spare hours. You would then all sit down and have a chat, usually lasting about 2 hours. This chat isn't necessarily to get you the dress you want but to get to know each other, get you to relax and know that you can enjoy your experience here. If you do get to discuss the dress then great, Rey will sketch out some ideas for you until you are happy with the design, then they will all talk fabrics and colours which Melvyn will have a lot of input in as some materials may not be suitable for the type of design. So everyone works together to make sure they get the perfect design drawn up. Then it's upstairs to get yourself measured from which Rey will get the design finalised and patterns cut out for a toile to be made up. On average they make about 3-5 toiles for each customer to ensure that the final dress will fit absolutely perfectly. Now if you don't know what a toile is, it's just a simple shape of the dress made out of some cheap and easy material so that they know that the design and fittings are perfect enough to go ahead and make the final dress. All the while, there is continuous communication with both the guys and all their customers so that everyone feels comfortable and trusts the guys with their dresses.
Their first customer of the day was Natalie who came in with her mum. They sat down for about an hour and a half had a big chat about everything and then got onto discussing her dress. She had already spotted a sample dress of what she wanted but they needed to make some minor changes to the design, which is where Rey sketched up a very quick but beautiful design of the final dress she wanted. They both discussed exactly what she wanted, changing small things here and there until all three were happy with it.
I asked Natalie about her experience with her dress hunting and how she came to find Vyn Johns and it sounded like she had had a rough time. Her and her mum had spent months trawling round bridal shops, getting greeted by rude shop assistants, faced with dress after dress after dress and it actually got to the point where Natalie refused to go into an other bridal shop again. With information in their hands her friends trawled the internet and found Vyn Johns, made an appointment and told Natalie to go. When she entered she was timid, nervous and genuinely didn't want to be there but after a two hour relaxed chat over tea and biscuits she felt very at ease and was able to find a design that she loved. When she left, she said she felt like a weight had been lifted and that she walked away knowing that she could trust the guys to give her the best dress she could wish for. This was her second visit so it was all about finalising the design and getting her measured up. She was impressed by the quality and expertise and absolutely loves her relationship with both Rey and Melvyn, even liking the fact that they were both men which is something that could initially put women off. Natalie was a very lovely, bubbly lady and I found it hard to believe that she was so anxious on her first visit. I've seen the design and the dress her design is based on so I can't wait to see how it's all put together. I'm sure it will look stunning.
Their second customer was Anne who had travelled all the way up from London with her friend and it was her first visit, so they all sat down with tea and biscuits and had a really nice long relaxing chat about everything. When they go onto the subject of dresses, Anne had seen one in particular online that she knew was exactly what she wanted and there was only one way to find out, and that was to travel all the way up to Sheffield to try it on. She wasn't much of a shopper at all so kept all her hunting to online and stumbled across one of Vyn Johns' 1960s samples that was used in a styled photo shoot. So there was a lot riding on this one dress to look perfect!
So she tried it on…
It looked AMAZING! She was incredibly happy with it, her friend was happy with it (if a little relieved she had finally got a dress) and even Melvyn and Rey found it difficult to find many alterations as it fitted almost perfectly. It was great to see that to the untrained eye it looked like the perfect fit but to Melvyn and Rey they could see things that they wanted to alter so that it looked the absolute best it could be. they set to work on pinning the dress so that they knew where the alterations would be and then took her measurements. Even though the alterations are so minor they still wanted to get Anne to come back to try on a toile before they made the real thing, just to make sure it really did fit absolutely perfectly.
Anne was relieved that the dress lived up to its expectations and knew it was the right decision to get the dress once it was on. She said she'd had a really enjoyable day and found it reassuring just how professional and friendly the guys were, and knew she could go back to London knowing that she could trust them with her dress. I actually really enjoyed talking to Anne and her friend and it was great to know that everyone was comfortable enough to pile into the dressing room and talk while she was being pinned. I actually can't get over how beautiful she looked in the dress – hopefully I'll get to see her wedding pictures!
I had a wonderful day with Melvyn, Rey and their customers and was thoroughly impressed with the service that they offer. I think with a lot of brides-to-be they seem to have forgotten that getting their wedding dress should be a fun and enjoyable experience. At Vyn Johns it might seem a bit more expensive than your standard wedding dress shop, but you're paying for the experience, service, the dress and of course your happiness The guys have got their customer satisfaction down to a tee, making everyone feel relaxed, comfortable whilst being professional all the while. The quality of what they produce and design is spot on and offering all kinds of alteration services you're not just limited to what they have already there. I would highly recommend Vyn Johns so check out their website for further information about their services.
See www.vynjohns.co.uk for more.
For more from Ellie Grace's Sheffield Through The Lens, head here.