Handcrafted bridal gowns with a vintage glam style is what characterizes Cathleen Jia gowns. Designed and made in Melbourne, each gown reflects a love of the elegant screen goddesses of the1920’s to the 1950’s, and feature beading and intricate layers of lace to enhance the female figure. With accessories and veils to match your dress, her studio really is a one stop shop for the bride. Cathleen’s excitement and passion for her chosen career is infectious. Here’s her story…..

How long have you been in the bridal business?

I have been in the bridal industry on and off for about 7 years now. I started off managing and re-branding a small business in Brunswick 7 years ago. The exposure to happy brides and the intimacy and personal approach to design and business has made me fall in love with the field.

What inspired you to set up your bridal business?

To be honest, when I graduated from RMIT I didn’t think I would have my own label. I was more interested in fashion business side of things and wanted to be a buyer.

But with a rare opportunity, I was introduced to the industry and managed a small bridal business. Before working for this bridal boutique I was always working for a large cooperation, whether it is in management, retail or visual merchandising. Unfortunately the owner of the bridal business did not want to pursue the store. I guess in a way it was meant to be, as the introduction have made me fall in love with a more intimate side of small business and bridal. I then got offered a job to be the first bridal store manager for a then small bridal designer. About 4 months into the job, I realized I can actually do this for myself and started my own brand. I did not jump straight into bridal though, I think coming from my background, I was very careful in testing the waters and figuring out what I am capable of. The first 3 collections of Cathleen Jia was cocktail/ evening wear. By the time I launched my 3rd cocktail collection in September 2012, I was already working on rebranding my label into a bridal brand. I knew that is where my heart lay. So in March 2013, Cathleen Jia bridal was born.

What is the best piece of advice (business or otherwise) you’ve ever received?

I was fortunate enough to meet one of Australia’s most celebrated designers at an event. She has always been my idol. We spoke for about 10mins and all her advice has stuck with me. To this day I still remember her telling me “Keep it small, don’t try to take over the world in a day. Wear your label; you are the face of your brand. This is how you connect with people these days.”

How does the design of a gown start? What is the inspiration behind a gown collection?

We normally have a particular month planned to launch a new collection. The designing process starts with fabrics, a silhouette we love, a theme or a combination of them all. For example, the last collection we launched “Roman Holiday” was inspired by the impeccable styles of Audrey Hepburn and classic necklines. The shape of a gown is very important to us. To create our signature vintage shape with soft structuring, it takes most of our time in the designing and sampling process. Even the simplest bias cut gown requires hours patterning to make it drape correctly on the female form.

Is it exciting/fulfilling to design a bespoke gown for a bride, helping to bring out her personality and enhancing her looks?

Absolutely! We love designing bespoke gowns with brides. It is such an intimate process and lots of fun! We really get to know our brides well and I love hearing everyone’s wedding planning stories, styling ideas. It is an honor the bride has chosen to wear a Cathleen Jia gown on her special day.

How often do you design a new collection?

Once a year for our ready to wear and custom made collections.

Do you feel more brides are wanting a gown that is custom made, or are as many brides happy with an off the rack gown?

For me, it is more custom made and bespoke. I think it really depends on the brand or boutique. For our brand, it is very personal and intimate, so the brides feel comfortable talking about her ideas and trust our opinions to help her make her vision come alive. Plus we make everything in house and I see most of the brides, so they do feel more at ease having spoken with the designer.

What should a bride wear, and bring with her when wedding gown shopping?

Have some nude seamless undergarments. And just an open mind to try! On many occasions, the perfect dress was tried on as a “just give it a go”.

Is there a style of gown that is gaining in popularity?

Definitely vintage inspired gowns! While the traditional silhouettes are still popular, a softer approach to wedding gown construction is definitely becoming very popular! I believe to create the vintage look, it really needs to reflect the silhouette also, not just a little detail. And to make the style our own, and modernize it to suit today’s brides.

Do you have a favourite fabric and lace, that is a signature of your designs, or do you love to see new materials coming through to add inspiration and excitement to your designs?

I do love seeing new materials. A lot of my design process is exploring different materials. But currently I am loving chunky beaded lace. I think there is something so beautiful about the juxtaposition between delicate laces adorned with heavy beads.

If you could design a gown for anyone, who would it be? And what would it look like?

Grace Kelly. A classic boat neck gown with a lace cape in soft shades, perhaps blush, pastel blue or rose gold.

You offer accessories such as veils and beaded hair pieces. Was this a natural extension of your wedding gown design – to complement your gowns?

Yes, we love styling our brides from head to toe! Just like our gowns they are unique vintage inspired for the modern day bride.

Where can we find your design studio? 

We have some exciting news to share, you are the first one to know! We are moving to a bigger and better location mid August. This our first flagship store, where as previously we have been working from a first floor studio.

The new location will be on 27 Horne Street Elsternwick, VIC. And yes it is by appointment only to try on Monday to Saturday. With Fridays and Saturdays open to the public for unassisted browsing. Contact us at [email protected] for an appointment.

We would love to show you our new space once we finish renovating.

What do you like to do when you have time off from your business?

Spend time with my partner and my friends. I love exploring the amazing cafes in Melbourne.

Thank you Cathleen for sharing your story with us. To find out more about Cathleen Jia visit the website.

Photographer: Leslie Truong of TRUphotography
Make up: babydolls make up
Hair: Tan Tran (Cathleen’s partner)
Flowers: lulu bird
Set styling: Ruffles and Bells