Alternative wedding dresses: York bridal fashion company Rolling in Roses makes cool eco-friendly wedding dresses with sleeves for rock 'n' roll brides
What’s in a name? Rolling in Roses is the name of designer Hayley Claire Neil’s York-based independent bridal brand, chosen to encapsulate what it’s all about.
It comes from an early poem by punk icon Patti Smith: “The morning sun is rising, Venus was never so clear, and you been messing with the goddess of love, come on now over here … there’s brambles in your hair. You been rolling in roses ...”.
This is for the brides-to-be who are free spirits, offbeat, natural norm-escapers, those who walk to the beat of their own drum.
“The kind of brides that we attract are generally people who are more relaxed, more open minded, who have slightly less formal weddings,” says Hayley.
“Comfort is something they really want. Maybe they are having a festival wedding and they want to be able to dance all night. Maybe they have little kids they want to be able to pick up and spin around in the air. We have had brides on motorbikes, all sorts.
“There are all these brides that don’t want to be forced into the same ballgown dresses that are all boned and uncomfortable and restrictive. We have so many different sleeve styles. Everyone seems to be conscious of their arms. We don’t want anyone to feel self-conscious. We want everyone to feel amazing and beautiful and special, without worrying what their arms are going to look like in the photographs.”
Rolling in Roses brides also tend to be eco-conscious, wanting a dress that has not caused damage to the earth. All the fabrics are natural and the vast majority are certified in some way. The organic pure silk is made in Britain by silk worms that eat mulberry leaves grown in Britain. Everything is designed and made in York, in the Micklegate atelier and flagship store.
Hayley trained in costume design at Edinburgh College of Art, then worked for theatrical costume-makers Homburgs in Leeds before becoming a freelance costume designer for theatre, film and TV, working on films including The King’s Speech.
She came up with the idea for creating an alternative to high street bridalwear while on a shopping trip to find a ’60s prom-style wedding dress for her sister, Kate. They had to go to London, and realised there was a gap in the market for brides who wanted to step away from the mainstream fashion aisle.
She opened her first boutique, Glory Days, in York in 2012, offering vintage bridal gowns alongside a bespoke service creating one-off wedding dresses. Noting a growing desire for contemporary, cool and comfortable wedding gowns, she founded her own Rolling In Roses label in 2016. Glory Days rebranded under the Rolling In Roses name, and now the Micklegate York boutique is the RIR flagship.
An expert in all eras of fashion, as well as in fabrics and fit, Hayley sources the materials, sketches the designs, drafts the patterns and makes the sample gowns herself. The team now includes Rebecca (boutique coordinator and stylist), Alice (production coordinator) and Sophie (seamstress).
The gowns are unstructured and cut to flatter the natural figure, lined with a silk/bamboo blend or a vegan alternative made from orange-fibre. Every dress has a wrist loop to carry the train, and ribbon tabs to tie it up for dancing. Hand-finished couture details include tiny rolled hems, hand-stitched edgings and blanket-stitched hook and loop closures. Each design is available in any size required and can be made bespoke. All designs in multiple sizes can be tried on Micklegate, and there are selected dresses stocked in a handful of shops across the UK, and one in America. There is a cloth bag with the words ‘as long as you want’ and T-shirt featuring the words of the Patti Smith poem to buy on the website.
Hayley recommends brides leave at least six months before their wedding for the creation of the dress of their dreams, although she can make a dress quickly, if necessary. “Because we're making them here, we don’t have to rely on shipping dresses from abroad.”
She herself epitomises the RIR woman, and says that, when not working, she can be found walking in the countryside with her husband, Matthew, and their two little boys, or dancing in festival fields, strolling around art galleries or watching bands at “grimy little gig venues”.
On honeymoon in Japan, she fell in love with the peace and tranquillity of the country’s design, and now, 16 years later, this is the inspiration behind her latest Kirei collection.
“The intention to keep things as simple as possible with no unnecessary or frivolous detail, and let the basic form and essence of things speak for themselves,” she says.
She saw a documentary about Japanese Sumi-e painting, which uses black ink and white space. “I was blown away by the skill it takes to make such deceptively simple artworks look effortless when actually they’re the result of years of practice,” she says. “I feel it’s similar to pattern cutting, in that one sweep of the brush can change the whole picture, just as one perfectly positioned drape or fold of fabric can transform a dress.”
Moving away from vintage bridal wear was, she says, a natural progression. “One of the main reasons the vintage was popular was because people were looking for something different to the high street. As soon as I started doping my own designs, which was always what I wanted to do, I expected that to take over, and it did.
“I definitely do think that people are more willing to wear things that are a little bit different to the traditional mainstream wedding dress. We exist to be the opposite of all the high street shops.”
- Rolling in Roses is at 31 Micklegate in York and at rollinginroses.co.uk Instagram: @rolling_in_roses