Take one denim smock dress and it will take you pretty much everywhere you might wish to go. Louise Stocks-Young should know - she has worn one almost every day of her adult life.
Denim is a passion, she says, adding: “Real denim, not the stretchy type that dominates so much of the women’s market, but proper quality denim.”
She founded her company The Smockworks in 2019, designing her own dresses which are hand-made in Yorkshire by a small team of experts, using a technique and style that harks back to the Middle Ages, when farmers and other manual workers needed the freedom of movement that smocking gave, before the invention of elastics.
There are seven styles, mostly made in Japanese denim but also in a denim especially woven by the London Cloth Company, one of only two companies making denim in the UK. So versatile are the dresses proving that Louise’s atelier has branched out into bridalwear, offering all the designs in an ecru shade
Originally from Boston Spa, Louise took a degree in Photography, Journalism and Media at London College of Printing. She was part of the founding team of the Fashion & Textile Museum, which opened in 2003, working alongside Zandra Rhodes. For its first exhibition, called My Favourite Dress, international fashion designers each created one dress. Louise’s favourite was by Issey Miyake.
She worked extensively in fashion PR in London before moving back to Yorkshire with her husband, Jason Stocks-Young, a leather craft worker and teacher who has appeared in the BBC TV series Made In Great Britain and Saved and Remade. They live in Holmfirth and both have studios at Woodend Mill at Mossley in Saddleworth, where Louise has her Smockworks atelier and Jason runs his Diamond Awl leather working courses and his JS-Y Leatherworks brand, using traditional crafting skills to make leather accessories.
Louise is also a senior lecturer teaching the Fashion, Management and Communication degree course at Sheffield Hallam University. “The contact with the students keeps you very current, in terms of your own knowledge, because you learn a lot and it keeps you in this dynamic area with current issues,” she says.
During lockdown, she developed three new styles - Enid, Eve and Carter - retaining the volume silhouettes and signature elements of smocking and pleating, but simpler in design. “They are really beautiful to wear, functional with the pockets, to dress down or elevate throughout the seasons,” she says.
The official fashion shoot of her collection took place in her studio, and art director Caroline Baxter, whom she met in the fashion cupboard while they were both on work experience at Elle Magazine, came up to assist.
Clients can visit Louise at the studio for a fitting. She says: “What they all have in common is that they are looking for something that is really versatile, and they like denim as a fabric, and the fact that it can be elevated.”
Bride Kate Parker recently wore the Honeycomb dress in ecru for her barn wedding in Wales. Louise says: “It was lovely to see somebody wearing it as bridalwear. The market is changing. It's a lot freer now, in terms of weddings. People want something that is more individual and reflective of themselves. When you get married, it’s lovely to be able to retain your own style, but elevate it. Also, they can wear it again and again, and that’s a big thing now.”
In the pipeline is a collection of separates in indigo denim. “Most people like denim in some shape or form so there is an automatic connection,” Louise says. “We all want to be comfortable and confident in what we are wearing and the dresses lend themselves to a free silhouette. They are very flattering, and that is very attractive to a lot of women of all ages.”
*The Smockworks dress prices range from £395 to £650, denim scarfs - £130, Smockworks Japanese Indigo Cap - £105. Visit www.thesmockworks.co.uk and by appointment: email [email protected] Instagram: @thesmockworks
Louise wearing the Honeycomb dress - One dress, three ways
Honeycomb takes 10 hours to make, with honeycomb smocking over the shoulders. The fabric is a dark rope-dyed indigo woven by The London Cloth Company, with contrast print fabric detail and sleeve godets for extra fullness. All the dresses are available in two lengths - 110cm and 120cm. All can be made to order in a 9oz ecru denim, too.
Honeycomb ‘clean’ with clogs. Louise says: “I love Honeycomb worn simply, which would be perfect for going out for dinner. Honeycomb has a real specialness about her with the intricate smocking and I feel she can really hold her own as a day or evening dress. I’ve chosen the clogs here as I love the tradition and function associated with them and they are super comfy to wear with the low heel.”
Honeycomb worn as a coat. Louise says: “The versatility of Honeycomb makes her one of those pieces you know you’ll get multiple wears out of. Here I’ve layered her over some of my favourite Evisu denim culottes and indigo patchwork blouse bought in Tokyo. Honeycomb has a lovely fullness and sleeve godets so she fits really easily over a layered outfit. I also love the flat shoes, again bought in Tokyo and the cap is made from natural Japanese indigo which I bought in Kyoto from a master indigo dyer.”
Honeycomb layered under a jacket, Louise says: “I love the opportunity to layer up indigo shades and here is a functional everyday look, which I’d wear in the studio, with my faithful Redwing Clara boots. I’ve layered Honeycomb under a simple “over jacket” we are sampling, made from a lightweight Japanese selvedge chambray. The square shape fits nicely over all the dresses and the length ensures you get a nice layering effect. It’s finished with a dark taupe topstitch and features deep pockets, which is a must for all our dresses.”
The Smockworks is at www.smockworks.co.uk. Smockworks dress prices range from £395 to £650. Visit www.thesmockworks.co.uk or email [email protected] Instagram: @thesmockworks
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