Yorkshire special occasion designer Rebecca Rhoades dresses for weddings and the races

Yorkshire special occasion designer Rebecca Rhoades presents her SS23 collection and tells Stephanie Smith how she celebrates women who like to stand out from the crowd.

When she was 16, Rebecca Rhoades realised that she could make a mini dress out of a metre of fabric. “So I used to make all my friends dresses and we would get dressed up every weekend and go out,” she says. “And everything I made got better and better, and fitted better. I always wanted to be different.”

​Now Rebecca Rhoades is a go-to going-out designer label for women, worn by a host of celebrities including TV presenter Charlotte Hawkins, Love Island contestants, and making bridesmaids’ dresses for Katie Piper’s wedding and for Gary Lucy’s wedding. She has become known and sought out for her occasionwear in exclusive prints and block colours, from maxi dresses, midi dresses and skirts to jumpsuits, minis and playsuits. Each piece is made from scratch in the Rebecca Rhoades studio, a 4,000 sq ft unit on the outskirts of Leeds, where she works with her team of eight.

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Rebecca launched her brand formally in 2021, post lockdown, but already had decades of designing and making under her belt. Her mission has always been to celebrate women, providing them with beautiful statement clothes so that they too can celebrate, at weddings, races, balls, garden parties, on holiday and, of course, on great nights out.

Looking for a special occasion dress, for a wedding or the races?Looking for a special occasion dress, for a wedding or the races?
Looking for a special occasion dress, for a wedding or the races?

Everything is made to order with a delivery time of up to 10 days. Rebecca has a loyal fanbase across the UK, with many travelling to Leeds for private fittings. The designs can also be seen and ordered on the website, and on the Wolf and Badger website.

Rebecca grew up in Staffordshire, with her elder sister Elizabeth, and her parents, Margaret and Phil. They were florists with a chain of shops across the Midlands. “They used to make huge floral tributes that were tigers and aeroplanes and my dad would make all the wire frames. It was a very creative family. As a kid all I did was draw and paint,” she says.

Phil sadly died last year, but he passed on his talents and skills to Rebecca. “They used to make the costumes for the nativity in the small village where they lived. I remember them making rabbit costumes and that sort of thing. There was something about it. I loved that you could get a piece of fabric and make something. It was my dad - he was a big guy with big hands, you would never think that he would be able to sew - but he taught me. I will never forget, my dad made this safari suit jacket for himself, which he used to put on all the time. It was out of denim and it was the most amazing thing ever.”

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Aged 17, Rebecca moved to Leeds to study for a BTEC and then a degree in Fashion & Clothing at Leeds College of Art (now Leeds Arts University). As a student she made clothes for shops in Leeds, including Accent and Blue Rinse. “It was very different back then,” she says. “You used to just walk into the shop with an armful of clothes. There was no social media, it was just graft.”

Rebecca Rhoades in her studio.Rebecca Rhoades in her studio.
Rebecca Rhoades in her studio.

She continued making and supplying clothes after graduating, working from a tiny studio in Leeds. At 28, she started working for costume design company Smiffys, based in Gainsborough, although she was based mainly at home. She was with them for about five years, designing fun party outfits from army girls to sexy witch costumes. “It was an incredible opportunity,” she says. “They sent me to China, about eight times, where I would work with the factories and I learned about designing to a certain price point, but still having to keep key elements.”

At 32 she moved to London, and stayed for eight years, freelance designing and pattern cutting, then found a job with corporate wear company Jermyn Street Design, designing uniforms for companies including fast food chains, airlines, tourist attractions and even designer brands. “On the technical side, I learned so much,” she says. “I tackled that job like it was my own. It was fit-for-purpose. You are designing garments that people have to wear day in, day out. It can’t be something uncomfortable. You have to be very mindful. This is something that somebody is going to wash and wear, wash and wear. The fit is so important but I didn’t want to design corporate wear that looks like corporate wear. If you feel good in your outfit then you have a good day at work.”

She returned to making her own clothes in 2016 and moved back to Leeds in 2018 (she now lives in Middleton), at first testing the market with her designs and launching her website in 2019. She started designing her own prints - she creates a mood board and sends it to a freelance CAD designer - after being told that one she had wanted for a small collection had been bought by a large online brand. Now she has around 500 styles, including a casual wear collection, launched in lockdown and still doing well.

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“Lockdown was a very strange time but, for me personally, I could slow down and really look at what I was doing. In my prints now, my name is in them, hidden. Unless you know, you would just think it is part of the print,” she says.

Rebecca Rhoades creates designs that make a statement.Rebecca Rhoades creates designs that make a statement.
Rebecca Rhoades creates designs that make a statement.

Her customers are all ages but the core is 30s to 50s (and Jenny Roberts Millinery hats work well with her designs). “I want to be that place where you know, whatever the occasion, you will get something that will suit,” Rebecca says. “I have always liked to make an impression on people and wanted to make my mark on the world. I enjoy making people feel happy and I think you can do that by putting a dress on somebody and making them feel amazing.”

Future plans include building the wholesale, seeing her designs stocked in more stores and having pop-up shops around race season. Rebecca says: “I am heading towards somewhere I have always dreamed and known I would get to.”