Genuine. Driven. Humble. Marked with integrity. When talent is embodied by these traits, success is inevitable. It is when talent is recognized privately but not credited publicly that creative individuals rarely see their destiny. For too long the Design Industry would make limited investment in paving a pathway for designers who serve them well but not well to help propel them into entrepreneurship. For Cynthia Grafton Holt, making a name for herself was a literal approach to re-launching her bespoke bridal brand yet symbolic as it tells the world “I’m ready for you to know who I am“. We sat via zoom and Cynthia took me on her journey from her home to her London atelier. This story is part of a proud series, near and dear to World Bride Magazine, that celebrates and honors creative people of color all across the globe. Here you’ll find Cynthia Grafton Holt’s breakthrough story and her inspiring message for this season.
1. What led you into this business?
“I used to watch my mother’s friend and dressmaker, Betty, craft the most beautiful outfits worn by the stars of the day like Shirley Bassey, Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth, with such creativity and insight so that her clients rocked their creation like a movie star. Whenever they were tired of something, Betty would reimagine it into another new design so that absolutely nothing went to waste – she was the unsung doyen of fashion in our community. From the Saturday night parties to church services on Sunday’s, I was always excited to see what my aunts or sister Pearl would be wearing next, to the point that I fully appreciate now how much this shaped my life at an early age. Life became my catwalk and I lived and breathed it! The first outfit I created for myself was a tailored two-piece khaki trouser suit. I felt so proud wearing an outfit that no-one else had and that stood out from the crowd; that became my ethos – to wow!”
2. When did you know that this was your calling?
“Designing and sewing has always been the one thing that I find engaging and rewarding. It also takes an enormous amount of focus and patience especially during the early days when you are learning as when you have to constantly unpick seams in order to correct them. It is rather as I reflect, how little patience I had in other areas such as drawing and painting but when it came to dressmaking, I understood the relationship between fine fabrics and the artist was not one that could be rushed.”
3. Where did you formally train as a designer or was this a natural gift?
“I trained at the prestigious London College of Fashion. I remember when I applied, I didn’t have a portfolio. You see I hadn’t been groomed as a designer and encouraged to study art and its major influencers so I was unsure that I would even get in. Instead of a typical portfolio, I took along several garments that I had made. Even at that young age I believed in myself and was determined not to be just a dressmaker, but to study the art of couture and develop the skills necessary to be the among the best. I studied day and night in order to acquire the professional qualifications that I now have. I have always been a little geeky about the technical side of things – I just have to know the right way of doing things properly – I’m just not the shortcut type.”
4. Who are some designers that inspired you to get into the fashion industry?
“Funny enough, I didn’t know of one single black designer at the time when I studied as the internet had not yet been invented and the libraries had little or no information about my black counterparts with which to be inspired. I simply loved and admired beautifully tailored clothing from designers like Georgio Armani, Coco Chanel, Azzedine Alaia and Thierry Mugler. It wasn’t until in the late 80’s when designers like Bruce Oldfield – who dressed the late Princess Diana – emerged from a similar humble background, that I really truly believed that anything was possible.”
5. Why did you pick bridal to be the form of your creative expression?
“I think that my foray into bridal was a natural progression. There is so much to learn and understand about the industry and working with women of all shapes and sizes and is not the kind of business you can just wake up and launch without the passion and skills. My background and experience comes from working in the industry with high end designers and the socialites who would commissioned me to create their ballgowns and society dresses two to three times every year. Often they would recommend me to friends who were getting married knowing that I would be the best person to help them achieve their dreams. I learned quite quickly that brides were just like my society clients. They wanted someone capable of understanding their needs, and who was highly skilled and trustworthy to make the most important dress of their lives. I have never looked back. It sings to my heart to help others turn their painful body conscious issues into a timelessly beautifully gown they will remember forever.”
6. What services do you provide that make you unique to other competing venues (competing brands)?
“The name Cynthia Grafton-Holt Couture is synonymous with quality, service and care. With more than 35 years of experience in this field I can recognize a woman’s pain points and instinctively know how to enhance her body. I love working with brides who appreciate the time it has taken me to acquire the knowledge and skills behind my work. They benefit from my passionate input and are able to relax knowing that I will stop at nothing to ensure my clients are happy and satisfied. I recognize that individuality and uniqueness is important to my clients and have tailored a range of services to satisfy both needs and budget.”
7. What is the business philosophy you would like us to share with our subscribers?
“The key philosophy behind the Cynthia Grafton-Holt Couture Bridal Brand is one of honesty, integrity and respect. Seeking out fresh approaches towards creating a positive nurturing environment for our customers, in which we are all benefit as a result of having one another in each other’s lives. The pragmatic application of this is a continuous flow and respect for each other’s time, well-being and use of knowledge and resources that are essential factors to a successful outcome.”
8. Describe your customer and what unique services you provide for them?
“The bride who knows in her heart, the style of dress she wants to wear but is unable to find it. A woman who is loving and true to herself and wants her special day to be a symbolic and filled with fond memories. She knows her flaws and pain points and is open to exploring fresh ideas and approaches to overcome. Unique services [we provide] are individually tailored experiences per client.”
9. What is your take on body diversity and its importance to you?
“Almost every woman I have ever met has something negative to say about her body. It is her truth and lived experience. Our goal is to turn her negatives into positive experiences and outcomes for which the core principle behind bespoke is uniqueness and a perfect fit. For more than 35 years we have been working with our clients designing bridal gowns that embrace and celebrate their differences. Bespoke opens up a world of endless possibilities and choices within which there is most scope for uniqueness and individuality.”
10. Within this health crisis, what adjustments have you made and what impact this has had on your business/clientele?
“Brides are encouraged to shop smarter by using our virtual consultation sessions to filter for suitable services. It means we don’t have to leave the studio as much to meet with clients – thus saving costs but, it also means that clients also are invited into the studio via zoom to see their product as it progresses.”
11. In the future, do you see your business model completely changing as a result of this crisis or are you considering going back to a ‘traditional’ business practice?
“In response to changing and adapting our business model, the ‘KIMOJO’ Luxury Loungewear Collection was launched December 2020. The collection features limited edition handmade pure silk loungewear pieces that can be bought as separates to build a personal collection over time. Just like our gowns, each piece is made-to-order from stocks of silk that are in the workroom. Clients are encouraged to be simple and understated or fun, quirky and bold as the collection expands.”
12. What specific advice can you offer young people of color who are looking to venture into the bridal market?
“If you have a talent or a skill that you love, find a company who will support you with an apprenticeship or internship so that you can learn as much as possible about all areas of the business.”
Cynthia Grafton-Holt’s work transcends bridal. As she puts it, “handcrafting bespoke gowns for high profile clients is an art form. My most favored skill (that my clients benefit from), is my ability to create discreet internal corsetry that is supportive, redefines the waistline, and elongates the body. My most famous clientelle are Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, Rosamund Pike, Linda Evangelista; and of course a few Russian oligarchs whilst working for Ralph and Russo – but I never even got to see those as they have whisked away the moment they are finished”. This is no discouragement to the artisan as she continues to joyfully journey onto the deeper, more exciting venture of bespoke bridal and couture fashion design.
As your destination and resource for luxury lifestyle, our experiences in global travel and authentic interviews with luxury goods companies help you stand out. We are able to present you curated product and services for a bespoke wedding in a class of its own. For your planning season, check out our vetted vendors at WORLDBRIDEMAGAZINE. For more information on Cynthia Grafton Holt, her virtual atelier and design pieces, visit www.cynthiagraftonholt.com and be sure to mention World Bride Magazine.
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