Catherine Walker: 40 years of exquisite design

On the designer atelier's anniversary, its creative director Said Cyrus reflects on its royal clientele and looks ahead to the future


Our atelier is based in the heart of Chelsea where we have a small team of 30 highly-skilled craftspeople including pattern cutters, tailors, embroiderers and seamstresses all dedicated to making exquisite garments for individual clients. Everything is made-to-measure, and made to last.

Since my wife Catherine and I founded the company in 1977, we are proud to have dressed members of the Royal Family. Our work has been inspired by the roots of British Royal dressing over 100 years ago, when ladies had the time to indulge in finery such as delicate lace, embroidery and intricate details, and we try to bring an element of this into the 21st century.

From the early 1980s, we started using Savile Row-trained tailors. I like to combine a strong, almost military shoulder with the softer bust-waist-hip silhouette of the female form. While tailoring fabrics have a structure of their own, dressmaking fabrics are much more pliable – they hang from the shoulder and drape around the body.

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Sometimes we combine tailoring and embroidery, for which we like to use a palette of colors echoing heather moors, misty rain and the English country garden. Our embroidery is applied directly to fabric in our own workrooms in Chelsea once it has been scaled, depending on the measurements of the client.

Pieces can take anything from a few weeks to a few months to make, depending on the complexity. Typically, a client will visit our showroom and select a design, which we then work on using their measurements. To ensure a perfect fit, we first make a trial garment either from cotton or silk depending on the drape; we then transfer this template to paper, and we make another trial garment to fit on a mannequin that's been padded in the shape of the customer. After that we fit the trial garment to the customer, transfer the final shape onto the paper and then cut in the final fabric.

We're in our 40th year of business, and it's fitting that our 40th anniversary coincides with Kensington Palace's major exhibition Diana: Her Fashion Story, where around half the dresses on display are from Catherine Walker & Co. It's an honour for us to be able to look back at the beautiful things we made that were worn by the princess. We never forget it was she who was the star, and not the dresses.

We've also recently collaborated with Italian jewellery house Gismondi 1754 to create a beautiful jewel necklace made from natural rubies – the 40th anniversary stone – and a navette cut diamond in the centre. Massimo Gismondi personally designed the piece. I wanted to use our logo, a butterfly, to express a feeling of lightness, grace and elegance, as these are qualities I saw in my late wife.

Twenty per cent of the proceeds from the collaboration will be donated to my charity, Breast Cancer Haven, which Catherine and I helped to create when she had breast cancer. It offers access to complimentary treatments such as acupuncture, meditation and advice on diet, to mention just a few.

Our 40th anniversary is a time for looking back, but it's also a time to look forwards and, as we evolve, our philosophy isn't going to change. We have no plans to expand, license or all the other things designers are supposed to do. As long as we can continue to make beautiful clothes for our wonderful clients and the company is full of joy – that's what is important to me.

SAID CYRUS founded Catherine Walker with his late wife in 1977 after 10 years as a lecturer in design theory at Chelsea School of Art. They were a founder sponsor of Breast Cancer Haven when it was formed by Sara Davenport in 1995;

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