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Custom couture in Clyde

24 February 2022
Margaret Wray designer and founder Jamie in her shop

Designer and founder of the Margaret Wray label, Jamie Richards, uses her wealth of international experience to create unique bridal and evening wear couture. Words Anna Wallace

You’ll mostly find garment technologists like Jamie Richards living in big cities, where fashion houses and couture customers tend to be. Yet, after 20 years working in UK high street fashion, Jamie missed her family and dreamed of returning to small-town Central Otago. Luckily, she’d established a business designing and making wedding dresses in London so knew what women wanted for their special day.

“A number of clients were Kiwis in England who were going back to New Zealand to get married. So I figured that was a good market for me to start with,” she says.

Since returning home to Clyde in 2017, Margaret Wray has continued to expand. Jamie soon outgrew her shed-turned-studio and moved into an atelier shop in 2020.

“The locals love that I’m here in Clyde, however I get people coming from all over as they know that my bridal background means I have experience in working with delicate fabrics.”

Recent clients include Aucklanders, as Jamie can employ her practised eye for much of the process over video call.

Jamie has always loved clothing and special things. She would sew outfits for her Barbies and made her first dress at age 12, before going on to study fashion design. Her first exposure to bridal design was working with designer Megan Tuffery in Wellington. She went on to make many gowns for family and friends before starting the business part-time. ‘Margaret Wray’ is named after Jamie’s grandmothers, who she says were “elegant and distinct”.

Jamie’s high-end bridal collections feature both couture and vintage-inspired gowns, finished with classic details. Having been a garment technologist (which she explains is a sort of clothes ‘engineer’) she can make alterations to a high standard or create a bespoke look.

“Some people come in with an idea and I’ll work with them to incorporate those into my aesthetic and style.”
At the first appointment, the designer asks the bride about her big day and personal fashion style.
“What they thought they might like isn’t necessarily what they end up with,” she says.

Silk is Jamie’s material of choice due to the fibre’s natural properties, and the way it drapes and sews together.

The retail space has allowed Jamie to diversify into underwear, furs, shoes and accessories, as well as menswear.

“I always said if I was to have a shop, I wanted it to be a one-stop sort of place.”

Having a place where people can drop by has also seen an increase in those seeking alterations.

“When people bring a wedding dress in that isn’t quite working, I can pin them up and add bits or take bits off – the style can change quite considerably and people love it again,” she explains.

As with many in the wedding industry, the buzz of seeing happy customers never wears off. “It’s so nice to make someone feel the most beautiful they’ve ever felt. That’s an amazing feeling.”

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