I am naturally creative and with a family heritage of bridal spanning over 60 years, bridal fashion was running through my veins. And so I created Charlotte Balbier Bridal, after identifying a gap in the market. At the time the UK had many established and beautiful bridal collections and dresses - but there was nothing for young, fashion forward and savvy brides of today. I asked myself what would I choose if I was getting married?
The answer was nothing - as there was nothing on the market that was my style, my look and what many brides were so desperately seeking. I started off a little safe, dipped my toe in the water and created a collection.
It was a great success and after my first show I took on a full order book of stockists, and I knew I was on to something special.
In 2003, I was living at home with my family after returning from travelling the world with friends. Whilst having an absolute ball travelling, I had taken time to connect with myself and started to think about what I wanted from my life.
I spent several months in L.A. as I have family out there and did some work experience in both the fashion and the movie business, which ignited something in me. Attending movie premiers (and even the Oscars!) gave me an insight into the glamour and excitement of success. I was 25 and super ambitious with so many ideas and I was determined to make a name for myself.
Building the brand
The first few years were tough though. Like all markets everyone wants the new kid on the block, the new name. Your first year is easy, the hard part is what comes next. The designs were beautifully made and I had an amazing team in place for the customer experience side.
What I didn't have in place was my USP or my brand identity - and that’s what makes people want to invest into your brand...YOU the person behind the brand, your story, your vision and passion for what you do.
The press went crazy for the new shoot, the images were literally everywhere! The gowns were blowing people away and I was connecting on a really deep level with brides.
Backed with this, I was offering my customers a partnership to be part of the success. Working closely with them coaching and training them on how to be a brand partner and how to sell the dresses.
After this as they say, the rest is history. Charlotte Balbier Bridal produced 16 collections under my leadership and sold thousands and thousands of gowns; dressing brides all round the world.
The brand went from 0 stockists to 65, including overseas. It was a leading name in the bridal industry, with a very high profile and big turnover and profit.
I knew I had to take action, be brave and do something really special. I created the next collection with really exciting, fresh, fashion forward and different styles - using unusual fabrics and detailing. It was bold, brave and they were truly stunning.
I knew that photographing the gowns with a super stylish shoot was key to success - all the shoots at the time looked the same and I knew what I wanted instead. I loved the more editorial style shoots in the high fashion glossy titles, I identified with the models who were more edgy and fashion, than classical bridal.
I wanted a fashion photographer to shoot my brand who didn't shoot weddings and I wanted to shoot on location in a unique place. I also wanted to style the gowns in my own unique way... so that's exactly what I did.
Alongside this I arranged new branding, a new web-site and put all the elements together to create the new look Charlotte Balbier Bridal, with me at the forefront, connecting with brides direct across social media, direct marketing and public events. This marked a huge turning point for the brand.
I also presented for Sky’s Wedding TV, as well as other major media gigs - it was such an exciting time.
On top of the CB bridal brand, I was also appointed Creative Director of our other brands. At one stage we had 5 brands within the portfolio and a stockists list of over 350. This additional role involved design, branding, photo shoots, events, PR, marketing, training days, selling and coaching stockists; as well as all the day to day running of a team of 20. I kept them motivated and on track to deliver amazing customer service and support; as well as engaging with our end consumer, the bride. Phew!
From then on, I was attending designer days at bridal boutiques, seeing up to 15 brides a day, helping them find their ‘one’, styling them for their wedding and converting each appointment into a sale. I was headlining bridal shows both trade and consumer, selling out, and year on year the brand was growing, as was the turnover.
The brand was everywhere, it was celebrated by the press all over the world. You couldn't turn a page in a magazine or go online without seeing Charlotte Balbier Bridal. It was truly an amazing time.
In 2014, Charlotte Balbier was named Designer of the Year, and received many more accolades over the years.
Success after success
Behind the scenes
Privately though, I was struggling with having any sort of work/life balance. I was working 24/7 and most weeks were 7 day weeks, as I was in the office and showroom midweek and then at weekends doing events or working elsewhere. The pressure I put myself under was crazy.
I am a perfectionist and I want everything to be perfect and I commit to whatever I am doing 110%.
I was obsessing over every little detail and although we were successful - smashing targets and making waves in the industry I had no personal life. My health was suffering and I had major anxiety and depression from that.
Something inside me told me they were wrong though. I had not explored a natural approach, so with guidance from the Zita West clinic, I made an appointment with Joshua Enkin, a fertility acupuncturist. I also changed my diet, cut out all alcohol and started to look after myself more. Just a few months later I found out I was pregnant! I literally could not believe it, and if I’m honest I still can't now post baby!
However, I did want to meet that someone special and start a family. I also wanted to take my foot of the gas and slow down a little, enjoy my life and have some freedom. My business partner, who also happens to be my Mum and the rather famous designer in her own right, Amanda Wyatt, was also longing to take a well deserved early retirement. She raised me as a single Mum and ran a business on her own before I joined her.
In 2013, I did get married and soon after we started trying for a baby. We had fallen pregnant a few years earlier but sadly experienced a miscarriage. But for the next few years work got more stressful and i was struggling to fall pregnant. We went for fertility tests and were given the news we were not expecting – I had developed major fertility problems.
We embarked on a IVF journey, and for those who have also done IVF, you will know how hard this is on not only your body but on your mind. After unsuccessful fertility treatment we were dealt a blow that nothing prepares you for... we were told that i could not fall pregnant with IVF. Second and third opinions all said the same.
However, at the same time as we were experiencing the happiest of news and excited to welcome our miracle baby into the world, my life was about to change in more ways than one.
I have a very special close family and one of the most important people in my life was my Grandpops, Alan Wyatt who himself was in the bridal business for all of his life, and is legendary in the bridal trade. Shortly after we found out we were having Harry, my Grandpops got seriously ill very quickly. We knew time was not on his side and it was devastating for me and all the family.
By now, my Mum also desperately wanted to sell the business and not only retire, but have the freedom to spend as much time as possible with her parents, and be a new Nonna to Harry. I was not as on board at first with selling. My emotions were mixed and I was very emotionally invested in the brands. I loved what we did. I loved my customers and brides and the brand was my baby that I had grown and nurtured. I had also worked so hard on all the brands, I had grown them incredibly in both profile and turnover and I had ambitions to do so much more.
But as my bump grew and my Grandpops health deteriorated, I knew that it was impossible for me to carry on at the speed I was going at. As someone that had always given the business my everything, knowing that this would not be possible with a new baby and my Mum retired, I made the very difficult but right decision to also sell the brand.
On April 1st 2017, the brands were sold. I stayed on until August that year, to ensure a smooth transition and ensure all was perfect. Just 10 days later, on August 15th Harry made his arrival into the world and my life changed in a way I never knew possible. Whilst experiencing the happiest time of my life, I also experienced the saddest, as not long after we lost my Grandpops. I am only thankful that he got to meet Harry and they got to have one very special cuddle together.
All the Pretty is born
I took this time to not only enjoy being a new Mummy but to catch my breath and really reflect on my life. I kept my hand in with some small creative freelance consultancy jobs and started to think about what my next move was.
What did I want? What were my goals? What is important to me? What makes me happy? What have a learnt that I can now share and make a difference? These were all things going through my head.
Becoming Harry's mummy has changed absolutely everything. He is my world, my priority and he comes first. But as much as I love being a Mum, I also love to work, I love to be creative and I really missed the consultancy and training side of what I used to do.
I have 20 years of experience, knowledge and expertise to share, and I want to help others be a success.
Love CB xx
What I don't want though, is to work 24/7 like I did before so I don't. I have learnt to work smarter and I only work 3 to 4 days a week - and absolutely no weekends. I dedicate my weekends and 2 days in the week to Harry and to me. I invest in me, as self-care is so important; as well as me using this time to invest in my development to share with my clients. I have designed a work life balance!
Finally at the age of 41, I can draw on my experiences, my successes, my failures and I am still evolving and learning. I have the freedom now to really flourish and I believe without taking anything away from my previous success this is the path I was destined for, this is my calling in life and I am going to have a success and happiness now greater than anything I could have imagined.
I could not be more excited and happy to now be sharing this with you.