Think back a year ago to the Royal Wedding and what was one of the talking points? As a nation we are obsessed with whos wearing what, especially when it comes to celebrities, and who could forget the hats worn by princesses Beatrice and Eugenie? Once reserved for mothers at weddings and the races, it seems now that women want to wear hats and headpieces to any special occasion – and why shouldnt they?
Louise Puchalka (above centre) has been designing and making hats and headpieces for almost a decade and at the age of only 27 owns the only bespoke milliners in the city, the eponymous Lou Lou Puchalka. Situated on the balcony at the Corn Exchange, Louise specialises in bridal headwear and has kitted out every Emmerdale bride for ITV for the last 2 years.
We met Louise in her beautiful boutique to talk about the millinery industry, her decision to start up alone and what its like to see your own work on national television. We also got to try on her new pieces and take a peek in to her workshop.
Who are you and how did you get here?
I am Louise Puchalka; owner, designer and milliner at Lou Lou Puchalka boutique in Leeds Corn Exchange. After completing my foundation art degree at Leeds College of Art I studied at London Fashion College. I originally studied corsetry. My Mum is a really great seamstress and would always make lovely clothes and dresses at home for me and my sister, so I guess it all started from there really.
After Uni I worked for Anita Massarella Design Couture in Moortown and thats when I really got the bug for the wedding industry. In about 2009 it got to a point where I thought I have to get on and do this! and all of my friends and family agreed! With some training and help from the Princes Trust I opened the shop in June 2011.
What do you think is unique about Lou Lou Puchalka?
Were the only bespoke headpiece makers with a showroom in Leeds city centre. Our customers come from all over the UK and even abroad. Hats and headpieces have really taken off in this country, everyone is wearing them, so I think women appreciate being able to come in and have something made especially for them.
We can colour match to just about any fabric and we have a wide range of styles, so we think there is something for everyone here whether its one of the smaller pieces or a really huge piece.
I design and make everything here in the shop. Its really important to me that every piece is exactly right, because were a bespoke service and not selling items off the peg, so we have fittings to make sure everything is perfect before it goes home with the customers in one of our big white boxes.
Lot of the most famous milliners are men – why do you think that is?
Yes, I think when people think of British millinery their first thoughts are usually Stephen Jones or Philip Treacy. I think the reason why there are a lot of men in millinery is because its actually quite labour intensive. To make some of the big pieces can take weeks and weeks and blocking can get quite physical. You have to have quite good upper body strength sometimes!
What is your favourite item?
I think among my favourite pieces are the hairvines. Theyre really versatile and easy to wear whether you wear your hair up or down. They range from 65 to 200 and are made with real Swarovski crystals in any style you like.
‘Bella’ (36) is also a really great piece for a wedding guest. It’s simple and elegant and we can make that in loads of different colours or a combination of colours/crystals.
What is your bestseller?
‘Lola (135) is always a hit and has been really popular for the last season. We can make Lola’ in a really wide range of colours and it can be worn on a comb or on a hairband.
Every bride is different but the bridal combs are also quite popular. I do them in a whole selection ranging from crystal to freshwater pearl, lace to diamonte – because everything is bespoke we can design and make anything our brides want. I think they are popular because they fit quite nicely in to updos and add a bit of interest without going for a full tiara.
What is the best thing about your job?
I love what I do. I have always been a creative person and so pursuing that passion for a living is just fabulous. I think seeing my designs on TV is another great aspect of my work.
Can you tell us any secrets about the Emmerdale brides then?
No, sorry! I never reveal details about a brides piece whether in life or soapland! All the newest designs are named after my family and friends – thats a little secret that not many people know. My latest piece is called Sally after my sister.
What do you think makes Leeds so awesome?
I think Leeds is a great place to live and work. I live in North Leeds and I think we’re lucky that were only a few minutes drive from quiet countryside but then a few minutes the other way you are in our city centre.
The city centre is fantastic for shopping and I think we dont always realise how much we have here. Not that many cities can say they have a Harvey Nichols or the beautiful Victoria Quarter. Its a real privilege to be in the Corn Exchange, partially because of its history and architecture, but also because theyve done such a great job modernising it in recent years.
Leeds is a great place for creatives and I know so many talented people from Leeds College of Art. London still is a fashion epicentre but I think Leeds is up there with the greatest cities in the UK.
Where do you like to hang out in Leeds?
Lots of our brides come with their Mums and/or bridesmaids to visit us and have a bit of lunch at Piazza by Anthonys. They have a lot of gorgeous dishes and wines to choose from and are not too pricey. I also like to get a coffee and a cubano or salad from Primos – they do a great banana latte!
Away from the Corn Exchange, I love Arts Cafe on Call Lane, the food there is brilliant and its a nice quiet spot away from the hustle and bustle of Briggate. Sometimes I go with my girl friends to Normans too. Also the bar on the 13th floor of what used to be Mint hotel as it has the best view of my lovely home city!
Finally, describe Lou Lou Puchalka in 3 words…
Bespoke, style and luxury.
Lou Lou Puchalka is open Tuesday to Sunday on the balcony level of the Corn Exchange. You can also contact her by email or telephone to book an appointment.