Laura Cartledge heads to the bottom of a garden in Felpham and finds a beautiful surprise.
Sisters Ella Coombes and Lisa Williams have a love for vintage in their blood.
“Mum always used to drag us around junk shops,” recalls Ella.
“She would shout ‘stop the car’ at any sight of lace,” Lisa smiles. “And she would collect blue and white china.
“She always loved vintage things and dresses, she’d love this,” she adds speaking of the pair’s new venture Bijou Bridal, which launched in spring this year.
While it is fuelled by the same passion their late mum had it was the quest to find 35-year-old Ella her dress which saw it come to life.
“I am getting married in September,” she reveals. “I was comfortable with getting a pre-loved dress and we went to a couple of shops too. But we had a few nightmares.”
From places that wouldn’t allow Ella’s daughter along to misleading descriptions online and pushy sellers, the duo have seen it all.
“We were driving along a dirt track in the middle of nowhere one night after a visit,” remembers Ella, “and just thought it would be so nice to be able to see dresses but not the person selling them so you can say no ‘I don’t like that’.”
The plan hatched from there and before long they went to their dad to ask what he thought of their idea.
“Five days later he told us mum had put some bonds away for us four kids and they had matured,” says Lisa, 42, who explains their mum died eight years ago from cancer.
“I’m not really a believer but with mum passing away it is like she’s been putting the puzzle together for us,” admits Ella.
Even the name is a nod to their parents as Bijou was their house when they first moved down here.
As for a destination, the answer had been sitting at the bottom of Lisa’s garden all along.
“My husband and I put it up years ago for our children,” she confesses. “We had a vision of what we wanted it to look like and it took us a long weekend to get it all done.”
The result is stunning, so much so you would think it was purpose built with its sitting area and separate dress and dressing room.
“We sit down here sometimes and tell everyone we are brainstorming,” Lisa laughs, “when really we are just sat here smiling and talking about the dresses.
“I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else,” she admits. “We’ve had massive support, it just feels right.
“I do all the online stuff and Lisa, well, she’s just amazing,” says Ella with a slight whisper. “When people come in she says we’ll lace it here and sweep this here and this can be a fishtail, she just knows what to do.”
Talking to the sisters it feels like they’ve been doing this all their lives, or at least were always meant to – however Lisa was a teaching assistant and Ella a secretary.
“I gave it up to look after my two grandchildren when my daughter went back to work,” says Lisa, while Ella stopped to have her children now aged one and three.
Wanting something to fit in with their lives means they understand how important it is they can fit around the bride-to-be.
“We want to make it as easy as possible,” agrees Lisa. “Evenings and weekend appointments are fine and kids are welcome, we have toys or they can play in the garden.”
Despite only having opened the doors a few months ago Bijou Bridal has already attracted attention.
“We had a lady contact us who liked what we were doing. She was closing down her shop and they were all samples that had never been worn – she asked us if we’d like them,” says Lisa.
“We’ve been really lucky. We don’t take anything that’s not perfect. We are not storage, we don’t want to just take things, we have a standard and we want a reputation for that.”
And it seems the business has helped solve Ella’s nightmare too.
“She’s always loved Ian Stuart dresses and when it came in she asked if she could try it on – we go through this every time,” Lisa smiles. “In every one she tries she looks like a vision, but in this one I just said you have to have that dress.
“So I’ve hidden it,” Ella confesses, despite already having another – but she is not alone.
As the sisters are able to keep prices to a minimum, due to no overheads or staff costs, they’ve had people buy ‘the dresses’ rather than just ‘the dress’.
“We’ve had people came and buy two,” Ella says, “one for the ceremony and a lighter one for the evening for the same it would cost for one elsewhere.”
To find out more about Bijou Bridal, visit www.bijoubridal.co.uk or call 07599 245040 or 07935 925493.
Photos are courtesy of Nicki Feltham Photography, visit www.nickifelthamphotography.com