The term ‘disruptor’ is much overused these days, but in the case of Katie Yeung, it’s apt.
Since opening her bespoke Auckland-based label Hera Couture in 2010, Katie has turned the traditional bridal offering on its head.
One of Aotearoa’s top bridal designers, the 43-year-old’s ethos still leans heavily on the timeless, but she infuses her designs with minimal, modern aesthetics and a clever twist.
“You could say my USP is conscious design with uncompromisingly high quality,” says Katie.
“It’s affordable luxury, but pieces that can be worn 15 years from now and still look relevant and beautiful.”
It was probably inevitable that Katie would become a designer: her family tree includes architects and art teachers, and her mother, who trained as a tailor in Hong Kong, worked as a couturier making bespoke garments. Katie began her own sewing practice when she was eight, inspired by what she’d seen her mother does.
“Mum taught me everything about garment construction and professionalism. She’d be sewing at 2.00 am to have orders finished on or before the due date,” Katie recalls. “She taught me not to cut corners, even though there are often clever ways to create a garment in less time. She showed me the importance of quality. For a long time, Mum travelled with me to attend fashion and bridal exhibitions and source fabrics.”
The Hong Kong-born designer briefly put her creativity on hold while studying property and marketing at the University of Auckland, but her love of fabrics, design and sewing soon won over, and after trialling selling garments markets in 2004, she opened an alteration and fashion boutique. That eventually morphed into her eponymous Karangahape Road HQ, where she dresses brides from New York to London and everywhere in between.
“I’m particularly proud that we’ve been size-inclusive from day one, with gowns offered from UK0 to UK36. We also custom-make gowns outside our collection sizes if the customer requires.”
So committed is Katie to size inclusivity that she only chooses stockists whose beliefs align with her own — that brides come in all shapes and sizes and shouldn’t be restricted in what they can and can’t wear on their big day. “It’s about celebrating the female form. We’ve always designed for women, regardless of who they are.”
The mother of daughters Chloe (8) and Chelsea (4) designs two collections a year — a capsule collection in March/April, followed by the main collection in September and October. Each collection contains around 8-18 pieces.“
We hand-pick our fabrics globally and often custom-make our fabrics to suit our brand design aesthetics and longevity requirements. All fabrics are tested over a six-month period to ensure their durability so that they can withstand processes such as dry-cleaning but still retain their sheen, feel, comfort, consistency and drape. It’s a long process, but it means our customers get to wear a piece of timeless, modern art that can be passed onto generations with care.”
When Together Journal spoke to Katie, she was celebrating a successful 2022 and planning for what looks set to be an even bigger year for Hera Couture. In March, Katie’s gowns are represented for the first time at the London Bridal Market(LBM).
“We have stockists in the UK and Ireland and the LBM allows us to invite them in for an intimate, private viewing of our new collections. It’s also more convenient for our customers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland.”
In April, it’s the turn of the Florida Bridal Market, where Katie has shown her collections before.“It’s a great place to have all our guests and potential stockists in one place, enjoying the sunshine and resort atmosphere. Building those relationships is really important.”
Every October, Katie and her husband Cliff Kurniawan, Hera Couture’s CFO, fly to New York for one of the world’s largest bridal shows. She’s also excited about Hera’s Minimalista Collection, a fresh take on bridal fashion, featuring contemporary separates perfect for mixing and matching. “
The range is expertly cut and made from luxurious fabrics such as French crepe which drapes so elegantly, and Venetian lace which is transformed into stunning modern corsets.”The range also includes crushed satin tops, tiered pleated layer skirts and low backs, as well as silky culottes that fit like a glove and flatter the figure in all the right places. “No matter which piece you fall in love with, this collection allows brides to create an authentic, carefree look that is not only drop-dead gorgeous but also feels comfortable and unfussy to wear. And of course, all Hera styles are available in both street and curve sizes.”
Ask Katie what advice she has for brides picking their gowns and she doesn’t even pause for breath.“
Do your research online first, using sources such as Pinterest, Instagram and the websites of brands you may have heard good things about. It’s a good way to see what styles you like. Then book an appointment at a showroom with in-house alterations.
Make sure you bring an open mind when you visit because it’s important to try on a variety of styles and silhouettes. You might be surprised at what suits you. Don’t be shy to ask your stylist for advice as they’re trained to help find your dream gown and accessorise it to elevate your look.
Make sure you choose a designer/salon that you like and trust — remember, this is a six-seven-month journey and it could well be the most special outfit you ever choose! So take your time and enjoy the process.