If she’s not already on your radar, Katie Yeung is a name anyone shopping for a wedding dress should know. The New Zealand-based designer is enjoying a blockbuster year, with a jaw-dropping new showroom recently opened on Ponsonby ridge to showcase her beautiful designs. Now selling in Australia as well as New Zealand, she is an emerging force with global success on the horizon.
At 38 years old, Yeung is constantly busy, designing two collections a year for each of her two bridal brands. Hera Couture, named for the Greek goddess of women and marriage, offers expertly constructed formal gowns that drape beautifully and flatter the body and its movements, while Daisy Brides is a more casual counterpart — an off-the-rack brand for price-conscious brides who want something understated and beautiful for relaxed occasions.
Everything is beautifully wearable and immediately appealing. In fact, when Ashleigh Good was married, the New Zealand-born model and muse of Karl Lagerfeld — who has twice walked the runway as a Chanel bride — could have worn any designer, but chose Hera Couture.
Yeung’s talent seems innate and she grew up surrounded by creativity. “Dad was an engineer in Hong Kong and loves doing oil paintings. My uncle ran a marketing agency and teaches art in New York. My maternal granddad was an amazing architect, and my paternal grandmother is a writer and teacher,” she says. Her mother was a couturier who made bespoke garments and Yeung, who began sewing princess dresses when she was eight, learned about garment construction and about professionalism from watching her. “She would be sewing at 2am to have orders finished on or before the due date,” Yeung 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. All of her business came from word of mouth, and her clients loved her.”
At university in Auckland, Yeung studied property and marketing, but she was also selling garments she’d designed at various city markets. It was an important testing ground for her creations. “I improved on cuts and fabric choices, and trialed my designs on clients from size 4 to size 30,” she says. “I learned to style garments on real bodies, not just on a size 8 mannequin.”
After graduating, she worked for a real estate firm on commercial developments, but always dreamed of owning her own business, building up a clientele as her mother had. She would read entrepreneurs’ biographies, watch inspirational TED talks, and dream of having her own business like the one she grew up around.
In 2000, she launched Hera Couture, first showing at NZ Fashion Week in 2014. Then in 2016, Yeung launched Daisy, and began selling in Australia, hiring a local stylist and shooting a campaign there, so that brides would see imagery they could relate to. In her first two years, she has added six Australian stockists.
Yeung’s luxurious new Auckland showroom, the product of a vision shared with landlords Tawera Group, was designed by Paulus Maringka at Design Zone. Housed in a historic building with a Tesla showroom next door, the building’s original brick walls have been preserved, and its New Zealand-native kauri and rimu timber have been recycled for custom-built shelving and cabinetry, while shimmery soft furnishings, pearlised wallpaper and atmospheric lighting give the space a sense of glamour.
Maringka says his design mirrors Yeung’s approach to bridalwear. “Hera gowns celebrate the feminine form and attention to intricate details. This aesthetic was woven into every aspect of the design.” The workroom area and client spaces flow together, so future brides can glimpse where the magic happens, and there’s a runway for staging bridal shows by night.
Last year, Yeung also conducted a nationwide search to find curvaceous women who could model Daisy’s curve-friendly designs. She found Alex Wood — a size 18 Māori barista and beauty therapist who says, “It’s nice to be told I’m beautiful, especially when society has portrayed beauty as looking different to me.
For Yeung, it was a practical consideration as much as a political statement. She offers ready to wear gowns in NZ sizes 2 to 30, and was struggling to find models to show them off. “From the very beginning, we’ve always designed for all women, regardless of who they are and regardless of shape or size,” Yeung explains. “We don’t think there’s anything exceptional in this. We just treat our brides the same way we want to be treated.” While this inclusive approach, and her ability to make brides feel both comfortable and beautiful, is proving popular, Yeung is modest about her success. She says,“True love is what’s keeping us in business.”