“I don’t have any expertise. Really anyone could do my job,” claims Say Yes To The Dress Lancashire host and stylist Gok Wan modestly. He’s underplaying his skills somewhat. Gok is a published fashion consultant and a champion of body positivity. It’s exactly the attitude and expertise that his brides need. “I think honesty is probably the biggest tool in my box. I never lie to anyone. That trust is really important. Brides can take up to 2 years, sometimes 3 years, to find the perfect dress. I have to find it in a day (for the show). And I probably have 3, maximum 4 dresses to try on before we have to choose one of those dresses,” he reveals.
Gok must be doing something right. “We have a 100% hit rate. Our brides buy the dresses and they wear those dresses to their weddings,” he adds proudly. “And that tells me instantly that it’s the honesty and it’s the trust that is massively important. As soon as I meet someone, I assure them that they are in safe hands and I tell them, ‘We are going to find your dress, and you are going to go on a massive journey – one that you may love, one that you might be unsure about – but we will go on that together, and at the very end of it you will be happy’. As soon as that happens, there is a lot of relief from the bride, who can suddenly breathe for the first time and think, ‘This is not that difficult’.”
Finding “The One”
Above all, Gok wants to make the dress hunting experience on his show a precious memory. Gok explains that he tells his brides roughly the same thing each time: “This is a big deal for you, and it’s human if you are nervous about this, and human if you probably have some form of anxiety about this dress. You want to please your whole family, but actually if you don’t enjoy this process, if you don’t have fun with it, then this dress is going to just be a wedding dress. It’s not going to be your dream dress.”
It’s Gok’s job to take the bride’s muddled mish-mash of dream and fantasy dresses, sort through them, and determine what she really, really wants. “You have to open up your opinions. When you walk into a boutique you walk in carrying all those images that you’ve seen over the past 10, 20, 30, 40 years. And maybe your perfect dress doesn’t exist. It's a combination of so many different dresses and they’re not necessarily compatible. It’s almost like you if you mixed all of your favourite foods, and you put them into a bowl and tried to eat them together, it would probably be revolting,” he explains.
“You have to think about your body shape. I am not even going to tell a bride that she needs to lose weight or have plastic surgery or do something to have a perfect body, but you have to work with what you already have. You have to be comfortable in your dress. There’s no point finding a dress that, on the hanger, is your dream gown but when you put it on you can’t move, you can’t breathe properly or you feel rigid. You are in your wedding dress for a long time, almost a full day, you have to be comfortable! The dress needs to be able to work with your day as well. It needs to be able to stand well, it needs to be able to sit well, it needs to be able to photograph well, it needs to be able to move well. It needs to do all of these things. It's a real combination of what is a perfect gown. That’s probably the hardest thing for a bride to decide, because it’s not just about the aesthetic, it's not just about your dream lace. It’s about how the dress works with your body and how it feels.”
Everyone has an opinion
While we’re sometimes shocked by how outspoken the bride’s entourage can be on the show, Gok insists that they’re really hugely helpful – even when their brutal honesty veers more towards brutality than just speaking their minds. “They’re all perfect. I would never want an entourage to be wallflowers. It’s important that we hear from them. We want to see their personalities, it’s fun. If I had an entourage who just said yes to every idea and yes to everything the bride thought, there would be no point in them being there,” he says. “Those entourages are just as important to the show as I am. They know the bride, they know her personality. And even when they argue with me or argue with the bride, I still love them because being honest is really one of the most difficult things for a human to be, especially when you feel that you are going to upset someone. But if you’re going to just tell a bride what she wants to hear, then you’re no use. So if they can see the bride’s dimples, then they can see her dimples, they’re not saying it to be mean. I may not agree with what the entourage is saying, and I may not be the type of person to say what the entourage is saying, but as long as I can reassure the bride about what I see, and as long as I can dilute some of the harshness, they can be a useful tool. I just have to build up the bride’s confidence so that she can stand up to that and stand up for her body. That’s my job done.”
Gown gasp moments
Speaking of entourages, this season might have you clutching your pearls in episode 14 when Gok cuts a big slit up a gown on the shop floor to help a bride to realise her vision… until her mom digs her heels in. And you might be wondering what would happen to the dress if the bride then rejected it. “The dress would have gone back to the seamstresses upstairs at the boutique and they would have fixed the mess that I created before it went back onto the shop floor,” Gok explains. “Before I do any alterations on any of the samples, I first of all get a sign-off from the boutique because they own the stock. I know enough about the architecture and structure of the gowns, I know that if I take something apart, whether it’ll be able to be put back together again. No one would ever have known in the boutique that that dress was once cut up on television.”
He never hesitates to do what is needed to please the bride. “Why I did it was because it’s my job! It’s my job to fulfil the dreams of the bride. My job isn’t to make Mom happy, it’s to make my bride happy. Sometimes I agree with the bride, sometimes I disagree with her, but I will always be very clear about that. But Kirsty [in the episode] was a great bride to have. She was very fashion focussed. She loved image, she liked avant garde, she didn’t want to be a typical bride. She wanted shock value. She had a huge love of social media and we knew that she wanted to make a massive statement over her social media, so to put her in that dress made perfect sense. She would absolutely get the attention that she wanted.”
Another of Gok’s brides decided to use that social media impact for good. In episode 1 this season (on Sunday, 14 June) we’ll meet bride Mel Naylor. After her episode had aired (in the first half of the season in the UK), she used both her experience on the show and her gown in an unusual way this April when she paraded down the street in it to raise funds for the local care home that she used to work for, to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think that was lovely,” Gok says proudly. “There’s a big push at the moment to raise funds for carers, and the interesting thing about Mel is that she decided that she was going to take her experience of being on Say Yes To The Dress, which she loved and which she was very proud of, and she was going to put it to good use and put back into the industry that she comes from. She is a carer herself, and it was a novel, fun and obviously newsworthy thing to do, which is going to raise awareness for the care home that she was collecting money for. I thought that was really creative.”
The Coronavirus crash
This season of Say Yes To The Dress Lancashire only just made it through production before the COVID-19 lockdown started in the UK in March. “We filmed in two parts. Last year we filmed a chunk of them, and then we had a little break while I went and did another show for Discovery called How To Look Good Naked, which is one of my original shows. And then we came back and we finished the season,” Gok reveals. “We literally caught it at the last hurdle, just before lockdown happened. So we were very fortunate with timing. The whole Corona thing was just starting as we were coming to the end of production. So it’s a new show. We finished just a couple of months ago.”
While Gok kept working on his own projects (including DJing), he watched the entire wedding industry shut down around him. “My ties with the wedding industry are pretty much through the boutique that I work at on the show – Ava Rose Hamilton – but I am really, really good friends with Paula Chappell (the owner) and we’ve become great companions from working there. I was getting regular updates from her, and she was saying to me that at the beginning that weddings have been cancelled. It had a knock-on effect on businesses in the trade. Then with lockdown happening, the boutique had to close.
“Working in the bridal industry, you are pretty much a hand-to-mouth business. Whatever you earn in March, you spend in April. The cash flow comes in on those brides getting married. They are a family-run business, and it obviously had a very quick and very big effect on that business.”
That doesn’t mean people stopped getting married. “I’ve seen people starting to get married in their gardens, which is very sweet,” says Gok. “What’s lovely about this is that people have turned around and said, ‘Look, none of us knew, getting into this, what was going to happen with lockdown, how long it was going to last for, and what an impact it was going to have on our lives.’ Couples turned around and said, ‘Actually, we don’t need the big wedding, we don’t need the ice sculptures, 25 DJs, and all that stuff. We just want to get married. We can do it in our garden.’ And I think that’s wonderful. They are a testament to people’s strength and how much they belong together.”
“But having said that, I think the wedding industry is going to be very poised and very vibrant at the end of all of this because a lot to do with weddings is psychology. It’s about celebration, it’s about happiness, it’s about people bringing their family and friends together. The trend for larger weddings has been around for a few years now, so I think at the end of lockdown when there is a chance for people to move around freely again, I do think the wedding industry will be one of the first retail industries to bounce back because people will want to celebrate. People will want joy in their lives. They’ll all want to turn around and say, ‘We all got through that together. Now that we’re getting married, let’s celebrate it with the people we love most.’” So it’s time to tune in and start taking note of Gok’s tips for looking your best on the big day when it comes.
Watch Say Yes To The Dress Lancashire S2 on Thursdays on TLC (DStv 135) at 18:00