The day after her engagement was announced, bride-to-be Sarah Ferguson rang up little-known but well-connected designer Lindka Cierach, who had been named by telltale Tatler magazine as London’s “hottest society dressmaker.” Says Cierach, who had created dresses for Fergie’s mother as well as the bride’s roommate: “I thought she was just calling to say hello.” Some hello. Fergie asked Cierach, 34, to submit some designs for her wedding dress. Cierach reacted accordingly: “I dropped the telephone in sheer fright.”
In the end, her flowing ivory silk gown was a stunning triumph. “Ravishing,” raved Jean Dobson of the Daily Mail. Congratulatory calls poured in from nearly everybody in London’s fashion know. But true validation of her success came on the wedding day itself: Within two hours after Sarah was first glimpsed in her gown, copies of the dress were in display windows throughout London and selling briskly for about $7,500. (The real thing was estimated by some at $45,000.)
Cierach (pronounced cheer-itch), an effervescent perfectionist, was well suited to her new client. “The most important thing to me was that Sarah loved it,” she says. “I wanted her sense of fun to come out in the dress.” Not too far out, however: Sarah’s wish for decorative teddy bears, lovebirds and helicopters didn’t fly with Cierach, who instead embroidered the train with bees and thistles.
Cierach and her five-woman team worked for four months in the sunny fourth-floor studio of her home in London’s Fulham section. They listened to Chopin and Beethoven, ate constantly and giggled relentlessly as they stitched two identical bridal dresses (one for Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks), four bridesmaids’ outfits and several evening gowns. Fergie checked in repeatedly. “At every stage, I wanted her to see and approve of what we were up to,” says Cierach.
Security was nearly as much a consideration as style. To keep out zealous reporters, Cierach changed her locks, put anti-peeping paper on her windows and never threw out scraps of fabrics and old drawings. Such precautions drove Fleet Street to despair. “Every time the daily paper came out with another sketch, we’d laugh away about it all,” she says. “I don’t think anyone came close.”
On the night before the wedding, the gown and the bridesmaids’ dresses were loaded into a tacky yellow van and hurriedly taken to the palace. There, drapes were pulled, the staff banished and Sarah was zipped into the gown for a test walk up and down the hallways to see how the 17½-foot-long train moved. At about midnight, after some minor adjustments, Cierach draped her creation on a fabric dummy. No pressing was needed—just a shake to smooth out the wrinkles. Next day, after fussing and fidgeting over Fergie’s dress at Westminster Abbey and later at the palace for official photos, an exhausted but exuberant Cierach returned home for a champagne celebration with her co-workers.
Designing seemed an unlikely career for Cierach, who was born in South Africa to an immigrant Polish father who worked as a mapmaker and an English mother. Lindka, who enjoyed needlework, was shipped off to England in 1960 and later attended secretarial school before landing an office job at British Vogue. A sharp-eyed editor spotted her potential and encouraged her to enroll at the London College of Fashion, from which she graduated tops in her class in 1977. By 1979 she set up shop on her own and built an exclusive clientele who pay up to $2,700 for her creations.
Now, with her name stitched into royal fashion history, Cierach may never again know the anonymity she enjoyed before the Call. After a short vacation in Kenya, she’ll be back at work on another wedding dress, this one for a commoner. But it won’t be her own, despite an 11-year live-in romance with sculptor Jonathan Ken-worthy. If she does marry, she would never make her own wedding dress because “it’s very bad luck.” For others, it seems, her designs bring only good luck. “All the dresses I do, the women get pregnant immediately after,” she chuckles.