Wedding Styled shoot: Real Princesses

Have you ever searched for wedding dresses on Google images? If you do, you will find scores of gorgeous gowns and all of them, pretty much every single one, will be modelled by a white woman.

I’ve always found this a bit strange. At Viva la Wedding our portfolio is very eclectic, but when we look around us in the wedding industry it’s difficult to find much representation of people of colour.

This is something that bothered Nova Reid, when as a black bride-to-be she began planning her own wedding.

“It reminded me of some of the insecurities and battles with race and identity I encountered as a child and teenager. I felt like I could never be a princess as I could not identify with the images constantly proffered at me via media.”

Nova was so incensed by the lack of representation that she started her own bridal blog, Nu Bride to add a splash of diversity to the wedding industry. Several years on she has received two prestigious awards and her readership is growing daily.

Nova’s work has inspired me many times, but when she wrote about feeling excluded from the world of princesses it gave me an idea. Princesses are the ultimate beauty icon, as any three year-old girl can tell you, yet they are so often depicted as being white. I thought it would be empowering to subvert that and show beautiful princesses of different ethnicities. My plan was to create a series of bridal shoots with women of colour styled as fairytale princesses, photographing them on location in stunning wedding venues and capturing iconic moments from each fairytale.

When I suggested this to Nova, she was instantly hooked! “You do realise this is an epic project?” she said. “Have you ever organised a styled shoot before?”

I had not, but I wasn’t going to let a small thing like that hold me back!

Wedding Styled shoot real princesses
Wedding Styled shoot cinderella and snow white

Watch our making-off film to find out more about Real Princesses!

From the start I was determined to feature non-models, and the concept of “Real Princesses” was born. I wanted to prove a point. If I could call upon four friends and acquaintances of different looks and ethnicities and ask them to participate in a shoot, then the bridal industry could try a bit harder to include women of colour.

Sleeping beauty

Real Princesses Real princess
Real princesses Wedding Styled shoot

Nova mentored me through the whole process and it was she who suggested I include a princess with lovely red hair and freckles. Bridal fashion tends to feature mainly blondes and brunettes, and ginger-bashing is so socially acceptable that even Prince William seems to think it’s OK to insult his brother for being a redhead. It’s not OK Wills! You are adding the royal stamp to the misery of thousands of red-headed school kids.

Finding models was actually the easiest part of the process. Tammy (Sleeping Beauty) and Sabbi (Rapunzel) were good friends of mine. Gifty (Snow White) worked in my local supermarket and Wendy (Cinderella) was a former Viva la Wedding customer. I was pretty nervous about approaching them. I felt almost as if I were asking them out on a date, but fortunately they were all keen to take part!

Snow White

Wedding Styled shoot snow white holding apple Real princesses

I met Pamella Dunn, our venue stylist at a Wedding Industry Tweetup and instantly loved her style. When I called her to pitch the concept, she was incredibly enthusiastic and brought Aimee Akbar on board as hair and makeup artist. I could not have asked for a better styling team. Pam and Aimee work instinctively, taking their inspiration from the model and the setting and the results really are magical! Pam knows her flowers so well and has wonderfully original ideas for dressing a scene. My favourite touch was the gold barbed wire she brought along for Sleeping Beauty to represent the forest of thorns surrounding the castle. Aimee really makes you understand why an MUA is called an artist. Her hair and makeup is phenomenally intricate, and really brings the wow factor to any shoot.

At Viva la Wedding we cover a lot of Asian weddings and we find that Asian brides often have a civil ceremony where they wear a white wedding dress followed by a religious ceremony where they wear traditional costume. We photograph a lot of Asian brides wearing white dresses but with traditional henna designs on their hands and feet. I think it’s a gorgeous combination so when it came to styling Sabbi as Rapunzel, I really wanted her to have some mehndi or henna patterns. Sabah at Beyond Henna was recommended to me by a local Facebook group, and she was kind enough to invite us to her house so that she could do Sabbi’s mehndi. It was a fascinating experience for me and amazing to see the skill and accuracy of Sabah’s work. I think it looks exquisite in the photographs.


Wedding Styled shoot Rapunzel Real princesses Real princess Real princesses

I had an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the designers I approached to lend us dresses. Amanda Wyatt, Lucy Tammam and Elizabeth Stuart loved the Real Princesses concept and gave us the pick of their collections. As Sabbi is a UK size 12, and designer samples tend to be size 8-10, I borrowed a dress from Lottie’s Bridalwear in Lytham St Annes for our Rapunzel shoot. The designers, Ellis Bridal were delighted that we featured their gown.

Finding  venues was more tricky, but after a lot of trawling though Google images I found the perfect locations. Ordsall Hall is a stone’s throw from our Manchester studio and has a fabulous four-poster bed ideal for Sleeping Beauty. Towneley Hall in Burnley has a wonderful old fashioned kitchen, just right for Snow White’s scene in the dwarves’ cottage. When it came Rapunzel, I really struggled. I was trying to find a tower, but the windows were never the right size. Eventually I stumbled upon Whalley Abbey, which had plenty of huge stone windows. In the end we shot two Rapunzel settings, and I kind of prefer the smaller window, as the ivy gives the scene a very ethereal quality. Carlton Towers in North Yorkshire had such an incredible sweeping staircase that I was determined to shoot Cinderella there. The staff were fantastic and stayed late so we could shoot at night. We even hired a smoke machine to create that misty, other-worldly quality. Our assistant Seb looked very comical crouching behind the wall and running out intermittently to swish the smoke machine across the steps!


Real princess Real princesses Real princess

“Real Princesses” has been wedding styled shoot labour of love, over a year in the making and I am really proud of our team. Huge credit goes to my husband Guille Ibanez who was our photographer, working on his first ever styled shoot. We’ve had a lot of positive responses from brides to be and industry professionals, and now we want to spread the message further. Everyone in the world of weddings can do something to make our industry more inclusive. Let’s celebrate the beauty of all women. Because we all deserve to feel like princesses, especially on our wedding day.

The Real Princesses Team:

Wedding Styled shoot Photography and Cinematography: Viva la Wedding

Venue Styling: Pamella Dunn

Hair and Makeup: Aimee Akbar


Sleeping Beauty: Tamsin MacDonald (Tammy)

Prince: Taku Kanaya

Snow White: Gifty Aku Adjei

Rapunzel: Sarbjit Kaur Khalsa (Sabbi)

Cinderella: Wendy Styles


Sleeping Beauty:

Venue: Ordsall Hall in Salford, Lancashire

Bridal gown: “Juliette” by Amanda Wyatt

Jewellery provided by Aimee Akbar

Prince’s Shirt: Tom Sawyer Waistcoats

Prince’s trousers: YOOX

Prince’s boots: U Turn Utopia

Prince’s sword provided by Ordsall Hall


Snow White:

Venue: Towneley Hall in Burnley, Lancashire

Bridal gown: Peacocks and Roses by Lucy Tammam

Shoes: ballet pumps with handmade fabric flowers by Jo Howard of Viva la Wedding



Venue: Whalley Abbey, Whalley Lancashire

Dress: Supplied by Lottie’s Bridalwear Of Lytham St Anne’s, Lancashire: 11412 by Ellis Bridals

Henna Artist: Saba at Beyond Henna, Manchester

Shoes: Anand Fashions, Manchester



Venue: Carlton Towers, North Yorkshire

Bridal gown: Primrose by Elizabeth Stuart

Makeup by Jo Howard and Wendy Styles

Hair by Jo Howard and Pamella Dunn

Tiara and bracelet: Damselle Tiaras

Necklace and earrings: Much More Fashion Accessories, Manchester

Shoes: model’s own