From Court to Couture

For the Championship Dinner, Wimbledon’s tennis stars wear top designer names from dress hire ace Elisabeth Piner, writes Louise Johncox

As Wimbledon approaches and thoughts turn to tennis Elisabeth Piner selects designer dresses for the competitors to wear to the Championship Dinner. It all began over 20 years ago when Piner, a Kingston-based dress hire designer, was asked by the All-England Lawn Tennis Club to supply some dresses for the players to wear to the closing event, now held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane.

“It was Sunday and someone from the club asked me if I’d provide dresses for the tennis players to wear to the dinner. I said “Yes, of course.” I’ve been dressing the stars and their families for this special event ever since. During Wimbledon the girls are far too busy playing tennis so I concentrate on making sure I have a good selection of dresses for them to choose from.”

Each year Piner takes about 100 dresses to the All-England Lawn Tennis Club including designer names such as Jenny Packham and Amanda Wakeley.

Piner, who trained in Vienna and London’s Central School of Fashion, is on hand to assist the competitors in choosing the perfect dress and she can also do alterations if necessary. “I can usually tell within seconds of a woman walking into the room which dress is the best match. The players are often surprised I do this so quickly but it’s something I’ve always done and it works.”

Over the years Piner has dressed many big tennis names including Steffi Graf, Virginia Wade, Jana Novotn√°, Serena and Venus Williams, Serena and her sister are goddesses, a delight to dress!,” she says. “The players are all very strong and usually broader across the back. Some are fairly tall so I just have to make sure I have got a cross-section of sizes.”

Piner always gets a kick from seeing the tennis players transform into party princesses ready for the ball once they have chosen their dresses and accessories and had their hair and make up done. “Clothes make people. The competitors always look amazing, especially when their haie and make up is done and they are wearing the right shoes.”

Piner has remained loyal to her favourite designers, particularly Jenny Packham. “I’ve stuck with my designers and Jenny Packham is the main one. She personally hands me the dresses and is hugely excited that the stars wear her designs.”

On the day of the final social event, Piner is joined by her two daughters, Melissa and Jenny, who help make the day go smoothly. “It’s a family affair. My daughters have a keen interest in fashion and we work really well as a team. It is a major operation. I also bring a hair and make up stylist so the players don’t have to worry about anything. Sometimes the girls want to try on lots of different dresses. That is when the fun starts, with clothes everywhere. It’s a lot of work but is, without doubt, the highlight of my working year.”

When Piner is not organising Wimbledon she hires out dresses for a variety of events ranging from proms to charity balls. Hire prices for Piner’s couture collection start from ¬£85 and sizes range from 8 to 22.

“A lot of my customers say, “I’ve been everywhere and I can’t find anything.” Then they come to me and I find a dress within a minute! They look absolutely thrilled which is what makes my job so worthwhile.”

Time & Leisure Magazine