7 Expert Tips on Commissioning a Wedding Dress
What to wear? This predicament is greatly heightened when the occasion in mind is your wedding day. Fashion editors are not immune to the bridal pressure cooker either; if anything, it adds more gravity to people’s expectations. The lead-up to my wedding involved the usual whirlwind of questions facing a newly engaged woman: What dress would I go for? How would I wear my hair? Which designer would I choose? The hunt was on for the dream dress but it just didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.
Being curvy, tall and a lover of carbs, I couldn’t imagine myself in something slinky, nor did I want to go down the meringue route. I made multiple appointments to try on wedding gowns but my heart didn’t flutter. Quite the contrary, I felt doomed to look like an avalanche of crêpe de chine. I just couldn’t find a 360-degree fit for my shape that oozed my style. As options narrowed and lunch breaks were filled up with snow flurries of manic dress searches, I called it quits on bridal pret-à-porter. The dress just didn’t exist. Yet.
On Alan Ferguson: Lanvin suit.
The haute pursuit begins! If something is classed as couture, then it means that a piece is made-to-measure for your body. You can choose a designer dress from a collection and have it fitted exclusively to your shape. Wonderful, but what if you want to go one step further and design your own garment? One could save up £200,000 and hit the marble halls of Paris where an exclusive design is made for you from one of the prestigious haute couture fashion houses, but considering there's a minority of regular global customers, this is unlikely for most.
If you don't own a yacht or have six digits to spare, then fear not, another option is available. You could find a British-based dress designer costume designer who can make a gown especially for you. Some call it design couture—a process that includes a toile of your body, an exclusive design, a garment made in-house, and personal fittings to underscore the design process. Bridal-designers-cum-courtiers are like gold dust because only a select few fashion houses make one-of-kind gowns; the industries main focus is on ready-to-wear. I found the right one via recommendations from friends at Brides magazine, but some determined Google searches would unearth your local options.
Who What Wear UK: There’s so much to organize for a wedding day. How important is it to share information about the event planning with the dress designer?
Anita Massarella: It’s very helpful to know as much as possible. I like to get a background of the bride’s wedding vision, and if there’s a storyboard or Pinterest link to ideas then that helps me to get a sense of the couple’s personality.
WWW UK: What questions do you often ask the bride about the wedding plans?
AM: Is the day going to be formal or more relaxed? In a grand venue or outdoors? Home or abroad? Even if the bride is still forming a plan for her big day, it’s helpful to know the wider context so that together we can create a suitable design for the season. As soon as the colour theme for the venue is decided, it’s important to inform your dress designer so that it can be reflected in little flourishes on the garment, if at all.
On Kate Moss: John Galliano haute couture dress and veil.
On Jamie Hince: Yves Saint Laurent suit.
WWW UK: It’s hard to know what credentials to look out for in a fashion house or dressmaker. How do you identify where to go?
AM: If you cannot find what you want in ready-to-wear (i.e. off-the-peg collections) then having something designed uniquely for you is a great option. Enquire if the designer can offer exclusive designs or to what extent they customise dresses. We create one-of-a-kind couture dresses but not all places do. It's also okay to ask how many years of experience the designer has. Do read the client testimonials on their social media and website; it’s clear when a brand has a good reputation. You ideally want a team that can deliver the entire package: create an exclusive design to suit you, produce the dress pattern, make the dress in-house and provide the professional fittings.
WWW UK: Where do most of your brides get their dress ideas from?
AM: Mainly Instagram, Pinterest or cut-outs from society events in the back of Vogue, Tatler etc. I’ve noticed that when people look at photos from formal events, like polo or Ascot, then it’s easier to see a range of different clothing designs worn by real people with varying figures. It can be less daunting than looking at models.
WWW UK: Once you’ve found the right person to collaborate with and to make your dress, what’s the best way to kick-start the design process?
AM: You don’t need to know the fabric or design terminology, a good designer can interpret what you want by the way you describe what you like. For example, an experienced designer will be able to tell from a photo if the bride wants something soft, bias-cut and clings to the body, and billowing chiffon coming from the back of it, or if the structure of the dress needs to boned, corseted, stiff dress etc.
On Audrey Hepburn: Balmain Haute Couture dress.
WWW UK: There are so many different fabrics to choose from. How do you pick the right one?
AM: Identify how you would like your dress to move and sit on your body. If you want it to sway and flow, then chiffon is perfect for that. If you want a stiff dress then gabardine holds its shape; but this where the designer's expertise comes in. Just remember that the style of the dress needs to work with the choice of fabric.
On Gwen Stefani: John Galliano for Dior dress.
WWW UK: How do you get ideas into one cohesive design?
AM: Begin with an outline of a body sketched on a piece of paper. Drawing out ideas is a great starting point. I tend to go step-by-step from talking about what neckline would suit the client to the favoured sleeve length, how it fits the waist etc. At each stage, you need to consider how the design works as a whole and how to keep it all in proportion with your shape.
WWW UK: When the design is agreed, what’s the next step?
AM: The next stage is finalising which fabrics will be used in the lining, for the main body of the dress. This process involves looking at lots of fabric samples with your designer and exploring which shades suit your complexion. I go as far as including the bride in choosing the very buttons and hand-picking the beads that will be sewn on! You can decide which beads, what colours, what shade, what size! If you’re making a dress from scratch, you can even cherry-pick embellishments or fabrics that suit the shade of your eyes.
On Poppy Delevingne: Chanel Couture dress.
WWW UK: How can a bride get the most out of dress fittings?
AM: Wear a really good fitting bra, and the heels that you are going to wear on the day (or of a similar height) because that will affect your posture. A good designer will offer you the opportunity to make adjustments at your fitting. Do take the opportunity to amend the design slightly or be more bold with decisions, like lowering a neckline slightly or exaggerating the silhouette of the dress by asking for the fabric to be nipped in a little.
WWW UK: On a second fitting, is it a good idea to bring the extra outfit details?
AM: Absolutely! The second fitting is where you can road test all of the elements of your look to see what works. If you’re having a hair trial then come in for a fitting with the hair and makeup trial. It’s also a good chance to try out the veil to make sure all the final pieces come together. If you are having a tryout for your bouquet, bring it in at this point. Then you can check that everything is perfect. Don’t be afraid to point out details that you want to be tweaked. And when you have your final fitting, do bring a bottle of chilled champagne and your best friend and/or your mother to soak in the fun of it all!
Which iconic wedding dress is your favourite? We adore Grace Kelly's bridal look. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.