A Tale of Two Pillows, Part 2: A Wedding Anniversary Gift For One of My Brides

A Tale of Two Pillows, Part 2: A Wedding Anniversary Gift For One of My Brides

frog-closure-2My last post was about the first pillow I ever made. This post is about the last pillow that I made (perhaps latest is the better word to use, since I’m sure I’ll make more in the future). It also involves a mother—this time not mine, but one of my brides’— as well as a surprise gift: a first wedding anniversary gift for her daughter. And, thankfully, the craftsmanship of this pillow is markedly improved over the first one!

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Cecilia, my bride’s mother, got in touch with me around the holidays wondering if I could make a pillow with the same frogs I had made on her daughter Sarah’s wedding dress. Her  first wedding anniversary was approaching and she wanted to surprise her daughter with a special gift and thought this would be something unique that her daughter would really appreciate.

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They had all loved the wedding gown I made the year before, especially the front frog closure on the jacket which referenced their Chinese heritage from the mother’s side of the family. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tangible reminder of that element of the gown, instead of just photos or having to take the dress out of a box to see?

frogs-wedding-jacket.jpgI thought it was a great idea, and was flattered to be looped into another important milestone in this wonderful family’s life. This is what I love about my job: that I get to do this thing that I absolutely love to do which creates something with so much meaning and significance for my clients and their families.

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I happened to have enough fabric left over from making her dress that I could do it, so I got to work, replicating the frogs and ball button closure that I had initially created for the front of the jacket that went with the wedding gown, this time, for the front of a pillow.

wedding-jacket-frogs-frontWhen designing the original gown (which I’ll devote an entire post to in the future—for now I’ll just stick to the frog parts) I researched Chinese knots and chose a good luck knot to recreate in the same Italian silk duchess satin as I made the rest of the gown. The button is a monkey’s fist knot.

The whole point of this pillow was to have the exact frog closure on the pillow as the wedding dress, but as I was making the pillow I got carried away, thinking of all the even more complex and elaborate frogs I could make; I had to restrain myself! There now exists in my head an entire suite of frog embellished couture throw pillows! I started daydreaming of all the other pillows I could make, inspired by all my other brides’ dresses. I loved this project and hope to make more wedding gown inspired pillows for my brides, whether as a reminder of their wedding gown, or ring pillows for the ceremony.

frog-closure-pillowIf you’re one of my past brides and you’d like a keepsake pillow made with the leftovers of your fabric, or if you’re a future bride and you like the idea of a ring pillow made made to match or compliment your dress, let me know!

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Avi’s Moroccan Inspired Wedding Gown

Avi’s Moroccan Inspired Wedding Gown

moroccan inspired wedding gown.jpgWhen I first met Avi she told me the sweetest story of how her fiancé had proposed to her: he had taken her on a surprise trip to Morocco to get in touch with her Moroccan roots, tracked down the mud-brick home where her father (who passed away when she was a younger) had been born, and that’s where he asked her to marry him. The trip had made an indelible impact on her and as she began to plan her wedding decided she wanted to honor her Moroccan heritage in her wedding dress; not only as a tribute to her father, who would not be there to see her get married, but as a wedding day thank-you surprise to her husband for sparking a new appreciation for her family’s origins. [SIDENOTE: Shout-out to her husband for being so awesome!]

I loved the idea and the sentiment behind it. After discussing all the other details about her wedding and personal style—she would be having a destination wedding in Savannah, Georgia at the end of August and having an outdoor reception, so a breathable, not too heavy gown was a must—we started figuring out what “Moroccan inspired” would mean in the context of her wedding dress. We looked at all things Moroccan: tiles, rugs, and traditional Moroccan wedding dresses festooned with embroidery. The latter would be way too literal an interpretation, and the other things didn’t spark the degree of personal significance that seemed necessary given the original intent of the gown.

moroccan caftan 5.jpgI asked if she had any Moroccan family heirlooms that I might be able to see for design inspiration and after some thought she mentioned an embroidered caftan that her Moroccan grandmother had given her when she was little and which she wore as a child. The only problem was she didn’t know where it was or even if it still existed!

moroccan caftan 2A phone call to her mother in Pennsylvania solved the mystery of the Moroccan caftan (I wonder if that’s a Nancy Drew book?). It was in a box in a closet somewhere, her mother was sure, and she would bring it with her next month when she came to New York to join Avi for her next appointment with me. Perfect!

moroccan caftan detail.jpgI was really excited to see the caftan up close when Avi came back with her mother a few weeks later. Ever since the design consultation I’d been thinking about a technique that I’d always wanted to use on a wedding dress that would be the perfect vehicle to incorporate Avi’s Moroccan heritage in a subtle but significant way: I would reinterpret the embroidered motifs on the caftan using intricate hand-sewn bias applique. The scale and method would be different, but the scrolls and motifs would come straight from the caftan. Something new from something old, and perfectly unique to Avi!

When I showed them my sketches and explained the idea they loved it and we were all so excited to see it come to life the following summer.

bias tape draping closeup.jpgTo do the applique I first “draped” some ideas on the mannequin and made some fabric treatment samples, deciding which elements from the caftan would be best articulated with the bias applique. Then I drew out the whole border in pencil, to scale.

bias applique sewingA lot of tracing paper and measuring and design tweaking later, I had the final pattern and was ready for the task I’d been day dreaming about since Avi’s design consultation: sitting at my table, twisting and turning and pinning and stitching countless yards of bias tape by hand, following the pattern I’d drawn. If I’ve ever been in my happy sewing zone this was it!

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This is exactly the kind of intricate, tedious, repetitive task that I absolutely love to do!

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moroccan inspired corset.jpgAvi’s mom flew me down for the wedding to help lace up the corset; she told me she didn’t want to worry about getting it wrong if she tried to do it herself, but moreover, after all the work I’d done to make such a special gown for Avi they couldn’t imagine her wedding without me being there.

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It was an honor to attend Avi’s wedding (as it is with each of my bride’s weddings that I attend). It’s so fulfilling to do something that I love so much and which means so much to my brides and their families.

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The wedding ceremony took place at Temple Mickve Israel, a beautiful historic synagogue in Savannah and one of the oldest in the country.  I made Avi’s veil with edging to match the corset and applique.

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The night before the wedding there was a Moroccan wedding party, complete with traditional good luck henna tattoos.

 

moroccan inspired gown backAfter the ceremony all the guests were taken to the wharf for a surprise riverboat trip down the Savannah River to the reception venue.

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It was windy on the boat! (Which was nice, because it’s hot in Savannah in August!)

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The reception was held at a 200 year old fort on the banks of the Savannah river, Old Fort Jackson. Avi changed into a short version of her wedding skirt that I had made just for the reception, which involved lots of dancing and was lots of fun!

 

Photo credits for Avi’s wedding photos: Jade + Matthew Take Pictures

Avi’s wedding planner: Bonnie Kaar, First City Events

Avi’s florist: Amy Harvey, Harvey Designs

What’s a Design Consultation Like?

What’s a Design Consultation Like?


Since people often ask me how do they go about having me make a gown for them I thought I’d write about a particularly memorable bridal consultation I had last year, and since it’s also about Mother’s Day, it’s kind of pertinent for this weekend!

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At the beginning of March 2013, while busily finishing two gowns due at the end of the month, I got an email from a bride enquiring about a gown. I told her that I didn’t have time to do a full design consultation until April but offered to let her stop by my studio to see me and some nearly finished gowns in action.

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Since this could possibly be her and her gown in the future it might be nice for her to see the actual process up close, so she stopped by briefly one evening and I showed her the gown I was working on and let her look through my portfolios. The following week she scheduled a formal design consultation in May; her mom would be coming to town for Mother’s Day weekend and was really excited to meet me.

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Typically, for a design consultation I set aside an hour to meet with the bride at my studio and discuss every conceivable wedding detail; look at my fabric treatment samples and sometimes even try on existing gown samples that I have. Then, based on all the information I’ve gathered I will do sketches and meet with her again in a week or two for her to see the design options I’ve created. This bride’s mom was only going to be in town for the weekend and really wanted to be there to see the sketches, so I agreed to do the whole process within a two-day window!

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During the consultation we talked about everything from the groom’s attire to the wedding cake (this bride had sent me a power point presentation of all her wedding planning and inspiration photos, which I fully appreciate – the more information I have the better!). They were scheduled to come back on Sunday afternoon to see the sketches but as soon as they left on Saturday I had a mini panic-attack: how was I going to come up with this girl’s wedding gown in such a short amount of time?! Should I cancel the next day’s meeting and tell them I needed more time to gather my thoughts and do the sketches? I put it out of my mind for the rest of the day and went out to dinner with a friend, who reminded me that I work best under pressure anyways!

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The way my creative process works is to shift focus to something completely different for as long as it takes for the ideas and information I’ve gathered to sort themselves out in the back of my mind and percolate on their own time. Then, once I’m ready to sketch, I’ll go through my fashion history books, old sketchbooks, and style files (which are my encyclopedic collection of magazine tears––an analog Pinterest, if you will!) to see what details pop out at me for the particular bride I’m sketching for. I never really know what I’m going to design for the bride until I put pencil to paper and start drawing.

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I sketched two new options; the first of which I lingered on longer with my pencil. There was something about it that kept speaking to me for this bride but I had no idea if she’d like it or not. I also pulled some sketches I’d done previously but never made from my archives.

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When they arrived to see the sketches I prefaced the reveal with, “Keep in mind that this is just a starting point, so let me know what you like and what you don’t…obviously I didn’t have as much time to think about these as I usually would.”

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Not sure how they’d react, I prepared to for the worst while they silently inspected my sketchbook but thankfully the opposite happened: the bride pointed to sketch number one and said, “I love this one, I think it’s just perfect, it’s so me!” 

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Then the mom, who had remained uncharacteristically silent up to this point, piped up enthusiastically, “As soon as I saw that drawing I knew my daughter would pick it because it is just so her! How did you come up with it? Everything about it—it’s just perfect for her!” She went on to explain that they had spent the previous afternoon unsuccessfully trying on gowns at other salons, and decided she needed a certain type of waistline and bodice, none of which existed anywhere, and all of which were right there in my sketch. She was so impressed with how I had figured out each of those specific lines and proportions all from just meeting with them for an hour.

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So there was a reason I had spent more time on that first sketch; it was this bride’s dress! (Neither of these photos are of her gown sketch–gotta keep the design a secret until her August wedding!)

With the gown picked, we started talking about a veil which I sketched right there next to the gown drawing. As a general rule, if I’m going to make a bride’s dress and she wants a veil I like to make it too. That way it is perfectly suited to her and her gown and can be made to highlight or compliment certain important details of the dress.

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In any event, the best part about this consultation was the special note the mother of the bride sent with the deposit check letting me know what a special Mothers Day it had been for her to spend it with her only daughter and to see the gown I had designed that was just perfect for her… That’s what I love about my job: being an intimate part of important life events and providing something that creates special memories for families. I’m so excited to get working on this particular dress, you might have seen bits and pieces of it on Instagram.

Jenn – Salt Lake City, Utah

I’m excited to finally share photos of one of my latest Couture Brides, Jenn! She was a dream to work with and I’ve had fun sifting through all of her wedding photos by Heather Nan Photography to find these, my favorites of her and the gown I made for her.

After Jenn’s initial design consultation the three absolute-must-haves for her dress were that it had to have sleeves, she wanted it to show her collarbones because that’s her favorite feature, and she really liked tulle.

Less important were that it be an A-line or ball-gown silhouette—with not too much of a train—and that she also liked “sparkly stuff” but was not dead set on it…

With those criteria in mind I thought about it for the next few days. After drawing the first sketch I knew she was going to pick it, so I held off on doing any more drawings until I could prove my hunch. This was indeed her dress! When she saw it she loved it and that was that!

At the time of her design consultation, the wedding was going to take place in Newport Beach in March, so I did the original sketch with very slight cap sleeves and gave her the option of doing a longer 3/4 length sleeve depending on how the dress evolved; I would drape it both ways to decide what looked best on her when we fit the muslin. But before I got to making the muslin the location of the wedding was changed to Salt Lake City (same time of year), so we decided to go ahead with the longer sleeve since it would look and feel more appropriate in the colder climate. That’s one of the great things about doing a custom gown; it can evolve and change to perfectly suit many different criteria.

www.heathernanphoto.com

The gown is actually two separate pieces: a tulle and organza skirt, and the gown, which is more like a jacket with a train (in double face duchess satin—the same fabric I used to make my sister’s wedding gown). Jenn was planning to wear the gown as pictured for the whole wedding and reception, so I constructed it accordingly, but for a bride that just wanted to have shoulders and arms covered for the wedding ceremony I could have easily made the skirt underneath into a gown of its own with a strapless bodice or corset. Again, that’s the beauty of doing a custom gown—making it unique to the bride who will be wearing it.

Congratulations to Jenn and her husband! They are a lovely couple, and, as always, I enjoyed getting to know them and having such a special role to play for their big day!

Special Guest Blogger: One of My Brides, Lisa

On Choosing Colette Komm by L. H. Grant

A week after my engagement, on a flight from New York to Phoenix, I found myself sitting next to the head of Oscar de la Renta Bridal. I’d seen the collection online and loved it — one gown in particular. “Why don’t you meet me in Scottsdale and you can try it on?” The dress search has ended before it’s even begun, I thought to myself.

Two days later I was standing in front of a full-length mirror wearing the gown I thought would be “the one.” But something was off.  It wasn’t that the dress wasn’t beautiful or that it wasn’t flattering on me. Everything was lovely. There was just something that felt too manufactured about it — like a photoshopped image or a library filled with decorative books that have never been opened. I returned to New York empty handed.

Back home I visited more bridal salons, tried on more dresses and left with the same feeling I’d had in Scottsdale. It wasn’t until I walked into Colette’s studio that I found the authenticity I’d been looking for.

I once heard it said that great art is great not because of the questions it answers, but because of the questions it asks. As Colette showed me each gown in her collection, I found myself wanting to know more: how long it takes to hand-stitch each petal onto one dress, how she makes a skirt look like meringue peaks, how her gowns can at once be so exquisitely detailed, yet convey such a feeling of absolute simplicity.

As she told me about her creation process, and I watched her delicately handle each dress, I could see what made these gowns so different. Colette knew each stitch; she’d sewn each one with her own two hands. These dresses were never in a factory, never shuffled through a line of seamstresses, never a concept sketch sent to a sample room to interpret. Because Colette sees each creation from bride to sketch to pattern to muslin to gown back to bride, the final product has a sense of life, of history to it. Her gowns are Parisian architecture; the others, cookie cutter subdivisions.

On my wedding day the beauty of Colette’s work was evident not just to me, but to my guests — and not just to those who follow fashion. A dressmaker commented that she’d sewn hundreds of gowns but never managed to make any seem like they were an actual extension of the bride. “The dress is like part of your skin the way it moves on you,” she said. A retired police chief — a man I’ve known my whole life who has never taken any notice of fashion — was so struck by my gown that he said, “that’s exactly how I want my daughter to look on her wedding day.”

As for me, the greatest compliment I can pay to Colette and to the integrity of her creative process is to genuinely tell the truth: I have never seen a wedding dress — before or since my wedding — that I find more beautiful than the one she made for me. And for that, I thank her.

Colette – St. James, Barbados

Colette came to me with an interesting design and logistical challenge: she would be 7.5 months pregnant on her wedding day! This is a portrait I drew of her and her daughter, in a flower girl dress that I made to compliment her mother’s gown, in pencil on vellum, 8.5″ x 11″.

I Love This Shot of My Sister’s Wedding Gown

I’m obsessed with how the fabric looks in this photo. It’s a gorgeous Italian silk double-faced duchesse satin that I specifically chose for its luster, which perfectly accentuates all the gathering on the bodice.