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.

Gingerbread Cookie Collaboration 2013!

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If you know me you know that I love making cookies and I love Christmas, which naturally means that I really love making Christmas cookies! Over the last few years it’s become a tradition of mine to make snowflakes out of gingerbread, and pipe them rather ornately with royal icing.

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I like to call them Rococo snowflakes, but they could just as easily be Baroque snowflakes, and some of them could even pass for Art Deco snowflakes, but I digress. What’s more important is that it’s kind of like doing embroidery but with something sweet and edible and I have way too much fun doing it!

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I’ve been hearing for years from the ecstatic recipients of these cookies (I’ve only ever made them for my family and friends) that I need to make them available to the rest of the world, so this year I asked my friend Amy Noelle, who owns Sugar Flower Cake Shop and makes wedding cakes decorated with beautiful sugar flowers, if she would like to team up and help me bake, decorate, and sell my gingerbread snowflakes this holiday season. She thought it was a great idea!

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Now everyone will have a chance to find out for themselves if these cookies are indeed too pretty to eat (trust me, they are not–they taste just as good as they look)! You’ll be able to pre-order our first batch of cookies through Amy’s website by the end of the month, so stay tuned for details.

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And be sure and follow both of us on Instagram, as we’ll be posting lots of photos as we go… Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

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.

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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!