Creating a Custom Bridal Gown

Many engaged women are deciding that true originality means made-to-order

Even with the huge array of wedding gowns available in ateliers and department stores today, a select group of brides-to-be are commissioning designers to create dresses just for them. As a founder of the luxury sample sale Web site Gilt Groupe, Alexandra Wilkis Wilson is no stranger to gorgeous ready-to-wear. But it wasn't her fashion-insider status that prompted her to make the design process her own as she prepared for her wedding in Miami last year. With her mother, Alexandra visited nearly all of the well-known bridal salons in New York City. “I probably tried on over 30 gowns,” she says. “In the process, I got a good sense for what designs, embellishments and silhouettes I liked, but I did not find the perfect dress.”

Alexandra decided to commission NYC-based designer Lara Meiland, of Lara Hélène Bridal Atelier, to craft a gown that would be at home in the old Havana-inspired setting of Miami's Biltmore Hotel. At a meeting with Meiland, Alexandra outlined what she wanted in terms of design and fit, from laser-cut lace to supportive tulle straps. Following the resulting custom sketch and design, and several fittings, Alexandra had her gown: an off white duchesse satin creation, with a white tulle overlay adorned with Alençon lace, Swarovski crystals and seed pearls. “The best part of the process was that Lara herself was hands-on,” Alexandra says. “The experience was personalized and entirely luxurious.”

Couture doesn't stop at the dress—it goes right down to the toes. Though not publicized, Christian Louboutin's Paris atelier will make bridal shoes to order for those who can't find the perfect style among the offerings in its boutiques. Manhattan wedding planner Jung Lee has worked with brides whose Louboutins were customized with blue soles instead of the brand's signature red ones (a service available only through the Paris atelier), and who then had their new monogram painted on the inside of the heel by an additional artist. Some might dismiss such footwear fanaticism as the antics of crazed fashionistas, but Lee disagrees: “Brides feel getting married is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they want to go all out.” Bridal stylist Julie Sabatino, also based in New York City, agrees: “When a lot of people in your circle are getting married at the same time, you want to put your stamp on every last thing, as an expression of who you are.”

Beauty junkies can opt for a customized cosmetic or fragrance. Polly Blitzer, a New York City beauty editor who married last summer, wore a custom nail color created just for her by celebrity manicurist Essie. Called “Just Say Fiancée,” the shade was named during a dinner party at Essie's house in the Hamptons. Polly's now-husband, Mark Wolkstein, kept referring to her as his girlfriend, and Essie encouraged him to call her something a little more... committed. The champagne came out, and “Just Say Fiancée” was born.

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