It’s not often that a bridal designer will liken her dresses to pajamas — but, then again, not many bridal designers are like Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. “You need to feel beautiful but also comfortable,” says Chanin, who launches her first bridal collection, The Wedding, this week. “You shouldn’t be afraid that your bra’s going to show or be picking at your dress while you’re standing in front of everyone. It should be something that sits on you like a pajama.”
This story first appeared in the April 7, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That comfort-driven mind-set is nothing new, of course, for those already familiar with Chanin’s work. In 2001, she launched Project Alabama, famous for its cotton garments handmade by artisans in her hometown of Florence, Alabama. And she didn’t skip a beat when, in 2007, she split with her partner and lost the rights to the label’s name; later that year, she launched Alabama Chanin, which works with the very same quilters and stitchers. “We’re already set up for custom orders,” says Chanin, who is also holding a trunk show for her signature collection at Barneys New York on Wednesday. “Every piece we make [for the main line] is cut and sewn by hand, whether we’re making one piece or 200.”
Still, entering the bridal market wasn’t an obvious move for the designer. “I’m not sure why it took us so long,” she says, noting it was her recent spring lineup that put those nuptial gears in motion. “Spring was inspired by ceremonial dresses, so we did a lot of white looks. It just kind of developed from that.”
The 50-piece Wedding collection, which includes long V-neck gowns, tunic dresses, skirts and tanks, as well as matching vests and jackets, continues in the same folksy vein. Everything comes cut in her trademark organic cotton jersey and, Chanin proudly notes, is machine washable. But she doesn’t sacrifice elaborate design for ease of care (and wear). The garments, priced from $150 to $4,000 wholesale, are embellished with visible stitching, reverse appliqués, beading, stencilwork and embroidery galore — the artsy-craftsy techniques core to her clothes.
“When you’re looking at the wedding market, I think we have something truly different to offer, something that’s outside the norm,” says Chanin. “The dresses we make, they’re heirloom pieces.”
She adds that clients can also customize their own garments — pairing a silhouette with an embroidery pattern from the Alabama Chanin archives — or rework them into similar styles for bridesmaids or flower girls.
And yet another bonus: In keeping with her sustainable sensibility, Chanin is able to overdye the pieces after the big day. “I know a lot of people save their wedding dress for life,” she notes. “This way, they can wear it more than once.”