By  on April 22, 2008

Counting on weddings to continue to take place regardless of the economy, bridal designers and retailers expect lighter-weight dresses and body-skimming silhouettes to appeal to their customers in the months ahead.

For the most part, everyone from Oscar de la Renta to J. Crew staged runway shows or presentations during bridal week in New York last week, but this time around, many of them showed a variety of lengths and styles instead of just the tried-and-true formal wedding gown. With many brides still buying two dresses for their big day or continuing to jet off for destination weddings, designers and bridal manufacturers made sure to serve up plenty of options.

Carolina Herrera went off-site with more informal modeling at the Plaza Hotel. While waiters passed cappuccinos and light breakfast fare, guests stood in a circle chatting as the models passed by. Herrera said she decided to try a more low-key affair after watching videotapes of previous shows and noticing that most guests chatted throughout. "I said, 'Why can't we do it so that everybody talks to each other, and at the same time, they are looking at the collection?'" she said, glancing around the room. "And everyone is so happy."

Saks Fifth Avenue's Michael Fink and Kleinfeld co-owner Mara Urshel were among the guests who nodded approvingly at the collection, which spanned the history of fashion with pieces inspired by the 18th century, Twenties, modern day and a little bit of everything.

"This is very good for brides. They can choose what they want to wear," Herrera said afterward. "I loved the idea of having different periods in fashion."

Gilles Mendel opted for private appointments to unveil his first bridal collection under the J.Mendel label. The designer has been quietly designing wedding dresses for select clients for the past few years. More than anything, he wanted to create dresses that are ethereal and lightweight to put brides at ease. Each style requires three to six months of lead time due to intricate details such as hand-pleated silk mousseline and embroidery under the dress' skirt. The wedding dresses are an extension of his ready-to-wear collection, he said. A white lace mermaid dress with cap sleeves and a pleated chiffon underskirt and a strapless gown with a bolero are among the styles. "They are supersexy but they are not revealing anything," the designer said.

The collection will be sold by appointment only at J.Mendel stores in the U.S., as well as through Bergdorf Goodman. Retail prices will range from $7,500 to $30,000.

In addition to staging a show at the Warwick Hotel and presenting her collection to buyers, Lela Rose faced an onslaught of media requests last week after news broke that she has designed dresses for the attendants at Jenna Bush's upcoming wedding. But the affable designer, whose family has been friendly with the Bushes for years, was unruffled by all the attention. That said, there is no denying the publicity should boost interest.

"It's great for us in terms of enabling our wedding collection to reach a different audience," said Rose. "This will help us be recognized more in the wedding area even though we're not doing Jenna's wedding dress, of course."

Beyond the First Daughter's nuptials, Rose has established herself in the bridal business by launching her first ad campaign and focusing on nontraditional fabrics and details — an anomaly in the industry. Interestingly, the designer drew inspiration from Ayn Rand's 1957 novel "Atlas Shrugged."

"The impact that book had on me — it was such an inspiration to challenge the norm and challenge tradition," she said. "I don't like the idea of having a bride look as though she opened up a box and put on a shiny white dress. That's an unrealistic perspective of what a wedding is. It's about two people making a life together. You are who you are based on the people who came before you."

Rose's dresses tend to have a hint of nostalgia even though they are made from unusual fabrics such as laundered silk satin or Chantilly lace backed in voile. "We're at an interesting moment now. The stores got it all initially and now the brides are getting it," Rose said.

Last week Priscilla of Boston introduced stores to its fifth and newest collection, Reverie by Melissa Sweet. By having a portfolio of brands at different price points, the company aims to attract a wide range of shoppers, which is advantageous in these uncertain economic times, according to Gary Schwartz, president of the Priscilla of Boston bridal group.

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