Gowns Show Signs of the Times

Shorter bridal dress lengths as well as engagements, turnaround times for purchases and in some cases, patience with their mothers' fashion advice, was the...

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NEW YORK — Shorter bridal dress lengths as well as engagements, turnaround times for purchases and in some cases, patience with their mothers’ fashion advice, was the buzz at several of last week’s fashion shows.

The jaunty music, hand-painted screens and cherry blossom stems that adorned Carolina Herrera’s showroom hinted at how the designer’s collection was inspired a bit by the Belle Epoque. A full-painted tulle dress with matching veil and a Parisian dress in dotted organza with lace and ribbon detail were additional evidence. Inventive as some of the pieces were, they stopped short of being trendy, which was essential to Herrera.

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“I understand that it has to be traditional — it cannot be trendy,” she said. “The dresses are a bit more classical, some have hand-painted embroidery or mother-of-pearl details. I know this has to be a very special dress, so I add little details.”

Herrera was among the designers who offered short dresses, in her case a short embroidered organza dress, and other modern touches such as boleros. Designers like Amsale and Oscar de la Renta created a few dresses with pockets — another sign of today’s more relaxed brides.

After his runway show, de la Renta said he approached wedding dresses differently than his signature collection, but that is a practice that he keeps with all his categories. “It is a special day for a girl,” he said.

Unlike most, de la Renta prefers to show one collection a year instead of two. The way he sees it, wedding dresses don’t change drastically in one year. What has changed is what the younger generations choose to wear compared with their mothers.

“In most instances, most mothers have a completely different idea of what their daughters would like to wear,” de la Renta said.

His of-the-moment styles included a silk white brocade shift with a feathered hem, a white double-face bouclé suit with a portrait collar and a cream silk faille strapless gown with a detachable skirt.

At Vera Wang, executives sense that retailers are ready for a change, said Susan Sokol, president of Vera Wang Apparel. “There is a tremendous amount of interest in short cocktail-length dresses. It’s for the bride who doesn’t want something as full. Softer gowns for destination weddings continue to be an important part of our business. Fashion separates like a great jacket are also important. We like to think our bride is a very nondiscriminating bride.”

Wang’s collection was inspired by the classicism of ancient Greece and the neoclassicism that spurred French designers such as Paul Poiret, Vionnet, Madame Grès, Chanel and Christian Dior.

After Angel Sanchez’s show at Christie’s, Mindy Woon, buyer and manager of Bergdorf Goodman’s bridal salon, welcomed the short dress trend.

“I love the short dresses; I was so happy to see them,” she said. “I’ve been looking for short dresses for a long time. There was everything from cute young ones to very sophisticated styles. It covered the full range.”

Woon noted how many designers had created “very pretty and very feminine” bridal styles, with Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta being her favorites and Angel Sanchez also making an impression.

“A lot of vendors have come up with really fresh ideas — lots of organza, alternative necklines, laser-cut flowers, the mixing of laces,” she said.

Sanchez offered an array of cocktail dresses, including one of silk organza with a bateau neckline and a silk gauze style trimmed with embroidered metallic trim. In total, he came up with 20 different designs for 20 different personalities. “It came easy because my inspiration always comes from all the brides I’ve worked with,” Sanchez said.

Lela Rose, whose collection is known for its laundered fabrics and intricate details, said her line appeals to brides who are more aware of fashion. “We have a much more modern take on the wedding business than the basic froth.”

Showing in an Essex House suite decorated with family wedding photos, Rose picked up five new accounts and said her aim is to have stores get to know her brand. “We’re so much more interested in having stores learn about us as a company. We’re not interested in flooding them with so many different looks,” she said.

More women are postponing marriage, so when they decide to take the plunge they want their weddings to be more intimate, Rose said. Instead of inviting hundreds of guests, they are opting to celebrate with family and “really close friends,” she said. In many cases, that calls for destination weddings, which more often than not require nontraditional dresses.

Mark Badgley and James Mischka, who design the Badgley Mischka bridal and bridesmaid collections and returned to the business last year after a more than five-year absence, said they were surprised by how significant the April market has become. “Now we think it’s critical to do both collections,” Badgley said, referring to April and October.

Another change is how much closer to season brides are shopping, even those who are having “really big, grand weddings” he said.

Badgley Mischka opened 22 new accounts for the bridesmaid dresses as well as some new ones for the bridal collection, they said. The designer label, which already offers bridal shoes and handbags, rounded out its bridal assortment with a new jewelry collection. The pair said they recently had a huge trunk show at Kleinfeld in Manhattan, primarily because of brides having everything they needed at their fingertips.

Priscilla of Boston is also trying to simplify shopping with its new bridal salon on the second floor of 264 West 40th Street here. The store, the company’s eleventh, carries Priscilla of Boston, Melissa Sweet, Platinum and the newly launched Vineyard collection. The latter is aimed at consumers looking to spend upward of $1,000. Less than one-third of all wedding gowns are in the $1,500 to $1,800 price range, said Gary Schwartz, president of Priscilla of Boston, adding, “That does present a big opportunity for us and our wholesale accounts.

The new Priscilla of Boston salon will also cater to shoppers at the other end of the market who are willing to drop $19,000 for a gown. Brides-to-be will also have the option of working one-on-one with the designers on a custom-made gown, Schwartz said. “New York is the number-one bridal market in the U.S.,” he added.

Yolanda Cellucci, owner of Yolanda’s in Waltham, Mass., said her bridal customers fall into two camps — they either have no time to spare or are shopping a year or two in advance. Getting wedding gowns for time-challenged shoppers has “absolutely become a major problem,” she said.

Demetrios Couture is one of the resources that is able to turn around dresses quickly, Cellucci said. Many brides-to-be are willing to pay hundreds of dollars in rush cut fees for their last-minute orders. “But if a girl has a good figure, I will try to talk her into buying the sample we have,” she said.

Monique Lhuillier and Reem Acra were market week standouts, and Amsale proved to be a little cutting edge and trendy, she said. Many shoppers at her store, including mothers of the bride, bring tear sheets from magazines featuring celebrities wearing styles they like. The emphasis on more youthful looks was evident on the runways. So much so that Cellucci’s 18-year-old granddaughter unknowingly offered some insight after attending several bridal shows. She asked Cellucci, “Why would a bride want to wear such a trendy dress?” Cellucci said. “She’s right. Why would you want something trendy when you will have those wedding pictures for the rest of your life?”

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