Jim Hjelm

Vera Wang purchased nine dresses before her wedding, so her firm is among a crop of bridal resources offering more gown choices for brides.

NEW YORK — As someone who purchased nine dresses during the seven months of planning that led up to her wedding, Vera Wang knows firsthand how often a bride can change her mind.

So Wang, like other bridal resources, is offering a more diverse range of gowns to appeal to sophisticated shoppers.

From Wang to J. Crew, bridal designers have churned out a melange of styles and taken giant steps forward from the typical strapless, princess-in-a-jewelry-box dress. In Wang’s showroom, there are such definitive accents as Cecil Beaton-inspired black velvet sashes, wrapped bodices, bubbled hems, English net necklines and pleated tiers with tulle overlay. If this all sounds rather theatrical, that’s the point.

“I just feel in bridal that I am not just a designer, I’m a costumer,’’ Wang said. “I have to be more in an Edith Head-type head. I have to satisfy the girl in Boston, the girl in San Francisco, the starlet and the girl having a beach wedding.”

Wang understands the many faces of brides. “When I’m designing ready-to-wear, I’m thinking about how they wear their clothes and how I like to wear them — as if they’re almost throwaway clothes,” Wang said.

Not so for her wedding gowns, especially when one considers the construction required for the ivory organza gown with pleated tiers and tulle overlay with a draped tulle bodice and layered ribbon sash. Using transparent fabrics that subtly reveal the construction of a garment is something Wang is working on for her ready-to-wear collection next year.

Designers’ attention to detail in wedding gowns is something that photographer Philippe Cheng has noticed. Just as brides are customizing tablecloths to make their wedding “more of their own, the dress is no different,” he said.

“I am seeing less of the quote-unquote traditional gown with more simple and clean lines,” Cheng said. “I have seen a lot more detail — buttons, trim and beading. It’s more intricate than having it there arbitrarily.”

The amount of construction involved in designing wedding dresses is what motivated Xiomara Grossett to create her own bridal collection. The fact that it also makes use of techniques from other decades was also appealing. “To me, the construction in bridal is its beauty,’’ she said.

This story first appeared in the October 25, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Her initial 18-piece collection ships to 16 stores in January and should generate about $1 million in first-year wholesale volume. Grossett decided to pursue the bridal category because it is one of the few areas that her former employer Donna Karan, with whom she started working at Anne Klein, is not involved. Grossett does have plans to launch eveningwear next year, and ready-to-wear within the next three to five years.

Blumarine Sposa, designed by Anna Molinari, is another newcomer to the U.S. bridal business. With an average wholesale price of $2,500, the 28-piece collection is projected to ring up $5 million in first-year wholesale volume, said Paulette Cleghorn, chief executive officer of Designerloft Productions, the firm representing the label.

Yumi Katsura, a bridal designer who established herself 40 years ago, has returned to the U.S. market with her signature collection. For the past eight years, Katsura’s niece Erisa has designed a collection under the Erisa Katsura for Yumi Katsura collection. The elder Katsura’s line has a couple of one-of-a-kind dresses, including a $250,000 hand-crocheted gown with 100,000 Swarovski crystals. The average wholesale price is $2,700. 

Ulla Maija is seeing more interest in stylish dresses, especially ones with extended bodices, a company spokeswoman said. “Nothing is considered too trendy,” she said. “We have made true fashion statements with our collections, including the incorporation of the color pink in our new gowns, and the market is eating it up.”

Joe Murphy, president and ceo of JLM Couture, said, “The most interesting thing is how the new high-end bridal customer is much more sophisticated and knowledgeable. She has studied the fashions of a wide variety of high-end designers, and when she comes in to make her purchase, she knows what she’s looking for and can distinguish originality and innovation from hype.”

With weddings being a “hugely growing category” for J. Crew, the company is layering up with necessities such as cashmere cardigans, flower girls’ dresses, a men’s tuxedo, leather-bound atlases and more wedding dresses, a company spokeswoman said. In January, women’s designer Jenn Lyons and “wedding specialists” from J. Crew’s Lynchburg, Va., offices will host trunk shows in its Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco stores. More cities will be added later in the year. A $98 strapless embossed beach dress, a silhouette that has been J. Crew’s best-selling spring and summer item across all categories for four consecutive years and will be offered in 10 varieties this spring, should be a favorite.

Not wanting to be known solely as a khaki-friendly brand, the company has beefed up its wedding department in Lynchburg, which handles up to 3,000 events at a time. The company now has 16, wedding specialists compared with three a year ago. They phone bridal party members a day after they receive their dresses, keep brides up to speed on deliveries, help plan honeymoon attire and follow up with brides post-wedding, among other things. Catalogue and online shoppers are assigned individual specialists who will handle their bridal parties’ attire purchases.

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