NEW YORK — In black tie at a recent preview of Truly Zac Posen at the Academy Mansion, the designer spoke emphatically about the draping and fittings that went into developing the label for David’s Bridal.
The party celebrated his official foray into the bridal market, but he joins a league of other designers, such as Naeem Khan, who aren’t afraid to use ready-to-wear techniques to win over ever-discriminating brides.
Tossing tradition aside for spring, Carolina Herrera showed her first collection of short white wedding dresses. Designed for weddings, rehearsal dinners or post-wedding farewell brunches, the assortment still had plenty of the designer’s details, such as feather trims and moonstone embellishment. “It can be for the wedding or after the wedding. A lot of girls are changing [into a second dress] after they get married, so I thought I also had to change,” Herrera said.
Vera Wang also broke away from the crowd by offering something individualistic — in this case, an all-pink collection that covered the shades from coral to peony. “Think pink and the irony of pink and all those shades for winter,” she said.
Whether it be their increasingly fashion-conscious brides or the nearly instantaneous dissemination of trends, designers are more inclined to work some of their rtw magic into bridal collections. While none are about to abandon traditional brides, they are designing more stylish and considerably lighter dresses as well.
After his runway show at Kleinfeld, Dennis Basso said, “For me, what makes bridal great is that you are creating every young girl, or not-so-young girl’s, red-carpet moment. In the end, the wedding is a huge production but it’s really about the dress.”
Noting brides are more willing to wear sleeves or low-back dresses, Basso said that red-carpet thinking has given him more of a poetic license to design bridal.
Badgley Mischka is also seeing more fashion-minded brides, including those shopping in their new Upper East Side boutique. Mark Badgley said, “Our bride always comes to us for a dose of glamour. We’re seeing how ready-to-wear and red carpet influence bridal.”
“In the last couple of years, the business got too over-the-top,” Angel Sanchez said. “We want to return to more of a minimalist silhouette. So many brides are trying too hard to show off their bodies. To me, that is not elegant.”
Shifting toward more two-in-one dresses, he noted how a featherweight lace bolero on a mannequin could be removed and the wearer would have the A-line dress beneath it. Versatility and airy fabrics like crinkled organza have helped Sanchez to open more accounts in Asia.
The bridal category has also been a gateway, so to speak, for Oscar de la Renta’s international growth, especially in Japan, Korea, China and the Middle East. The company’s entire bridal sales account for less than 10 percent of the business, but they are rapidly growing, according to president Alex Bolen. Three years ago they were only about 1 percent of the total volume.
“Bridal is a great way to introduce people to the brand,” he said.
Referring to de la Renta’s atelier as “very much a laboratory,” Bolen said techniques are often transferred to rtw and vice versa. Another version of the ivory silk A-line gown that the actress Kate Bosworth wore for her wedding earlier this year, for example, will be offered in an assortment of colors
Lela Rose said that certain techniques used in her rtw are also being used for her wedding gowns, such as pleated chiffon, which appears in ivory lace. “We want to show details that worked in ready-to-wear and bring them to the wedding collection,” she said. “There is more of a fashion sense in the wedding collection. It’s not as much about beading and opulence. One thing that makes us stand out is that we like to look for fabrics that are not necessarily ones you would expect to find in wedding gowns.”
Rather than focus solely on the bridal market, Houghton designer Katharine Polk zeroes in on fashion magazines. Showing her collection in her West Chelsea space, she noted that each dress has pockets. Although one gown with embroidered flowers required 80 hours of work, they are all meant to be “very easy — just zip and go without having to put too much time into deciding.”
Named after Katharine Hepburn, Polk said she often tries to imagine the actress’ relaxed chicness when working on her label.
David’s Bridal showed off its bridal collections in a downtown loft. Vice president of bridal design Robert Barnowske pointed out that more “collapsed” silhouettes, spaghetti straps and less-embellished styles are appealing to more brides. “I don’t think there are a lot of girls who want to wear dresses that wear them or that weigh a ton,” he said.
With 300-plus stores, including its first London boutique, the Conshohocken, Pa.-based retailer is making a concerted effort to give each of its eight collections a more definitive style. A tea-length Oleg Cassini gown, for example, offers a more contemporary and lighter version of a dress Cassini made for Jackie Kennedy to wear to a dinner at Versailles.
Given the wide age gap of women getting married (for the first, second or third time), the chain wanted to make sure its collections suited an array of shoppers with options beyond the standard strapless ballgown dress, Barnowske said.
As a model appeared in a relaxed pastel Galina dress, he said, “We were inspired by the girl getting married on her rooftop in Williamsburg.”
But collectively the company wants to cover the gamut. “We want to cater to someone who is getting married in a beach house or at a more formal affair with tons of Champagne,” Barnowske said.