Can’t say yes to a dress? A custom gown could be calling your name! A good designer can knit together your ideas to make the dress of your dreams a blissful reality. But, while a one-of-kind wedding dress is an alluring proposition, the process of creating a custom gown can be confusing. To help demystify the custom-gown journey, we spoke with Kpoene Kofi-Nicklin – designer of romantic, vintage-inspired wedding gowns and owner of the Chicago design studio and bridal salon Mignonette. Below, Kofi-Nicklin breaks it down for us, stitch by stitch.
Even if you already know you want to have a custom gown designed, Kofi-Nicklin says dress shopping is still an important part of the process. “Try on a lot of gowns before you decide to go the custom route so that you know what silhouette works for you and what materials you like,” she says.
Get Hooked on Fabrics
Familiarize yourself with the terminology – know the difference between chiffon and satin, a mermaid and a trumpet. If you’re not sure where to start, “wedding magazines like ‘The Knot’ are great resources for brides,” Kofi-Nicklin says. When it comes time to meet with your designer, you’ll have the vocabulary to articulate your vision – ensuring you get exactly what you want.
50 First Dates
“It is crucial to have a good rapport with whoever you end up working with, as they are charged with interpreting and enhancing your vision,” says Kofi-Nicklin. So play the field before you commit to a designer. You’ll be working with her closely, and since you can’t try on the dress before you buy it, you’ll need to trust her artistic vision and skill.
What Women Want
Working with a designer is a collaborative and evolutionary process.
“Though, as designers, we are thrilled to be told to just trust our instincts, we like to have a bit of direction as well,” says Kofi-Nicklin.
You need to have a fairly clear picture of your dream dress, while remaining open to someone else’s interpretation and the subtle changes that may take place with each fitting. The best candidate for a custom gown is a bride who occupies that sweet spot somewhere between “I know exactly what I want” and “I have no idea.”
Most designers offer free initial consultations where you can sit down, describe your vision, exchange ideas, try on samples and get acquainted. The designer should ask you a lot of questions.
“They might seem silly or random or irrelevant,” Kofi-Nicklin says. “But, I am always trying to get a better sense of the person who is planning to wear the gown – is she comfortable with her body? What is her everyday style? What kind of wedding is she having? What are the most important elements?”
Back to the Drawing Board
Based on the inspiration you share with her at the initial meeting, the designer will often create sketches of dress options. “While we are chatting, she is showing me pictures, describing things she likes and doesn’t like…I am sketching, erasing, and adding details the entire time…[then] I present the sketch and we talk about what details the bride might like to add or subtract,” Kofi-Nicklin says.
Fit to Be Tied Down
Much of the custom-gown process is devoted to fittings. With a pre-designed dress, after you purchase it, you’ll likely take it to a seamstress for alterations. In contrast, with a custom dress, you’ll attend three to four fittings over the course of several months as the gown is being made – ensuring the finished product is a perfect fit. The first fitting is a continuation of the design process, using the dress lining or muslin. You’ll figure out how low the neckline will dip, where the waist will sit, and choose other elements of the dress design.
“It is a time for the bride and the designer to really talk and get a lot questions hammered out,” Kofi-Nicklin says.
Made for Each Other
After the initial fitting, the designer will begin constructing the gown. With each successive fitting, the design is further refined, tailored and trimmed.
“The client can see the gown coming together before her eyes – the structure goes in, the embellishments go on, and voila, dream dress!” says Kofi-Nicklin.
Find Your Perfect Match: Four More Wedding Gown Designer/Makers Worth Checking Out
- Veronica Sheaffer: Luxurious, feminine gowns with thoughtful details. 2409 W. Hirsch St., Chicago, 773-687-9125
- Dame Couture: Does a limited number of custom-designed gowns each year, with a focus on vintage details and individual style. 1804 Central St., Evanston, 847-866-7599
- Avail and Company: One-of-a-kind gowns for brides and a selection of pre-designed options. 1106 Davis St., Evanston, 847-841-3861
- Victoria Sdoukos Couture Bridal: Clean, tailored and elegant gowns, as well as custom bridal jewelry and veils. 924 W. Madison St. Chicago, 312-226-9880
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