• Fashion Forward
  • Written by : Dina M. Cortez
  • Photo : Larry Fagala

As if finding the ideal man to marry wasn’t tough enough, planning the perfect wedding also means deciding which dress you’ll be donning when you say “I do.” And, no matter how fancy and formal or cool and casual your event may be, finding a gorgeous gown to complement you and your affair is truly hard work. While some may bask in the research (flipping through an endless stack of magazines) and experimentation (trying on every dress in your size) of the wedding dress journey, others want a little more help when it comes to detecting brilliant bridal attire.

Have no fear, wedding dress designers and their retailers can help you make your way through everything from regal ballgowns to elegant sheaths and help you choose a design that is truly fashion forward. Indeed, Toni Boutillier, manager of the exclusive bridal boutique, Louise Blum, says the dresses available this spring won’t leave brides-to-be disappointed.

“This year is truly exceptional” says Boutillier, whose salon carries lines from Alvina Valenta to Vera Wang. “Designers have surpassed previous collections with distinctive designs that are unlike what anyone has seen before.”

“The styles this season are softer than what I have done before,” says Jenny Lee, a dress designer whose name is now among the bridal elite despite a career that was launched just five years ago. “It’s all about the element of romance.”

Celebrated for her simple yet elegant designs, Lee certainly knows. Recognized as Best New Designer in 2005, she has spent her time since then becoming a favorite of the modern bride.

While she states that her past collections have been full of sexy styles that radiate confidence, the designer believes that there are several features that make this year different. Among the designs from her collection that are sure to garner praise are alternative necklines, such as plunging V’s, halters and scoops; modified A-lines that streamline any figure; and lots of ruching, the sewing technique that results in pleated, fluted or gathered fabric.

“The brides are my inspiration,” says Lee. “So, my design goal is always to accentuate feminine curves.”

Lee adds that the right fit is a primary concern when she is dreaming up her designs. In fact, she usually experiments in three dimensional form rather than on paper, and says that ultimately all of her work is about the draping process and designing from the inside out, until she uncovers a style that interests her.

“My approach is very exploratory,” says Lee, “I work my way outward to the final design in search of styles that bring out the absolute best features of each and every bride.”

Theresa Breon, owner of I do, I do Bridal Salon and Tuxedos, an upscale salon in River Oaks, agrees that, this year, romance is in the air. After a decade in the bridal business, she says that a number of the designer dresses she is seeing brides fawn over this year are sensual styles with a modern edge.

Breon finds that brides especially like design lines like Christos, Lazaro and Marisa, all of which feature updated interpretations of the traditional wedding dress. Contoured and spaghetti strap necklines, for example, are especially popular this year as are “fit and flair” styles that provide a romantic silhouette.

“The collections last year were very extravagant and overflowing with beading and embroidery,” she says. “This year, the designers have returned to an elegance that truly highlights the bride herself.”

While it can be said that the wedding dress has returned to its roots, that doesn’t mean brides-to-be must settle for the simple. In fact, many of the designer dresses winning raves on the runway are those that incorporate fabulous fabrics, textures and details of all kinds.

Known for her beautifully fresh fashions for over ten years now, designer Monique Lhuillier continues to shine in the bridal world, keeping her name on the tips of tongues of celebrities and brides alike. (She has even outfitted Bride Barbie® herself.)

“This year, Monique’s designs are all about diversity,” says Lori Weil, who serves as sales director for the designer, “styles that ensure that brides have plenty of options for the wedding day.”

A master at mixing textures and embellishments, Lhuillier has a gift for the gorgeous that is evident like never before in her 2007 collection. Among the features Weil says will make brides-to-be jump for joy are totally touchable, light and airy fabrics like silk chiffon, French Alencon lace and satin silk organza as well as three-dimensional details like flowers and bows that make a Lhuillier dress a dream to wear down the aisle.

“Monique believes that exquisite fabrics and textures are at the heart of her designs,” says Weil, “because when a bride is comfortable in what she is wearing and feels beautiful, she is beautiful.”

In fact, Weil admits that, in addition to looking to brides for design revelation, Lhuillier is often inspired by the fabrics she works with and designs many of her styles by utilizing the fluidity of the materials. Included in her luxurious line for 2007 are: a French Alencon lace V neck dress with taffeta bows on each cap sleeve as well as at the waist; a modified ballgown enveloped in layers of hand-tied organza bows; and a variety of capelets, transparent tulle “jackets” which shroud the shoulders and arms, and yet invite a little mystery.

Weil says these designs are just some examples of how modern fabrics and details can update a traditional gown, making them a versatile choice for any wedding affair, from the ultra elegant to a destination event.

“For Monique, each collection is an evolution,” says Weil. “She always builds on who she is to come up with sophisticated designs that scream femininity.”

Diane Fenzl, manager of Priscilla of Boston, the luxury brand borne in the 1940s, knows that beauty can certainly lie in the textures and details. She says that many of the brides who come into her salon love designs that feature modern mixes of old and new.

According to Fenzl, styles that particularly catch the eyes of progressive brides-to-be are those by Melissa Sweet, who gained recognition as the designer of her own line and now serves as design director for the line under Priscilla of Boston, and designs by Kenneth Pool which are found in Priscilla’s Platinum collection.

“Dresses this season are fresh and demure,” says Fenzl, “primarily because of their flattering fabrics and details.”

Silk taffetas, organzas and soft embroidery and layered treatments are evident in many of the dresses Fenzl finds brides-to-be falling for, traits that she believes make the bride feel like a princess without feeling overpowered by the dress itself.

One such popular style by Sweet, named Mila, features a ruched taffeta trumpet skirt with asymmetric floral corsage. Another, named Dora, is an organza creation that boasts a ruched wrap bodice and simple self sash. “The fabrics used in the new collections provide cleaner and softer lines,” she says “giving the gown a sense of body, contour and fit that is truly stunning.”

Though style and texture captivate the bride, sometimes it’s the color that lures them in. True—white and ivory rule the bridal aisle—but, this year there are an array of hues present in collections that just may make brides take a second look. Anne Barge is one designer who is tempting brides-to-be with traditionally designed dresses in nontraditional colors.

Though her private label collection has not yet reached its ten year anniversary, Barge certainly is a force in the bridal world. In fact, this designer has been influencing what brides wear down the aisle for over twenty-five years.

The designer reveals that she is heavily inspired by historical garments and admits that many of the pieces in her new line are reminiscent of court dresses—classic designs that anchor a bride’s look and yet, each with its own unique personality. Consequently, many of these newest creations, 36 diverse dresses with a tie to the past, are gowns that feature pretty pastel colors like ice blue, blush and gold that perfectly complement a confident bride.

“The colors are very pale,” says Barge, “but provide enough contrast to be beautiful with other accents at a wedding especially the bridesmaids’ dresses.”

Wrought in sumptuous fabrics like Italian cotton, silk linen, silk taffeta and organza, the colors shimmer, shine and showcase other textural and personal touches the designer is known for such as silk flowers, satin sashes and custom designed broaches that bejewel her dresses in all the right places. For the designer, the use of color is a natural progression since she is a true lover of art and costume history. In fact, Barge believes that the use of color enlivens the intricate detailing she has incorporated into her new collection.

“The use of color is very Victorian,” says Barge. “It brings more interest to the dress without overwhelming the details or the design.”

She adds that color is yet another way for a bride to create a traditional silhouette that is far from being boring, “Today’s bride is savvy, educated and knows exactly what she wants and it is my job to give them feminine designs that exude their personal style.”

“These are some of the biggest changes we have seen in dress designs in five years,” says Starla Flake, who owns Brickhouse Bridal in the Woodlands, and co-owner of the recently opened Mia Bridal, a couture bridal salon in mid-town.

She, of course, is referring to the remarkable styles debuted for Spring 2007 that feature fresh face-framing necklines, body-hugging A-lines and beautiful lush fabrics like silk taffeta, silk organza and Chantilly lace. Among Flake’s favorite finds in the collections she carries are: the Stephanie, a V-neck gown with dropped waist and full skirt clad in Chantilly lace by Edgardo Bonilla; a handful of slim A-line creations by Ines di Santo that are available in beautiful hues like bridal blue, gold and champagne; and the Marissa by Michelle Roth which boasts a strapless neckline with custom lace overlay and custom designed buttons. “Each is an exquisite design that brides will be elated to wear on their wedding day,” says Flake.

Jeannie Nguyen, owner of Parvani Vida Bridal and Formal, a ready to wear and custom design salon, is delighted that designers are making it easy for a bride to truly express herself in color.

Collections she carries for 2007 include a variety of magnificent gowns available in shades of pale pink, soft champagne, rich gold and even red. Enzoani, for example, offers several styles in a choice of colors like platinum blue, rose and gold/bronze. But, if overall color is more than you can handle, she adds that the collection also includes styles which use delicately colored appliqués and embroidery to enhance and modernize an otherwise traditional gown.

“It is an exciting time to be a bride,” says Nguyen. “Designers are expanding their collections to include styles and details that are truly unique and will make any bride gorgeous on her wedding day.” To be truly fashion forward heed the advice of those who know…

Keep Time on Your Side. Breon reminds brides to begin the search for a bridal gown as early as possible, which can often mean eight months to one year before the big day.

Trust Your Consultant. Fenzl believes “It’s important for the consultant to know your preferences and dislikes as well as the details of your wedding day so she can make style and fabric suggestions that, perhaps, you would have never considered.”

Confer with a Companion. Boutillier knows brides want to share the experience of shopping for the perfect gown, but warns that “having too many opinions may lead you to feel pressured to appease others rather than yourself.”

Think Versatility. Nguyen observes that many designs for 2007 offer remarkable versatility. Among the popular solutions for brides who want to be demure during the ceremony but more daring for the reception are the variety of shrugs, bolero jackets and wraps offered by designers that coordinate with a number of dress styles.