When it comes to bridal gown shopping, finding something with simple, clean lines can be a surprisingly tough task. So it’s no wonder that those after something a little different from the strapless or mermaid styles that are so ubiquitous find themselves turning away from the mainstream and towards smaller, boutique designers such as Schone, a mother-daughter operation based in New York.
“Brides come to me because they see my aesthetic and want something in that vein, if not specifically one of my existing designs,” says owner and designer Rebecca Schone.
“They usually just want something simple and clean, but also special, romantic, of high quality, and sometimes at least a bit glamorous.”
A world of inspiration
Rebecca is not the type to follow trends, preferring instead to draw on her own imagination or the world around her for inspiration. “I draw on emotion over trends,” she admits.
“I like to imagine a style of wedding or an era or some beautiful setting and just intuit what would be the perfect dress in that scene, on that girl.”
Rebecca’s history as a ballet dancer has also influenced her approach to design. “I suppose the grace of movement, the fluidity of fabric, the history of fashion, the natural curves of a woman’s body, and the giddy, almost theatrical feeling of wearing something really special are my deepest, most constant sources inspiration.”
And of course, fabric never fails to evoke Rebecca’s artistic side. “Whether it’s a gorgeous piece of lace or an embroidery or even a simple silk satin fabric holds a lot of emotion for me. I love to take a piece of fabric and drape it over myself in front of a mirror, or over my dress form, and just feel where it should land.”
Designing what you know
Rebecca’s designs are simple and elegant, redolent of elegant garden events and chic cocktail evenings, and she admits that her personal experiences may influence her design approach–she herself was married in a grove of redwood trees in the California Bay Area.
“I think that a lot of women these days want to wear dresses that will make them feel like themselves, and they want to get married in settings that feel more personal, comfortable and less over-the-top.”
This often equates to outdoor or less “traditional” settings. “I’ve had brides wear my gowns to weddings on the beach, in an old barn, alongside a river, in a botanic garden, in a turn of the century New York restaurant just to name a few!”
Rebecca also designs for pregnant brides, and has found that her experience as a mother has helped her create designs that cater to the specific needs of expecting clients.
“Working with brides who are also expecting can present a few special challenges,” she explains. “Often their weddings are planned with short notice, and their bodies, and measurements, are changing daily. Dealing with all of those pressures at once are a lot for anyone to handle.”
Being sensitive to these concerns is vital to ensuring that a pregnant bride is able to walk away with the gown of her dreams.
“She may be happy to finally have a chest, but that doesn’t mean she wants her grandparents to everything on display!” laughs Rebecca. “I do my best to design dresses that accentuate a woman’s best features while still making her feel comfortable.”
A classic cut favourite among Rebecca’s clients is the empire waistline, as she finds that keeping the fabrics soft and floating works to slim out the silhouette; upon popular request, she also uses colours such as champagne, cream and silver in her designs, although white is by no means a no-no. “I advise my clients to just go with what looks best on them and they like the most in aesthetic terms.”
What women want
Rebecca’s clients tend to fall into two camps: those with a distinct idea of what they want, or have no idea as to where to start.
To get a feel for what her clients are after, Rebecca begins with a consultation that involves a brief overview of the client’s event, a discussion of designs and silhouettes that appeal to a client, and whether there are any features that are verboten. “I often hear ‘no bows!’ or ‘no pouf!’ or ‘please hide my hips!’”
Having a variety of gowns on hand as a visual aid to help clients get a feel of what works and doesn’t work for them is also vital. “Sometimes we’ll find that just a certain skirt shape or fabric gives her a big, happy reaction and we take off from there!” The process might be a little different for each bride, but the goal is always the same. “I strive to come up with a design that is exactly, specifically right for her and for her unique wedding. One that in the end makes her want to give me a huge hug.”
Soft as silk
One of the things that sets Rebecca’s designs apart is her use of high-quality fabrics: silk is a personal favourite.
“Silk is amazing to wear. Most of us are not used to feeling how lovely real silk is. Slipping into a gown that is made from yards and yards of it can take your breath away,” Rebecca enthuses.
Having said that, certain cuts and styles work better with some body types than others. “It is
very difficult to hide behind a bias cut satin gown. Even the most seamless slimming garments can be visible beneath these fabrics, so if a bride opts for that style she should be comfortable with her body!” says Rebecca.
That’s not to say that you’re a curvy type you should give up on your hopes of wearing a satin gown. Confidence, points out Rebecca, can be the key to making the look work. “In the 1930s, the height of the bias gown fashion, actresses and models were much more voluptuous and they looked amazing!”
Certain types of silk are more forgiving than others, as well: crepe, which has less shine than a satin weave, may be a better pick if you’re after a fabric that allows you to hide a flaw or two.
Of course, the buck doesn’t have to stop at silk. Rebecca delights in the thought of other luxurious fabrics and textiles as well. “I would love to make a gown fully out of French laces, with a gorgeous train and dramatic necklines!”
Rebecca’s tips for finding the dress
Rebecca exhorts brides to trust their instincts when shopping for a gown. While brides shouldn’t try to force themselves into something that doesn’t make them feel like themselves, they shouldn’t be afraid to try something a little different.
“Maybe going with color or a short dress is right for you,” says Rebecca. “Don’t worry about what Grandma thinks–she’ll think you’re beautiful anyway!”
If block colour and daring hemlines aren’t for you, a small flourish may be enough to do the trick. “Consider a train or a sweeping skirt or a touch of lace–after all, you only get very few chances to wear a to-die-for gown. Simple and elegant can also be fun!”
If you have no idea where to begin, start with the wider context of your wedding, and work backwards from there. “Think about some of the details of your wedding and let that lead you towards the right kind of style. Maybe it’s the setting or a small detail you love, such as an heirloom veil you want to wear,” she says.
Rebecca also advocates that brides opt for something handmade, vintage, remade, or from a small designer. “I don’t say that just because it is my business. It is my business because I really believe that the wedding gown should be a meaningful element to the wedding celebration.”
Rebecca says that when the experience of creating or finding the gown is a positive, personal one, the gown will be “the right one”. “It will be full of love and joy, just like the bride herself.”
Your turn: what type of fabric and colour is your preference for a bridal gown?
Visit Rebecca’s Etsy store to view her collection of bridal gowns, maternity dresses, bridesmaid dresses and other dresses for special occasions.