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The 7 Most Influential Bridal Gown Designers
Every season, the bridal designers debut their latest collections in New York. There are numerous designers, but from those, there are a select few whose collections are always eagerly anticipated, much sought after by brides, and often imitated by their competitors. These are profiles of the top seven most influential bridal gown designers.
Priscilla of Boston: The First Famous Bridal Gown Designer
The Priscilla of Boston bridal gown collection is by far the oldest house among the most influential wedding designers. Founded in 1945 by Priscilla Kidder as "The Bride's Shop" on tony Newbury Street in Boston, the company that was to become Priscilla of Boston gained a reputation for both the quality of its service and its wedding gowns. The gowns were made by hand in a factory in Charlestown, Massachusetts in the greater Boston area. Many of the firm's wedding dresses are still made in the original factory, and it is possible to tour the facilities and watch a gown being assembled or the beaders handbeading a piece of lace with Swarovski crystals and pearls.
By the 1950s, Priscilla of Boston gowns were the gold standard for brides with discerning taste, and they were carried in the top name department stores. The gowns were famous for their exquisite silks, hand beadwork, and French laces. Alençon, Chantilly, and Lyon laces were some of the preferred trimmings for Priscilla Kidder's bridal gowns. In 1956, Kidder was granted the honor of designing the bridesmaid dresses for the wedding of Grace Kelly, and other high profile weddings would soon follow. In a span of six years, three Presidential daughters walked down the aisle in Priscilla of Boston gowns: Luci Johnson (1965), Julie Nixon (1968), and Tricia Nixon (1971). Tricia Nixon's sleeveless gown of lace appliqued to English net was a signature Priscilla of Boston feature that could be found in many of her gowns for decades to come. Tricia Nixon's gown was the subject of much interest, and there was even a story about it in Life magazine.
In one way, Priscilla of Boston was to influence every bridal designer who was to follow in her footsteps: she was the first to promote her name and brand as a status symbol. There could be no Vera Wang had there not first been a Priscilla Kidder. The founder retired at the age of 75 in 1993, but the company continued to create designs that had her trademark timeless "wasp" good taste in the same Charlestown factory. The 2000s brought many changes to the venerable old firm, including the sale of Priscilla of Boston to the May Company in 2002 (it has since been resold), the death of Priscilla Kidder in 2004, the 2005 acquisition of bridal designer Melissa Sweet, and expansion into sister lines Platinum by Priscilla, Vineyard, and Jewel. The goal of the Priscilla of Boston collection of brands is to meet the needs of every type of bride, from the traditional, to the ultra luxurious, the modern, and the eclectic. There can be no doubt about the influential nature of this updated bridal powerhouse.
Vera Wang Revolutionizes Wedding Gowns
There is no woman who has had a greater impact on modern American weddings than Vera Wang. Her gowns are the most referenced, the most researched by brides, and the most inspirational each and every season. If Vera does it, the style is sure to be a hit. Her wedding gowns are among the most trendsetting in the bridal industry.
The story of how Vera Wang got her start as a bridal gown designer is legendary. When she was planning her 1989 wedding, she was dismayed to find nothing but overblown "princess style" bridal gowns in the Princess Diana mode. Wang came to realize that there was a serious disconnect between bridal and high fashion, and set out to change that. And change it she did! After Vera Wang opened her first bridal salon in New York in 1990, the bridal gown industry was transformed from one that was stuck in the past to one that is relevant and inspirational to both the modern bride and the larger fashion industry as a whole.
Plenty of brides have had a difficult time finding the wedding gown of their dreams, but very few are able to turn a frustrating experience into a global enterprise. Vera Wang was uniquely positioned to achieve this level of success. Born on June 27, 1949 in New York to wealthy Chinese parents, Wang attended elite schools (The Chapin School, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Sorbonne in Paris). Her early passion was figure skating, but when she was not chosen for the U.S. Olympic team, she decided to pursue one of her other lifelong passions: fashion.
Wang spent sixteen years as a fashion editor at Vogue before departing to work at Ralph Lauren in 1985. By the time of Wang's wedding in 1989, she had all the tools in place to launch the bridal line that would become synonymous with luxury, modern elegance, and high fashion. Vera had years of training in the fashion industry, connections within both fashion and upper crust society, and a keen eye for style. From the bridal collection's 1990 debut, the Vera Wang label quickly became the go-to wedding gown brand for the rich and famous, as well as for the regular bride who values top design. Celebrity clients include Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, Karenna Gore, Victoria Beckham, Sharon Stone, Kate Hudson, and many more.
Vera Wang branched out from the bridal industry into designing other special occasion gowns, eventually evolving into a full lifestyle brand with products ranging from ready wear clothing, housewares, fragrance, wedding stationery, and fine jewelry. Wang's signature style is modern, trendsetting, sophisticated, and whimsical. Her philosophy is that brides fall into five general categories: traditionalist, modernist, individualist, romanticist, and minimalist; Wang's intention is to design the perfect bridal gown for each of these types of women, and if her international popularity is any guideline, she has certainly achieved her goal!
The Forever Modern Style of Amsale
Vera Wang is not the only high profile bridal designer who got her start due to the lack of selection when she planned her own wedding. Amsale Aberra, who was born in Ethiopia, had a very similar experience. Amsale grew up in Ethiopia, which she left to attend college in Massachusetts. Her focus at the time was commercial art; Aberra later said that while a child in Ethopia, she did not know that there was such a career as fashion designer. It was while in college that Amsale became interested in designing clothing; it all began when she started to sew her own clothing to save money. What was born of necessity turned into a passion, and Amsale moved to New York to attend the famed Fashion Institute of Technology.
When Amsale began shopping for a gown for her 1985 wedding, like Wang, she was turned off by the lack of sophistication in the gowns on the market. Nowhere was the simple and refined gown which Amsale envisioned in the sea of heavily embellished bridal confections with their poufy sleeves, sequins, and enormous bows. Shortly after her wedding, the newlywed decided to take matters into her own hands and remedy the situation. Amsale rightly believed that there were other brides out there who desired the same understated elegance that she had sought in a bridal gown. Amsale's bridal business began with an ad in the newspaper for custom made bridal gowns, which she designed and had made by a small team of talented seamstresses. From the beginning, fine fabrics and quality craftsmanship were trademarks of Amsale's wedding gowns, and the company that began in her New York City loft apartment eventually grew to be featured in the country's most luxurious department stores and bridal salons.
The style of an Amsale gown is described as "Forever Modern", by which the designer means that she works with traditional wedding dress features, but with an eye to creating modern classics. Amsale's gowns are updated and sophisticated with clean lines. One of her most famous designs is a simple white silk strapless wedding gown with a blue sash. The style, though simple, was revolutionary, and it became a smash hit that has been imitated by countless bridal gown designers since. Amsale's high regard in the bridal industry resulted in her appointment as the creative director for the traditional heirloom quality Christos bridal collection, upon the retirement of its founder Christos Yiannakou in 2005.
Monique Lhuillier's Gowns Hit The Red Carpet And The Church Aisle
Thank goodness for the lack of chic wedding gowns in the 1980s and early 1990s, for yet another of the most influential bridal designers launched her collection from the same frustrating circumstances as Vera Wang and Amsale. The cutting edge collection of Monique Lhuillier was founded in 1996, fresh off of her disappointment with the bridal gowns on the market when she planned her wedding. The gowns for which Lhuillier has become world famous came about when the 23 year old decided that there were simply not enough choices for the stylish modern bride.
Born in the Philippines in 1971, Monique Lhuillier's prominent family sent her to a Swiss boarding school, followed by an education at Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Following her frustrating experiences during her own wedding, Lhuillier set to create the types of gowns which she wanted for herself. Monique Lhuillier's gowns are best known for her ability to blend classic bride materials, especially lace, with fashion forward styles. Her iconic looks walk the line between sexy and bridal, which has made them a hit with celebrities (she also now designs red carpet gowns in addition to the bridal collection). Some of the famous brides to wear a Monique Lhuillier gown include Britney Spears, Al Gore's daughter Sarah, and Heidi Montag.
Reem Acra's Bridal Gowns Are Fit For Royalty
When brides are looking for opulent royal gowns for their weddings, they turn to the intricately embroidered creations of designer Reem Acra. Originally discovered by a fashion editor while a student at the American University in Lebanon, the young Lebanese woman showed her first collection only 10 days later. This happy turn of events led to Acra's decision to pursue a career in fashion; she studied in Paris and later at F.I.T. in New York. The dress that originally drew the fashion editor's eye was one that Reem Acra had created out of a piece of ornately embroidered silk organza; this sort of lavish embellishment was to become the hallmark of her bridal gown collection.
Reem Acra's bridal line was launched in 1997. Her career took off when one of her friends wore a Reem Acra bridal gown for her high profile society wedding. It was not long before brides around the world were flocking to the label for opulent, exquisite wedding dresses. Unlike some of the other top bridal designers whose focus is on modern simplicity, Acra's gowns are unabashedly embellished. She is known for her remarkable metallic embroidery and intricate beadwork in Swarovski crystals and seed pearls. A Reem Acra wedding gown is formal, glamorous, and sophisticated, with a signature style that invokes royalty. Indeed, royal brides have chosen Acra's European inspired styles for their wedding days. In addition to wedding gowns, Acra also designs gowns for celebrities to wear at premieres and award shows. Her red carpet-worthy creations have been worn by some of Hollywood's most beautiful and glamorous women, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Beyonce Knowles, among others.
Carolina Herrera Has Been Dressing Brides, Debutantes, And Celebrities For 30 Years
The grand dame of this international roster of inspirational bridal wear designers would have to be Carolina Herrera. A long time New Yorker, Herrera was born Maria Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Niño, the Marchioness of Torre Casa on January 8, 1939 in Venezuela. The young Herrera grew up in a world where all of the ladies wore haute couture. She attended her first couture show (Balenciaga) at the tender age of thirteen. With such illustrious beginnings, it is no wonder that Herrera has always been known for her refined style and her personal grace. Carolina Herrera's company was founded in 1980, and features not only bridal, but also formal wear and day wear. She has dressed countless fashionable ladies, including style icon Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, actress Renee Zellweger, and celebrity debutante Cornelia Guest.
The signature of Carolina Herrera's designs has always been the balance between intricacy and simplicity. Her bridal gowns are renowned for their exquisite details and careful craftsmanship. Herrera also draws from vintage inspiration, such as the 1950s strapless silhouettes, as well as from artists, nature, and other points of interest. A Carolina Herrera wedding gown typically has a timeless style coupled with a special fabric featuring lace, embroidery, or unique draping. Her bridal gowns have found great favor with celebrities, and have been worn by Renee Zellweger, Mariska Hargitay, and Christina Hendricks, to name a few.
Oscar de la Renta's Wedding Gowns Epitomize Luxury
The only man on the list of the most influential wedding gown designers, Oscar de la Renta originally hails from the Dominican Republic. Born in 1932, Oscar de la Renta's fan base includes many of the same celebrities and wealthy clientele as Carolina Herrera's label. Like Herrera, the bridal collection is a part of a larger lifestyle collection encompassing formal attire, day wear, and accessories. An art lover, Oscar de la Renta moved to Spain to study painting at the age of 18. It was not long before he changed his focus to fashion, obtaining an apprenticeship with the legendary Spanish couturier Balenciaga (it is an interesting coincidence that Balenciaga was Herrera's first couture show; perhaps it is no accident that de la Renta and Herrera share some similar design aesthetics). De la Renta's next step was a move to Paris, where he worked for Lanvin, Elizabeth Arden, and Dior before finally starting his own label in 1965.
Oscar de la Renta's bridal gowns are defined by their couture craftsmanship, femininity, charm, and attention to detail. He is the epitome of luxury and elegance in bridal fashion. Not unlike Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta wedding gowns are often strapless with classic silhouettes. He makes great use of embroidered organzas and laces, as well as flounces and ruffles with a touch of Latin flair. Former President Bush's daughter Jenna was one of the best known brides to wear an Oscar de la Renta gown for her wedding. The fairly simple lace gown, while beautiful, was actually a bit more informal than a signature de la Renta wedding dress.
Every Bride Dreams Of The Perfect Wedding Gown
Everyone loves a wedding, and they love the gowns most of all. These seven designers represent the best that the bridal industry has to offer. Whether born of need, tradition, or simply a passion for fashion, each of these bridal designers is among the favorites of brides everywhere. Their influence on the rest of the wedding gown designers and the imagination of brides is simply unmatched.
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