Maybe you've narrowed down your search--decided you like the evening gown look but not absolutely, positively, 100 per cent sure an A-line is out of the question. Next you get up from the computer and go out shopping. Hitting every salon within a twenty-mile radius, you try on gowns in every shade of white imaginable. Still, nothing out there's really grabbed you. Then . . . a week or two later this concoction finally comes together in your head--the neckline you found in Weddings; the sleeve on the dress you tried on in the salon combined with the sweep train you spotted last week in the Film Noir. Once all this gets put together you'll have a custom designed gown, something one-of-a-kind like no other in the world.
I know the exact dress I want but can't find it online or in the stores. Luckily a friend recommended a designer she used. How is custom design different from buying in a salon?
REALITY 101: Making a gown from scratch requires more fittings than gowns ordered through a salon so you'll need to be open to the experience of watching your gown develop from the ground up. In addition, a custom designer or skilled seamstress puts many hours and a high level of craftsmanship into the creation of a custom gown. Working with fragile white fabric and delicate lace is an art form. Figure any custom gown crafted by a designer usually takes four to six months to complete from a listing of your measurements. Since the design process involved with a custom gown is more of a direct collaboration between you, you'll have more input with decisions regarding fabric, silhouette and style. Custom gowns are typically 80-90% handmade. This means machines do some work like the side seams, cross seams, etc. There are however stitches on these one-of-a-kind gowns only expert handwork can touch in order to produce that exquisite finish.
THE DESIGN PROCESS
Eventually a gown is in the making. After a final sketch is approved, a written estimate follows, complete with with fabric swatches and your measurements are taken. For every gown order a paper pattern is made. Think of the paper pattern as a blueprint, a record of all your dimensions on it. From this, most designers (some dressmakers too) work out a muslin. The muslin is an actual cotton mock-up and 'living pattern' of your gown's design, fitted exactly to your body. Think of your muslin as the foundation--the groundwork upon which your dress will be built. This is where most of the fine tuning will be done to that perfect fit before one cut or stitch goes into the true gown fabric(s).
After your muslin fittings (there may be two of them), the muslin is unstitched and laid out on the actual fabric and the gown is made up. Since most of the fitting has been worked out on the muslin, second and third fittings usually follow up with finishing touches to the gown like hemline, closures, remaining design details, etc. Be prepared for more than three fittings though. A gown made from the ground up is a work in progress and each step along the way is painstakingly taken, checked and rechecked. Keep in mind you want your gown delivered at least a month before your wedding. Yes, you'll need to synchronize your calendars on this one. You want to be able to relax and deal with all those other last minute details involved with your wedding, not still fussing around over hemlines.
Check in for Part II of Custom Designed on Monday . . .