By: Cynthia Zatkin Blase
Once upon a time San Diego was considered the ugly stepsister to LA when it came to couture bridal attire. Gone are the days of that fairy tale as San Diego now boasts a thriving couture bridal industry as well as amazing local designers. San Diego Style Magazine asked local bridal boutique owners and local designers what’s hot and who’s hot when it comes to bridal fashion.
Just like fashion in general, bridal couture changes year to year. So what’s hot in bridal fashion now? “Floral details,” says Cher Roesch, owner of chez bride moderne, a gorgeous bridal boutique located in the Birdrock area of La Jolla, “from the tiniest intricate embellishments to exaggerated show-stopper flowers ten to twelve inches wide and made of silk, feathers and lace.” Another trend Roesch sees is “color: glowing rich colors like champagne, romantic natural shades of pink, and even vibrant shades of blue and green.” She also notes “designers seem to be making a strong effort to give the highest quality while keeping the costs relatively low. They are aware of the current economy and unlike past seasons, ‘more’ doesn’t seem to cost more.” That’s good news for brides!
Anne Davis, owner of the new bridal boutique Bliss Bride, also sees a focus on “whimsy and lightness with a modern touch.” She particularly sees this in Vera Wang’s line she carries. “Vera Wang’s Spring 2010 collection shows a delicate, ethereal direction.” Davis concludes saying “overall, we think you will continue to see gowns with more lace, floral appliqués and color.” It seems that our two experts agree on the trend watch.
Davis loves Vera Wang but mentioned a newer designer as another of her favorites: “Claire Pettibone. Her look is a vintage inspired romantic style, mixed with a modern sensibility. What we love is that her gowns are remarkably unique and for the bride who wants to express herself in a very different way. Sometimes brides aren’t looking forward to the wedding dress shopping experience at all but something about a Claire Pettibone dress makes her see the shopping process in a completely different way.”
When asked who her current favorite designers are, Roesch mentioned three. “Amsale. Her gowns are fashionable, sophisticated and classic with clean lines, rich fabrics, perfect details and flawless construction. Also Kenneth Pool. He has an illustrious collection of grand ball gowns and sexy silhouettes that are dramatic and glamorous with luxurious fabrics and intricate details.” And her favorite, who is also a local designer that Roesch carries, “VaLena Valentina Couture. Designer Elena Ham creates gowns that are sexy, sophisticated and chic. She uses soft luxurious fabrics that flatter a woman’s entire body. She knows how to compliment and draw attention to your best feminine features.”
Cher talks about the first time she saw a VaLena Valentina dress and how thrilled she was to spy a local designer. “By chance, I happened to get a sneak peek of a gown designed by Elena Ham for a magazine shoot. It was dropped off for her to pick up here at the boutique after the photo shoot. I was too curious and had to pull this gown from the bag to take a look. It was amazing! A few minutes later Elena came by to pick it up. I had to beg her to leave it here and let me display it in the showroom. I somehow talked her into leaving it for the weekend. A bride came in and fell in love with it and ordered it on the spot!”
Yet VaLena Valentina is only one of the fantastic local designers based in San Diego. Two others, ElyseRUEBEN and Somsi have made indelible marks on the couture bridal industry. We wanted to find out more about these two local designers who have received so much acclaim so we interviewed them personally.
Jaime Stephens of elyseREUBEN Custom Couture has been designing for 16 years. “I started my career in the San Francisco Bay Area, moved my studio down to Southern California about 6 years ago, and set up in Temecula because it was central to both LA and San Diego,” Stephens explains. The name of her company comes from the middle names of both her and her husband. Fashion has always been something that has interested Stephens. “I knew when I was very young that fashion was something that I loved,” says Stephens. “I loved taking a flat piece of material and forming it into a beautiful gown.” Then when Stephens completed school she turned her dreams into reality. “I was fresh out of school and had dreams of living in California, being a Fashion Designer and seeing my gowns in magazines. I kept that vision and worked hard for it. I started out making gowns for literally nothing just to get experience and a clientele base. After I polished my talent, I pushed forward to open my studio, making a network of clients and taking our label to the next level.”
Stephens describes her line as one that is continually evolving through her work with individual brides. “It is exciting to make custom wedding gowns,” says Stephens. “Designing to an individual, rather than just to a preconceived theme or collection, keeps us timeless, fresh, and fashion forward. I love the classic gowns but find great pride in the modern and urban as well. Working with my individual brides, I have the pleasure to really challenge my designs in ways I may have never pushed myself. I design from the very conservative bride, to the very edgy bride.”
For who inspires her, Stephens pays homage to many. ”I started out working for Jessica McClintock at the beginning of my career. Vera Wang is just amazing. Joseph Domingo, Samora, and Elsie Katz” inspire her as well. “Each designer inspires me in different ways. If I could sit in the audience of a runway every day, I would.” For why she does what she does, Stephens says, “My husband and kids think that I just play dress up every day. In a way that is true. We create the gown some brides have been dreaming of all of their lives. Not many people get to love what they do. I am very grateful each day that I have that chance.” Stephens’ line is currently carried exclusively at her studio in Temecula. She says they do have plans to distribute their collection to a few other select boutiques. Even closer to home, Somsi, of Somsi Couture, sells her line out of her studio on 5th Avenue in downtown San Diego and her gowns are also sold at several local boutiques. Somsi has also been designing since she was young. She says “Haute couture has been in my blood since I was very young. I find myself fascinated by the complexity and different techniques of apparel construction—the art of manipulating a piece of fabric to mold and fit the wearer. Designing bridal and eveningwear is my passion.”
For inspiration, Somsi looks to “John Galliano, Valentino and Christian Lacroix.” To describe her style, Somsi uses one word, “elegant.” She expands by saying “My designs are contemporary and reflect the elements of simple elegance, sophistication with edge, and modern day Hollywood glam. ‘Less is more’ is my absolute philosophy when it comes to designing gowns, so that the bride is the center of attention.” Somsi continues by saying, “my designs are rarely over done with too much detailing but rather emphasize the design line, the cut, and skillful tailoring. When designing a gown for my bride, my main intention is to capture the individuality of the bride and create a gown that will bring out her best.”
To create her looks, Somsi prefers lavish materials such as “silk duchess satin, silk Mikado, silk taffeta, organza and variety of French laces.” She says her prices are generally determined by “the complexity of the design, the type of fabric, and the time line. In average, a bride would spend somewhere from $1000 to $3000 for a custom made gown” by Somsi. And why does she love creating wedding gowns? Somsi says she takes great pleasure in doing something that can make a difference in someone’s life. “With the right design I can make someone so happy and so beautiful—that’s a wonderful feeling!”