You are a bride-to-be going to your first wedding dress consultation. You drive to a studio, sit down to talk with the designer and then leave, all without trying on or even looking at a single dress. That might sound scary, but this is the first of many steps brides take when they go with custom bridal designers over off-the-rack dresses.
Two Triangle custom gown designers, Brooks Ann Camper and Marie Cordella, specialize in bringing ideas to life while staying focused on the nucleus of any wedding: The bride and her dress.
“At first there is nothing to try on,” says Camper, owner of Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture in Hillsborough. “We are just starting with ideas.”
Gown designers are masters of design, custom tailoring and sewing. They build one-of-a-kind pieces that capture the spirit of a bride who isn’t wowed by the selections in stores or who might have a specific look in mind.
Cordella, owner and designer at Cordella Bridal in Raleigh, says she loves consulting with brides and guiding them through every step of the process.
“Every woman is beautiful,” Cordella says. “I work to make my clients dresses that fit them and make them feel beautiful. I’m always fine-tuning a gown. I ask, ‘Are we done?’ instead of stating, ‘We are done.’ I think this is one of the ways working with me is different than buying your dress from a large retailer.”
Cordella opened her studio in 2009 and was selected as a featured designer for the Charleston Weddings’ Spring Bridal Show that took place in March. She specializes in lace and custom beading and has the ability to unite modern and classic bridal styles.
Cordella believes commitment is an important quality for a custom gown designer. “I really care about my work, and the whole process is an emotional one,” she says. “I want my brides to feel heard, and I don’t let them leave until I feel that the energy at the end of the meeting is great.”
Camper, who began creating custom couture bridal gowns in 2009, uses her experience in costume construction to build a portfolio of dresses spanning from whimsical to traditional: a plain cotton damask dress covered by an unexpected vine-patterned jacket; an heirloom quality lace gown inspired by Grace Kelly; and a pink, orange and neon green gown with a hidden “space-bustle.”
She doesn’t see herself as part of the bridal industry because she doesn’t build trendy pieces or gather inspiration from top designers. “The brides that hire me can’t find what they want in a store,” Camper says. “They either have an unusual figure or an unusual sense of style.”
Custom gowns can take up to six months or longer to finish. The process includes concept design, sketching, pattern making, multiple consultations and fittings up to the wedding day. Camper and Cordella recommend that brides contemplating custom gowns contact a designer as early as possible. Camper focuses on one custom gown at a time, and usually will only complete one per season. Cordella tackles six to 10 custom gowns a year, on top of gown modifications and alteration projects that she either oversees or completes herself.
“It is a very personal experience, and I really get to know my brides and their families,” says Cordella. “I even get invited to some of the weddings!”
Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture
Camper’s studio is in the Eno River Mill (437 Dimmocks Mill Road) near the historic district in Hillsborough.
Prices: Custom wedding dresses and bridal ensembles start at $3,000. Custom accessories range from $50 to $600.
Info: brooksann.com or facebook.com/brooksanncouture. On Instagram (@brooksanncamper), Twitter (@brooksanncamper) and Pinterest (pinterest.com/brooksann). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-732-8207.
Cordella’s studio is in Historic Mordecai at 827 N. Bloodworth St., Raleigh.
Prices: Custom gowns start at $2,400. Alterations start at $400, and modifications start at $300. Custom boleros start at $350 plus materials.