Designing and creating the most important gown for one of our very own

This past spring marked a very special season for the entire Valencienne team. Sara, who works in our atelier creating the bespoke hand finishing details on our wedding gowns, got married on May 5th, 2018. It was an extremely exciting experience for our team because it isn’t everyday that we get to create the most important garment a woman could wear, for one of our very own.

Like we do for every bride that graces the doors of Valencienne, we had to put our heads together, overcome obstacles and solve a lot of issues along the way but in the end we got to create beautiful memories as a team and we got Sara down the aisle in her dream wedding gown to marry her very own prince charming. Here is Sara’s account of her yearlong custom couture bridal experience…

Kim Ironmonger, Valencienne

“Being a Valencienne bride meant more than the world for me. Some may think that’s a crazy thing to say because I have the privilege of working with Valencienne brides every single day. Honestly, I truly feel like I get to live the Valencienne dream over and over with every client that walks through the door but my very own experience was something that was so special for me. It’s a memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

From the moment I got engaged, I had a vision in my mind of what I saw myself walking down the aisle in and I knew exactly what I thought Patrick would love. Being in the bridal industry I knew that the possibilities were endless, especially when it came to my bridal gown. I could literally have whatever I wanted.

Like every bride, I went all over Toronto trying on every style imaginable even though deep down I knew what vision I had in my heart and mind. My mom even brought my sister and me to New York City to extend my research before sketching my absolute dream wedding gown. I showed very few close friends and family members some photos of myself in several style wedding gowns and to my surprise, most opinions of what “looked best on me” was complete opposite from what I loved and what I felt most myself in. Hearing the opinions from the people in my life who love me most and know me best, made my final design decisions extremely confusing but my heart knew what style I was going to feel most beautiful in on my wedding day. Like every bride, the goal is to make your fiancé cry when he sees you walking down the aisle and for me that goal was no different. I wanted Patrick to LOVE the dress I designed for myself and I know that one thing he really loves about me is my curves so it wasn’t something I was trying to cover up. I feel that people who saw me in gowns, especially the consultants in the stores, were trying to camouflage and hideaway the fact that I do have a larger hip in comparison to my waist but for me that was something I wanted to complement, not hide away.

I remember having my very last bridal consultation right here in Valencienne. It was a Tuesday evening and my mom came to the store right after work. We had closed the store for the day and it was only my mom, Kim and I. I tried on three Valencienne gowns and then sat at the famous pink marble table. I could finally say that the crazy adventure of trying on endless amounts of gowns came to an end and I gathered all of my inspiration photos from both social media and from the gowns I actually tried on. I collected all of my thoughts and feelings and finally began sketching my bespoke bridal gown that I envisioned walking down the aisle in.

I finished the sketch and turned it over to my mom and Kim and showed them everything that I had in my head turned into a solo sketch on paper. We discussed the fine details, yardage of fabrics and lace and came up with the timeline for my extremely complex couture design. Creating a certain look, we also finalized the fabrics that would work best for the look I was trying to achieve. All the details started coming together and after this appointment was complete, I turned to my mom and I decided that my bridal gown design would now be turned “Top Secret!”. I didn’t want anyone knowing which way I had gone in terms of silhouette, fabrics and details. All my decisions were final and the reveal would be made on May 5th, 2018!

I would say that I was the type of bride who knew exactly what she loved and didn’t love and who knew what she wanted and how she wanted it done. For me, there were three major details that meant the most to me. Fabrics (including lace), fit and hand finishing. These were my top three priorities throughout my custom design experience. Being a part of the high end bridal industry I have been exposed to endless possibilities and have been surrounded with people who have exquisite taste who have inspired the level of taste I have acquired over the past five years of being in the industry.

Being given no boundaries at all when it came to design, fabrics and embellishments, my experience allowed me to personally visit New York City and sit down with our top fine fabric vendors and hand select every piece of fabric for my wedding gown. For anyone who can’t even begin to imagine what shopping for fabric in New York City is like, let me tell you it is an experience like no other! Thousands of endless options of extremely high end, couture fabrics and fine French laces. Literally any sewers heaven on earth!

I spent three days in New York gathering all of the pieces for my gown to begin putting my dress together. Everything came right home with me except for one very special detail, the French lace. My gown was made up of five different fabrics. Power stretch, 100% silk stretch charmeuse, French Dot Point D’esprit, French Mirage tulle and French Lyon lace.

Kim had previously gone on a New York fabric shopping trip in the spring time and had gone to visit one of our fine French lace distributors. During her visit there, she had snapped a few photos of extraordinary laces that caught her eye to show me back here in Toronto, French Lyon lace being one of them. She showed me a photo of the sample and from that, I was in love! Every lace I looked at after seeing the Lyon lace couldn’t even come close to compare! When I walked into the store that supplied the world’s top quality French laces, I immediately said to the owner of the store that I was there for one specific lace and one lace only. French Lyon Lace. I showed her my design, she lit up and she sat down and looked at me and said, “Do you have any idea what kind of lace you are about to purchase? This lace IS the most exclusive lace you can possibly purchase and it is extremely special.” She began explaining to me that there are only two looms in the whole world that can produce Lyon lace and those two looms live in Northern France. They are the only looms that run vertically versus horizontally and it takes one hour to produce 35cm of lace! Lyon lace is 100% cotton which causes its final width to be much narrower than it was from the loom and can only be produced on a bobbinet lace machine. There is a very limited quantity because of the time it takes to produce such a fine finish. After the lace is produced on the loom it is then passed of to be mended by hand and re-embroidered with a cord above the lace pattern, also by hand.

The more details she told me about this lace, the more I fell in love! At this point not even the cost could push me or my mom away from purchasing this fine piece of art for my bridal gown. It was the specific detail I had been searching for to achieve a unique look to my wedding gown. She ended off the conversation by saying to me, “I absolutely need photos of this wedding gown when it’s complete! Your bridal gown is not going to be any ordinary bridal gown; it will be a very special heirloom that you will pass on one day.”

There was a small rack exclusively displaying Lyon lace and within that rack there was a selection of prints and floral patterns to choose from. I had an idea of the pattern I was looking for and surprisingly to my luck I was able to pair two different floral patterns together that completed my dream vision. Having worked with thousands of different patterns and types of laces, I wanted the pattern on my gown to be different. I really wanted a large rosette incorporated into the lace pattern and I wanted a pattern that stood out and that you could read without having to be right up close to the dress. I selected a piece which trimmed the tiered hem of my gown and another piece that would be used to enhance the silhouette and seams of my gown. I placed my order for the two pieces of Lyon lace I required and all that was left to do was wait for my lace to be custom made in France, especially for my wedding gown.

In the mean time, I came back to Toronto and the actual construction of my wedding gown began. We took all of my extensive measurements and began building my own personal pattern. During my time working in the custom design wedding gown business, I have seen and experienced many obstacles that have come along and my wedding gown was another to add to the list. There were two design details that I chose to incorporate into my design that made the construction very complex. One of the fabrics I chose to use was a 100% power stretch fabric and along with that, I wanted to design a bodice that had curved seaming that complimented all of the curves of my body. Constructing a bodice with curved seaming using a 100% power stretch fabric was no walk in the park. Many of you know that every gown designed by Valencienne starts with a canvas fitting (also known as our “ugly fitting”).  My gown required three canvas fittings before we cut the gown in fabric. We started out by creating the first canvas that was a basic block canvas where like any other bride, I made decisions in terms of neckline, length of the bodice etc. On this canvas we also drew all of the style lines and seams directly onto each curve of my body taking into consideration both proportions and the lace I had selected.

We then cut the second canvas of my wedding gown that included all of the design decision that were made from the first canvas. This is where the process became very complex and tedious. Replacing the standard side seams and eliminating those seams replacing them with curved seams was one of the main challenges we had to overcome. The basic block includes seams and darts and those seams and darts are placed where they are because of how a woman’s body is shaped. Once you start altering the placement of those seams it can cause you to run into challenges like we ran into. It threw off the fit of the bodice and we had to figure out which seams were causing which problems. Once we pinned what needed to be pinned we then cut one final canvas that believe it or not was still not perfected.

Because our canvas has 0% stretch, we went into the first fabric fitting a little bit blind as to how the 100% Power stretch, 100% silk stretch charmeuse and French Dot Point D’esprit were all going to come together in terms of the fit and lay of the gown bodice. The gown was cut and sewn up in the three fabrics and it was no surprise to us that the fit was still not up to our standard. Pairing a combination of three 100% stretch fabrics with curved seaming created rippling all the way throughout the bodice and we had no choice but to test and try endless amounts of ways to eliminate the flaws. This included taking the bodice apart over twenty times, re-cutting certain panels, re-sewing certain seams and a lot of in and out of the fitting room trying to figure out solutions to the endless problems. It took a total of 22.5 hours of trial and error before we finally perfected the fit of my bodice and by this time, my lace had come in from France and I had it trimmed and prepped to be appliquéd throughout my gown.

I pinned and hand sewed each piece of lace strategically. Each placement was thought over, pinned and unpinned several times before I came up with the perfect balance of lace throughout my entire gown. The skirt tiers were cut and also trimmed with the most beautiful combination of Lyon lace trim and appliqué. At this point I had undergone so many fittings we lost count and finally my gown was starting to look like a complete bridal gown! The vision I had on paper was now hugging my body and like every bride during the custom design process, I had my “Ah-ha!” moment. It was so over whelming to be wearing my own design near its final fittings and at this point I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. All that was left to do was to decide what last hand finishing details I wanted to add to give my gown that final little bit of “frosting”.

To this day, I always say that because of the lace I had selected, my gown did not need one bead sewn onto it! The lace was so extraordinary that it needed no beading to enhance it what so ever because it was that outstanding. Because I felt this way, I wanted to come up with a way to add that tiny bit of sparkle without taking the eye away from the quality or pattern of the lace. I picked a larger Swarovski crystal tear drop bead along with the same crystal tear drop shape in a smaller size and I topped each drop down cluster with a small amount of multi-sized Swarovski pearls. There was such minimal beading throughout my bodice and also on the end of each train tier at the points, it was absolutely breath taking. Again, each Swarovski cluster was strategically placed in the spots that were most flattering. This was the final touch to my bridal gown that completed the dream I had in my head and on paper.

This custom design experience was something that I will never forget. I learned so many things about myself as a bride and also as a designer. My design was nowhere near an easy, walk in the park design and I defiantly gave our team a run for our money but when such experienced, skillful and talented artisans come together, beautiful things happen!

On the evening before my wedding day, I was in my parents’ bedroom dressing my Judy with my bridal gown and I had a moment to myself to take in every emotion that I felt. I don’t know how to explain it but my wedding gown was literally ME turned into a wedding gown. I dressed the morning of my wedding and I never felt so beautiful in my entire life and when my dad walked me down the aisle, my husband’s reaction (YES! He cried… ALOT!… Mission accomplished lol!) was absolutely priceless and at that moment ever hour, obstacle and hardship we overcame was totally worthwhile. I got to become Mrs. Burdon in my very own dream, custom designed wedding gown! 

Photographs by: Anthony Manieri