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Fashion & Beauty

Custom Wedding Dress Design Advice From A Red Carpet-Worthy Bride

  |  By Brittany Johnson

“When I first moved to New York I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I felt it fed me more.”—Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

Growing up, I was this girl: devouring Vogue and high fashion while all of the young girls in my suburban town were buying identical outfits from Abercrombie & Fitch. I had my eye on the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood starlets—the bombshells of the late 80’s and early 90’s inspired my hair and makeup choices, and the likes of Galliano, Ford, and Cavalli shaped my love for bold statement pieces and prints.

Joseph Tassoni is a childhood friend, the older brother of my friends who lived around the corner from me. Even at the age of 12, he spoke my language, which was a breath of fresh air in our cookie cutter town. After years of friendship, I enlisted Joseph to make my Grade 12 graduation dress, which, much to my father’s chagrin, was short and black, with long sleeves and no back. I was the literal black sheep amongst a sea of candy-coloured pastel prom pouf, and I loved it. From then on, we had a running joke that he would one day make my wedding dress.

Brittany and Joseph during the design process of her Hollywood-inspired wedding dress.

Even before my engagement, I knew I was not going to have the typical bride experience that many women do. I was not going to be trying on a wedding dress “for the first time” while my eyes welled up. I had worn many a wedding dress over the years during modelling and acting gigs, and while I revelled in the idea of being a wife and becoming a family with someone one day, the concept of looking like a confectionary dessert was so not my vibe.

When Joseph and I finally started this journey of creating my dress, the first step in our process was collecting inspiration. I brought him photos of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” images from Oscar De La Renta and Steven Khalil’s runway shows. I wanted more glamour, more red carpet, with just a whisper of “bride.”

One thing I knew about Joseph is how well he speaks the language of women’s bodies, bringing out every ounce of what you love about your body and yourself. I’ve always played competitive sports so I have an athletic figure, with curvy hips and legs, and I knew I wanted to play up my love for my features instead of hiding them.

Joseph took to his sketchbook and came up with multiple sketches combining elements I loved and we agreed would not only flatter but fulfill my vision and my define my shape. We concluded that an old school cinched waist and ruching or draping to draw the eye along my natural curves was the way to go.

Joseph's sketches bring Brittany's dream dress to life.

From the beginning of the dress design process, I was sure that I only wanted Joseph, myself, and Guylaine (his mother and his Atelier manager) creating my dress. I felt strongly that bringing other people into this creative process, no matter how uplifting and kind their intentions could muddy the waters or contribute to self-doubt. We worked hard to keep the joy of the creation process sacred, and that was easier to do without an audience.

The next step was creating the muslin template of the gown, which is essentially the design of the dress made in a different, less expensive material. This gave us a vision of the dress as we built it on my body. Joseph draped, ruched, and pinned the material on me until we found the perfect balance.

I found it incredibly difficult to settle on one style of dress for the photos, ceremony, and evening. Left to my own devices, that would have meant three dresses and wardrobe changes. This was simply not feasible with our wedding budget, and felt a little excessive and wasteful. Joseph being the genius that he is, decided we would make a dress that would transform as the day unfolded. I liked to refer to it as my “transformer” dress, but I hardly looked like an Autobot.

We wanted to create a cascading hip element, which harkened back to my love of the Hollywood glamour era (this was also the aesthetic I tried to create with our entire wedding). We essentially created a strap that would be detachable and fasted into the side seam, to flow over the shoulder and connect to the back of the dress. This piece could be taken on or off depending on my hair and the look we were trying to achieve for that part of the day.

Designer and muse on Brittany's wedding day.

Originally the sketch was going to lend itself to sleeves or gloves, but as the dress revealed itself, we fell in love with a very Ralph Lauren-inspired, sheer, high neck inventive caplet Soft and cascading was not what I had envisioned for the ceremony, but we discovered along the way that no gloves or sleeves could rival this regal statement.

One of the most beautiful things about having my dress custom-made was the opportunity to work with my dear friend Joseph on the most personal and important piece of clothing in my life to date, and possibly ever. This creative process was like a sculptor chipping away at the slab of marble as the sculpture reveals itself slowly over time. The dress we set out to create had the same bones and overall elements that made me able to show up as my best and most sparkling self for my husband Adam and our friends and family on our wedding day. But, like DaVinci’s angel from the marble, the evolution of the dress took on its own form in front of our eyes.

Brittany and her husband Adam—also in a bespoke creation by Joseph—on their wedding day.

On October 5th, 2018, I wasn’t Carrie Bradshaw, or a Vogue model, or Marilyn Monroe, I was Brittany. I was so undeniably my best self, and all those years I spent daydreaming about my Oscars gown didn’t even come close to the real thing. In fact, our dress was better, no Oscar necessary (I got my golden-hearted man, anyway).

Brittany Johnson is a Canadian content creator, actress, and writer.  Vintage huntress and dog mom, when she is not working at a tech start-up, with a focus on lifting up the next generation of young women, she can be found in her bed with a facemask on, watching Nora Ephron movies on repeat. See her real wedding as featured in the Fall & Winter 2019 issue of Weddingbells here.

This article was originally published on Jul 22, 2019

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