All dressed up
Few things are as important to a bride as her wedding gown, but finding the dress of your dreams - the one you've fantasised about since you were a little girl - can be tricky. Experts agree it's all about marrying the image you've long carried in your mind with your own style.
Alice got married in Spain six months ago and chose a HK$200 dress from a traditional flamenco shop in Madrid; Susan spent HK$60,000 on a bespoke Dorian Ho design for her wedding in Hong Kong late last year - and both brides were thrilled with their gowns. 'It's not so much about trends, it's finding a gown that suits your own style and taste,' says wedding consultant Michele Li from The Wedding Company.
Ms Li says over the past few years there has been a far wider selection of wedding gowns available in Hong Kong, so now there is something to suit every bride's taste. Choice and the trend towards western-style weddings is also luring brides from the mainland to Hong Kong, who are looking for high-quality wedding gowns that are simple and elegant.
'While there is an abundant supply of wedding gowns in the mainland, probably at a low cost, not all of them are good quality, and the designs tend to be busy,' says Elmis Chiu from White Bridal Couture. 'Hong Kong is the perfect place for these brides, as many of us speak Mandarin. As we are very close geographically, the brides can return for fitting sessions without too much hassle.'
Fabrics in vogue this season are lighter and less bulky. 'Designers are tending to use lighter fabrics that give a bit more texture, including knotting, crinkled chiffon, and embroidered lace. Satin is more traditional and structured, and brides are stepping away from this,' according to Carolyn Chow, co-owner of Central Weddings.
Ms Chiu agrees, and says gowns are less structured with elements of irregularity to give a natural look.
Costs vary as widely as the styles themselves. It's possible to buy a locally made gown for HK$10,000 to HK$15,000, but gowns from top international designers such as Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra, Oscar de La Renta, Valentino and Vera Wang can cost as much as HK$70,000 and more. If these prices are prohibitive, consider renting a gown; most Hong Kong boutiques have a selection of dresses for this purpose. The disadvantage, however, is that your rented gown may not fit as perfectly as one that is tailor-made for your figure.
'When we first opened our shop, the industry was very rental-oriented, but today brides are more educated about the value of buying their own gown,' Ms Chow says. 'We want our brides to buy something that fits perfectly, and that they love and will keep as a memory for years to come; something they can show their daughters.'
Ms Chow suggests that brides begin looking for a gown at least six to nine months before the wedding. 'People settle on a date and venue first thing after an engagement; then they look for a gown,' she says. 'Our dresses are all imported from the United States, so we need to plan ahead. Deciding on where you have your wedding will affect the style of the dress. The bride should do some research, look at magazines and online to see what she's interested in, and then take someone with her to look at dresses'.
It doesn't matter whether this is a mother, sister or maid of honour, says Ms Chow, but don't be tempted to invite too many people or it will just get confusing. 'Choose someone whose advice you really value, someone who understands what you like,' she says.
Ms Chiu says your companion should be fully aware of her role in the gown selection process. 'We have seen friends and relatives who have very strong feelings about their own personal preferences, and that may not be helpful to the bride.'
And when the big day is over, think carefully about how you will store your precious gown; it should be professionally dry-cleaned before storing, to remove any stains.
'Gowns made of natural fabrics aren't any more difficult to store than other clothes,' Ms Chiu says. 'By using an air-tight box, you don't have to worry about pests or the humid weather in Hong Kong. However, it can cause wrinkling in the dress and as a result brides need to take their gown out of the box every now and then. The box can also be bulky and difficult to store.'
Michele Li suggests vacuum-packing through a reliable dry cleaners. The air and volume is sucked out of the bag so that it can be stored easily.