Liberty belles

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am


Last year was one for famous weddings, with the two Kates (Middleton and Moss) headlining, and it has set off several trends in modern bridal dresses that will be making an appearance as spring nuptials take over this year.

Many are forgoing the big, starched, white princess dresses for less conventional options. We are seeing a growing interest in vintage styles, as well as ready-to-wear trends of the season spilling over into bridal. The lace, sheers, pastels and peplums you've seen all over spring-summer runways and on high streets are being incorporated into wedding gowns for fashion-forward brides.

'The peplum trend is classic 1940s. It's very flattering as it exaggerates the curves for many different body shapes. It achieves both clean tailoring and delicate detailing for a feminine silhouette,' says Noel Chu, a Hong Kong designer who has been in the trade for over a decade and has her own eponymous brand.

And contrary to traditionalist thinking that a bride should only wear white, touches of colour have also been going strong for bridal gowns this season.

'Along with the traditional white, Oscar de la Renta's 2013 collection will encompass the most beautiful shades of ivory, bone and ecru,' says Cecile Chen, co-founder of Trinity Bridal, a specialist store that sells luxury designer labels.

While rentals used to dominate the market, Hong Kong brides are now more inclined to buy their own gowns.

'More brides definitely want to own their dresses,' says Yolanda Choy, whose Central Weddings & Occasions opened six years ago in The Landmark, Central. The shop stocks top brands such as Vera Wang, Monique Lhuillier and Amsale.

'Brides today are more sophisticated and they are willing to invest in a quality gown that's unique to them. It's the most important gown of their lifetime after all,' Choy says.

Hong Kong, being a city that melts and fuses different cultures, has this mix reflected in its wedding customs, says Chinese wedding monthly Darizi's executive editor Leanne Wong. It's not uncommon for the bride to change outfits four or five times, often going from Western white wedding dresses to red qipao and slinky evening gowns.

'Brides usually march in the banquet in a white gown but after that, they'd rarely go for another pure white evening dress as the elderly would not like it much,' says Wong.

Most Hong Kong brides have at least one second change of gown for their wedding reception and celebratory banquet, and coloured wedding gowns and elegant cocktail attire are becoming favourite options.

'Their white gown won't easily get upstaged, but when it comes to the second dress, they want to avoid wearing the same number as the guests,' says Choy.

There might also be something of a revolution going on at the high end of the bridal fashion scale. Vera Wang's bold use of black in her autumn-winter 2012/13 collection at New York's bridal fashion week has marked a turning tide.

'It's really getting the designers and brides talking about ideas around it,' says Chu. 'They might not go as far as black, but they are definitely more open to using some colour.'

'Purple, red and gold are popular choices for wedding gowns, for the auspicious colours,' adds Darizi's Wong. 'They can also match the colourful decorations of their wedding venue. If the dress is not sharp and big enough, the bride will be less eye-catching, especially with the petite figures of Asian women.'

Jessica Lee of Trinity Bridal agrees. 'One of our Oscar de la Renta bridal gowns in chic red is a popular second gown for our brides.'

Carolyn Chow of Central Weddings & Occasions noted a budding trend of romantic draping to create a constructed, three-dimensional silhouette as seen on the runways of Vera Wang and Amsale.

Parisian couturier Stephane Rolland embraced the trend with a show-stopping red gown that weighed 50kg. It took two men to carry its four-metre-long train. Meanwhile, Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton sent models down the runway wrapped in strands of pearls and an explosion of petal ruffles.

Also taking femininity to a whole new level was the use of slits and corsets, both creating the illusion of a well-balanced proportion for different body shapes - think Carrie Bradshaw's edgy, Victorian gown by Vivienne Westwood, which accentuates her slim waist.

Versatility is also something the modern bride takes into consideration. Both Chu and wedding dress designer Kanchan Panjabi of Kanchan Couture have noticed a growing popularity for multifunctional gowns among local brides.

'I get a lot of requests to create gowns with detachable trains or skirts,' says Panjabi. 'They can then easily change into different styles for different parts of their weddings.'

Chu once even created a dress that could be transformed into at least five different looks. For a church wedding, she suggests a matching capelet, as it's both trendy and practical.

As destination weddings in exotic resorts and pre-wedding photo shoots overseas become increasingly common here, designers and boutique owners have noticed a corresponding shift in demand.

While Panjabi has made lighter, simpler dresses for beach weddings, Chu has gone a few steps further to create bridal bathing suits. 'I actually got the idea from a client who is having her big day in Bali. There certainly was a big wow factor walking down the aisle in a white bathing suit.'

When it comes to finding the perfect gown, Choy says she advises her customers to enter the boutique with an open mind. 'They might have flipped the pages of wedding magazines but the gowns were worn by models, not real people,' she says. 'Some girls come in with their mind fixed on a dress of a certain brand and leave the shop with an entirely different one.'

It's also down to knowledgeable buyers and consultants to help them find that perfect dress, which will largely depend on the shape and individual style of the bride.

'Style varies on different body shapes. Popular for slim brides who want to show off their figures are trumpet, mermaid or sheath. A-lines with sweetheart necklines are more versatile,' says Lee.

Designer Panjabi says that an empire waistline is good for petite figures, as it creates the illusion of longer legs. 'I wouldn't recommend ruffles or a lot of detailing, as they could get lost in the dress,' she says.

For voluptuous figures, Chu says the key is to accentuate the waist line. 'It's important to find their waist and hug in at the right places. A high-waisted dress might make them look pregnant,' she says.

Brides conscious of showing too much of their shoulders and upper arms can consider a lace edge veil, along with beaded cap sleeves, Chu says.

She also offers personal touches to groomswear, offering a bow tie made out of a piece of fabric from the wedding dress or matching regalia for the couple's parents.

Staying on trend might top a fashion-forward bride's dress priority list, but some stylish brides are looking towards vintage choices for alternatives. 'More Hong Kong brides have started to appreciate vintage dresses, as they are truly one of a kind,' says Salina Lam, owner of Satis Factory Vintage Emporium, a boutique that has sold vintage dresses - some of which date back to the 1920s - sourced from Europe and the US since 2001.

Vintage styles aren't necessarily the typical 'long sleeves, high collar and high waist' but can be quite diverse, says Lam. 'Styles vary from different times. One classic style is a la Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn - hugging in at the waist with a bell-shaped skirt. But the 1970s dresses feature poet sleeves that close at the elbow.'

Marrying in a dress that's older than herself might have been unthinkable for many local brides in the old days, but Lam said the forward-thinking pack have started to appreciate the value of a timeless piece.

'The vintages we offer were usually only worn by one bride, compared to a rented dress, which may have been worn by many,' says Lam. 'These were passed on as family heirlooms and many appreciate the style as well as the sentiment.'

Be it vintage or straight off the catwalks, there are plenty of choices for a modern bride that go beyond the traditional white gown.

Frock tactics

Central Weddings & Occasions

Shop 3510, Edinburgh Tower, The Landmark, Central, tel: 2869 8666 The boutique stocks the latest collections from internationally renowned designers, including Monique Lhuillier, Amsale and Christos. It also boasts the city's first Vera Wang freestanding bridal salon. Prices from HK$35,000. Orders must be made at least six months prior to the wedding.

Trinity Bridal

8/F W Place, 52 Wyndham Street, Central, tel: 2978 3987 The newly opened boutique offers wedding gowns from Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and Junko Yoshioka as well as bridesmaid dresses from Jim Hjelm. Accessories, veils and shoes are also available. Dresses range in price from HK$25,000 to HK$100,000.

Noel Chu

1102 Wellington Place, 2-8 Wellington Street, Central, tel: 2380 6381 Growing up in a family in the wedding trade, Noel Chu started her own label almost a decade ago and has created couture dresses for brides and matching styles for grooms and parents. Prices start at HK$25,000 and there is an average of four fittings. Bridal swimsuits are also available from HK$2,000.

Vivian Luk

Mezzanine 13-15 Yik Yam Street, Happy Valley, tel: 2891 8311 Alumni of both Parsons School of Design and Fashion Institute of Technology, Luk apprenticed under Vera Wang in New York and oversaw the bridal and celebrity made-to-order departments before relocating to Hong Kong in 2008. Among her many celebrity clients are Cathy Lee Chui Chi-kay.

Satis Factory Vintage Emporium

Suite 2M, Po Foo Building, 1 Foo Ming Street, Causeway Bay, tel: 9783 5141 Founded in 2001, Satis offers a wide range of vintage wedding dresses sourced from Europe and the United States. Some pieces date back to the 1920s. Prices range from HK$8,000 to HK$10,000. Alterations are available on request.