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The Gown Designer

"When you put on The Gown, you feel it."
Selia Yang of Selia Yang


How did you get into wedding gowns?
  • Photo by Brad Paris

I had my own shop in the East Village designing cocktail dresses, and seven years ago clients started asking, "Can you make me a wedding dress?" I'd freak out, "No! I don't know how to do wedding dresses!" And they'd say, "That's exactly why I want you to do it."

Why were you so reluctant to join the bridal game?
Now I think bridal is really pushing fashion, but back then it was this gaudy, poofy, pageant look. I make very whimsical, elegant dresses that don't overshadow the woman. On your wedding day, the last thing you want is to look like somebody else.

When should you start shopping?
Some brides come in two years in advance, but just the other day a girl walked in three weeks before her wedding and said, "I'm a little late. I need a dress. Is that possible?" And we did it.

Is there a danger to booking too far ahead?
Bridal isn't as fast-changing as fashion, but new styles come out every day, and if you book two years in advance, you might miss something you'd like better. I'd say eight months is enough time to do it without stress. And that's the whole point: enjoying the journey of planning your wedding.

Who should you take to your consultation?
Too many opinions will backfire on you, so a good three people at most: a wedding planner, friends or, depending on the relationship, your mother. If she's constantly telling you that you need to lose weight, you don't need her there. A gay friend is great, but if you don't have a gay friend, you don't need to go out and find one.

Do brides order gowns too small, anticipating they'll lose weight?
I've had two situations where the bride ordered a gown, gained twenty pounds, and then the dress didn't fit and we had to make a whole new dress. I've also had brides lose a lot of weight and have to spend a lot of money on alterations.

What's the biggest weight loss you've seen?
One girl lost 40 pounds. That's like going from a large to an extra small. And it's really hard on our end when a bride loses that much weight. We altered her dress three times, and that was just in the final stages. Finally, we told her, "You cannot lose any more weight! You cannot!"

Is it a good idea to leave a few alterations to the last minute, then?
I've read a lot of bridal dos and don'ts, and I guess there are situations where a bridal house doesn't deliver the dress on time, so magazines are always saying to pick up your dress a month before. If your weight doesn't fluctuate, that's a smart thing to do. But if you're dieting and know you're going to be losing weight, it's pointless. If we have to take the whole dress apart and alter it again two weeks before the wedding—which we have done—we're going to charge you for it. And it's avoidable. That's why we usually leave the zipper undone—because for many brides, there is such a tremendous weight loss in the last month.

What silhouette works best for a very womanly figure?
If you have curves, highlight your waistline. Pick a princess cut or fitted fishtail. Top-heavy, show a little cleavage. Celebrate your curves. If you're bottom-heavy, you want to draw attention away from the area you're sensitive about with an A-line or a princess cut. Watch for the line where your hips widen—flare there and you'll look thinner. Overall, I'd say, try not to focus on all the little details but the overall look. Do you feel your best? My clients often get so confused. They're like, "I like them all!" My ultimate question to them would be, "Okay, but what dress makes you feel the prettiest?" That sensation is important.

What advice would you give brides about their accessories?
Don't overaccessorize. It takes away from the look. Bring your accessories in, and we'll give you pointers. The coolest one I saw was this necklace that dangled in the back that a bride paired with a backless dress.

What about their undergarments?
No gown should require more than a G-string. And make sure that it's one size larger than what you usually wear: You don't want to have a muffin top. You're taking your vows with the love of your life. You want to feel sexy. The last thing you need is to have underwear that's too small.

And shoes?
You're standing for seven hours; have a second pair on hand to change into, flats or a low heel. And test them out for comfort beforehand. Walk around in them for a half an hour or so.

How do you incorporate an heirloom veil?
Bring it in during the consultation and tell your designer about it. Don't just assume the shades of white will match. A lot of times, brides fall in love with a dress so much they end up chucking the veil. If that happens, we'll incorporate the piece into the dress, so it's still a contribution, but not the focal point.

What should you sacrifice about your dress to stay within your budget?
Most brides tend to sacrifice other parts of their wedding for the gown. They usually upgrade. They say they want to spend $3,000. That's not a problem. We have a lot of gowns at that price. But then they see our couture collection, and they suddenly understand the difference between a $3,000 and a $10,000 gown. I don't have to say anything.

So what makes a $10,000 gown cost $10,000?
It's mostly the fabric. All of our gowns are 100 percent silk, and we work with a lot of expensive specialty fabric, such as Chantilly lace or organza. Also, the custom fit. There can be more than 80 pieces to a gown, and all 80 pieces have to be altered to fit.

What happens if you fall in love with a $10,000 dress but have only $3,000?
If you want a custom silhouette that costs $10,000 and can't afford it, we'll get you something similar in a made-to-order range. If you need more savings, we'll go down a notch in fabric.

What should you do when you pick up the dress?
Inspect that dress, and don't feel bad about mentioning every little thing. You invested a lot of time and money. You're entitled to ask questions and point out anything that you don't like. You should walk out happy. But as soon as you leave with that dress, you've lost all right to complain.

What should you look for in the inspection?
The fit and the feel. Is it twisting? Is the length comfortable? If it's too long, you might trip, so make sure you walk around. Is the zipper working? Are the buttons all on right? Scrutinize everything, try it on, make sure every aspect is perfect, and then put the dress away—it's not going to change from the time you do an inspection and leave to the time that you wear it—and don't touch it.

Should you change out of your dress after the ceremony?
I think it depends on what kind of garment you're doing. Brides that do a heavy dress probably want to change out of it. But if you have a dress that's comfortable and you spent a fortune on it, wear it to the bitter end, I say. Wear it to the bitter end!

71 Franklin St., nr. Broadway; 212-941-9073.

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