The Gown Designer

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Gilles Mendel, CEO and head designer of J. Mendel

You recently opened a bridal shop within your boutique. Why now?
I always wanted to do it, but our first store on Madison was too small. When we moved to our new location (787 Madison Ave., nr. 67th St.) in October, we finally got to include a bridal salon.

What’s your bridalwear M.O.?
It’s the same point of view as my ready-to-wear—very ethereal and formless. That’s my magic: I do lightweight, corseted construction that you can’t see, but that makes a woman feel very secure and protected. The only difference is that I’ve been known to dance with the bride during her fitting so she can see how her gown moves and twirls.

What’s the fitting process like?
A simple dress can be ready in two weeks, while a couture gown can take up to four months. Whether the bride is buying off the peg or creating something custom, I like a minimum of three fittings: The first to take measurements, the second to make alterations, and one final view right before the wedding. And we always offer Champagne.

Can the groom ever sit in?
I like the tradition of not letting the groom see the dress before the wedding. But to each his own.

Do some settings accentuate the size of a stone more than others?
Yes, a design with a pavé frame. This sort of diamond outline makes any stone look bigger and more sparkly.

What’s the secret to looking sexy—without shocking your grandma?
Use lace and tulle and materials that feel sensual rather than sexy. Style comes across in the lines, the cut, and the transparencies.

As someone from France, your thoughts on French brides versus American brides?
American ceremonies tend to be more secular than French ceremonies, so you see more fashion­-forward, “runway” brides here­—sometimes in twenty million layers of fabric. That’s not my thing. French brides are more covered up and understated.

Any nonnegotiables when it comes to the gown?
The fit has just got to be flawless, and the dress must stay perfectly in place the entire day. Pulling or tugging should never need to happen.

What’s the biggest mistake brides make when dress shopping?
Listening to other people! Never heed others’ advice at the expense of how you feel in the gown. If everyone’s telling you how sensational you look but you don’t feel your best, trust your gut. Also, avoid tons of volume—you need to be able to sit.


Illustration by Aiko Fukawa

“When it comes to accessories, a bride should improvise and do her own thing. It’s more interesting to incorporate something from your family than to wear one designer from head to toe.”

The Gown Designer