Couture Wedding Dresses

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The word ‘couture’ conjures images of high fashion, luxury and the ultimate extravagance — with a budget blowout to match. But as Georgia Morgan discovers, the whimsical world of made-to-measure bridal couture is closer than you think

Picture this: you’re standing in a quiet boutique. Draped and gathered around you are lengths of exquisite French lace and Italian silk, soon to be made into a gown, handcrafted to complement your unique figure, personality and style. For brides-to-be, the experience of having a gown made just for them is the ultimate luxury. A couture gown exudes timelessness and extravagance and flatters every curve with a precision lacking in ready-to-wear dresses.

“The word ‘couture’ describes a professional standard and a process in the design and creation of the gown,” says Linda Gorringe of Linda Gorringe Couture. “A couture wedding gown will likely be the most structured and professionally tailored garment you will ever wear. As a gown made just for you, it will fi t you and only you.”

For Angela Saggese of Melbourne couture boutique, Zhanel, the level of commitment and dedication to a customer is what makes the couture process so special. Instead of being at the mercy of what retailers can provide, a bride who chooses couture can design her own one-of-a-kind gown. “It’s this appeal that has brides-to-be yearning for couture,” says Angela Saggese.

“All brides ask for something that captures their beauty and individuality and is unique,” she adds. “The most common request I get is for something different.” Aside from the ability to create a dream gown from scratch, the obvious appeal of couture lies in the garment being made from only the highest-quality materials. Indeed, when compared to ready-made garments, there’s a clear difference. “Couture gowns are made with the finest 100 per cent silks. In contrast, off-the-rack dresses are usually made using cheaper polyester imitations,” adds Catherine Shephard of Catherine R Couture.

Ines Colosimo of Crocé & Colosimo Couture agrees. “We travel to Paris and Como every year to choose our silks and laces we don’t use anything that isn’t going to enhance the bride’s beauty. After all that work, you don’t want inferior materials ruining a beautiful gown.” The real value of couture, though, lies not only in the aesthetic appeal of the garment but in the quality of craftsmanship. Couture gowns are constructed not by a machinist but by a qualifi ed designer and seamstress, ensuring the utmost care is taken to achieve a perfect fit.

“Off-the-rack means you have to be a standard size and look, but true couture means you get an individual design — your body will shine,” says Ines Colosimo. So just what goes into the making of a couture gown? Structurally speaking, there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Behind layers of silk, lace or any number of other luxurious fabrics are immaculately structured bodices that are of equal or greater importance than the gown’s visible components. 

“The internal structure of a couture gown is often the least understood and appreciated [feature],” explains Linda Gorringe. “Most clients don’t fully appreciate the benefi ts of couture garment construction until they realise that even at the end of a long but exhilarating day, the gown still feels comfortable.” A couture bodice is vastly different from one in an off-the-rack gown, featuring more boning, higher-quality fabrics, and cupping, wadding and underwire as required. A properly fi tted bodice crafted from superior materials can drastically enhance a bride’s fi gure and improve her posture and, as a result, boost her confidence dramatically.

“There’s an instant confidence provided by a couture gown that is structured and fi tted just for you,” says Linda. “Off-the-rack gowns are generally made in a factory to standard patterns and sizes. Alterations will normally be required and may be substantial … a couture gown is made to fit first time, resulting not just in a better and more comfortable fi t but also a better finished garment.”

Factor in the absence of middle-men and transportation costs and the decision to purchase a couture gown seems to provide far greater value for money. “Much more of the price you pay actually goes into the gown,” says Linda. “They are more expensive but the result is the most beautiful garment you will ever wear. Furthermore, it’s made on the premises so you have much more flexibility with personalisation of the design and control over the process.” However, while the advantages of a made-to-measure gown are evident, most wedding budgets still simply cannot justify such an extravagance. An average cost for couture wedding gowns in Australia is $3000, with features such as beading or more lavish fabrics costing more.

It’s for this reason that many brides are turning to demi-couture when unable to decide between an expensive couture garment and a lower-quality off-the-rack design. Demi-couture involves selecting an off-the-rack gown then tailoring and embellishing it according to the bride’s unique shape and style. The bride can work face-to-face with the designer, reworking an existing gown into something one of a kind.

Regardless of which path you choose, there are some important rules to follow to ensure that your couture experience is as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. It’s vital to choose a designer who you are completely comfortable with and who understands what will work best for you. “If you connect with and trust your designer, you’re going to look a million dollars — you’ll look superb,” Ines Colosimo adds. Put your faith in the designer and allow them to guide you through the process. Their job is to encourage experimentation, but also adhere to styles that will enhance and not detract from your shape. Zhanel’s Angela Saggese encourages brides to “have an open imagination” when working with couturiers in order to take full advantage of their expertise.

Visit a range of couturiers and try on some of their existing creations so you can understand the structure and feel of their designs. Take as much time as you need to make the right decision. Get quotes from a range of designers and be upfront about your budget because this will determine the options that are given to you to keep the production cost in the right range. Understand, too, that the design process from the initial decision making to the final fitting is highly involved and generally requires six to 12 months for best results.

The progression of the gown over multiple fittings means that “brides are involved with every stage of the making of a made-to-measure gown,” says Judith Valente of Judith Valente Bridal Couture. Because of this, it’s imperative to communicate any questions or concerns you have during the creation of the gown. Given this interaction with the actual designer, brides can expect a real relationship with someone eager to get to know them and incorporate aspects of their personality into the gown. “The bride and I become very close during the process and tend to keep in touch, even after their day has passed,” says Angela Marcuccio. “It gives me immense satisfaction to think that I’ve made a great impact on somebody’s life.” Catherine Shephard, too, experiences this. “The bride and I often form a warm bond and look forward to the catch-up afterwards to admire the photos.”

So at the end of the day is a couture gown worth the cost? Ultimately, that decision is up to you but for the couturiers, there’s no question: every bride deserves the luxury of couture. As Angela Marcuccio puts it: “Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life. Don’t you think you’re worth it?”

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