An Exclusive Interview with Designer Anne Barge

As you may or may not know, bridal fashion is an integral part of our luxury bridal events, which is why we are SO thrilled to have designer Anne Barge as part of our Luxury Bridal Event tour for 2016!

As we lead into New York Bridal Fashion Week (less than a month away), we asked Anne herself about the bridal industry, where she sees it going next and what we can all expect from her this coming Fall!

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Jim Verraros: Since childhood, you’ve become fascinated with weddings and cite your Mother as a source for your inspiration. Can you take us back to a memory of a wedding that’s always stayed within you?

Anne Barge: My mother was an organ pianist and started taking me with her to ceremonies when I was barely three years old. I have one vivid memory of a wedding where the entire church was filled with gardenias. Watching the bride come down the aisle to the wedding march, smelling the sweet floral air, the whole experience was like a fairytale. It was then that I began to focus on my lifelong dream.

JV: Are there other bridal designers or colleagues that you appreciate or have an affinity for?

Anne: When I graduated from college, I worked as Jim Hjelm’s assistant at Priscilla of Boston. He is one of my oldest and dearest friends. As a retailer, I was one of Amsale’s first customers and we have stayed close family friends ever since. Beyond being great people, I think the two are both fabulous designers who have made enormous contributions to our industry.

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*Pictured above Anne and James Clifford Hjelm

JV: The Bridal World is constantly evolving and changing; particularly now with the trend of low backs and sexier silhouettes and necklines. Where do you see bridal heading in the next year or two?

Anne: The trend in bridal has definitely gone as low and as bare as it can in recent years. I predict the pendulum will swing back and designers will start to explore more conservative styles. My aesthetic will always be one of refinement, we interpret trends in a way that upholds our timeless and classic style.

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Anne Barge “Black Label,” Spring 2016 Collection

JV: One of my favorite red carpet gowns you’ve done was for Amber Riley on Fox’s hit show, “Glee.” Can we expect to see more evening and red carpet from you?

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Anne: We loved that gown on her! Joan Rivers claimed it was one of the best dressed of the SAG awards that year. Bridal will always be our main focus, but many of our gowns can be designed in color for evening wear.

JV: There are so many options and choices for Brides today, it can be overwhelming! What is your best advice for a bride who’s shopping for the perfect dress?

Anne: Above all, go to a reputable salon. There are so many fantastic professionals with decades of experience who can help you select exactly what you’re looking for. I should know, I used to be one of them! Keep your fan club small until you have made your final selection. Crowds can be very distracting.

JV: Let’s say there’s an aspiring bridal designer out there, sketching away and hopes to one day become a household name like you. What words of advice would you give to an aspiring bridal designer?

Anne: Work experience is invaluable. Pick a designer you admire and do everything you can to intern, shadow, or work on their staff. There is so much more to our business than meets the eye.

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Anne Barge Collection, Spring 2016

JV: New York Bridal Fashion Week is just a few months away. What can we expect from you for your newest collection?

Anne: Our new collection is still in the muslin (cotton fabric) stages, so the finished products will evolve several times before October market. I’m very excited about the next collection, it will embody everything that defines the Anne Barge Bride. She’s timeless with a modern twist. We can’t wait to show you!

JV: How long has it been since you’ve been to Chicago and what’s your favorite thing about our city? We can’t wait to have you!

Anne: It has been a couple of years since I was last in Chicago, but I love your city. My favorite hotel is The Burnham with its Mozart music print drapes, and I love the street shopping on East Oak. Of course, a visit to Belle Vie Bridal is always a must! It’s a beautiful salon.

 

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Pictured above: Anne Barge and Jim Verraros

 

*Anne Barge Collections available exclusively at Belle Vie Bridal Couture, Chicago.

*To see Anne Barge’s collections, visit: http://www.annebarge.com

*Follow Anne Barge on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnneBargeBride?fref=ts

Anne Barge on Instagram: @annebargebride

 

 

*Anne Barge Trunk Show: Sept. 18th-19th, 2015. To schedule your consultation for your Anne Barge gown, call 312.751.2222.

 

How Much For That Dress In The Window?

In the 20th century DeBeers introduced modern society to the idea that a woman’s engagement ring should cost approximately 2 month’s salary and no one seemed to blink an eye. The engagement ring will probably be worn every day for the rest of a woman’s life – barring no unfortunate circumstances.

By comparison, no one has ever come forward to say how much a  bridal gown should cost. What percentage of salary, wedding budget or any other indication of the amount of money one should spend. Of course the 2 months salary really was a genius marketing strategy and nothing more.

The best way to decide on how much to spend on your bridal gown is to first take a look at what’s important to you. First and foremost, determine your budget immediately. Before you open a bridal magazine, sit down with whomever is paying and have an honest conversation about price. Convey this to your bridal consultant when you enter the salon and it will help him or her determine what gowns you will be seeing.

After the budget is determined,  consider the  three F’s: Fabric, Fit and Finish.

Fabric:  The quality of the fabric will increase the price of the  gown greatly. Inspect the fabric… is it silk? Is it smooth  or does it have inconsistencies in the weave? High quality silk and low quality silk have one thing in common: they are both silk. However, the process they go through to become a garment is entirely different. The reason some fabrics are more expensive than others because they are more valuable. They are better in quality, they look better and they feel better. High quality fabric makes a difference in price. Does it feel good next to your skin or is the fabric itchy? A quality garment begins with quality fabric.

Fit: Each manufacturer has their own standard sizing. What does that mean? Not every size 8 fits the same way. Vera Wang’s size 8  maybe be cut slightly different from Monique Lhullier’s size 8. Also, a great fit for your body may not be a great fit for the bride standing next to you. The truth is that a  more expensive gown will have a better fit  because a lot of time has  been spent perfecting the pattern before it even becomes a gown. Maggie Sottero advertises her gowns as the best fit in the bridal industry. Is it true? Try one on and decide for yourself.

Finish: The quality of any garment is revealed in the finished product. The finish of a gown refers to the end stages of construction. My mother always told me that a garment should look as beautiful on the inside as on the outside. She was a smart lady. Look inside the gown: are the inside seams exposed? Are there any threads dangling out of seams? Is the hem even all the way around? The serged method is  the least expensive way of finishing seams. This is great for tank tops and denim. By comparison,  French seams are delicate and time consuming. Does this matter to you? A beautifully sewn garment will also be easier to alter and will look better as a result. The gown should feel smooth and comfortable against your body, nothing pinching or poking anywhere. The attention to detail is one of the most important factors in deciding how much your gown will cost.

A bargain is when you pay less for something than it is actually worth. Getting a beautiful gown of superior quality within your price range is a bargain. Buying ana garment for any price that is made and fits poorly is not a bargain.

When deciding on how much a gown is worth to you, remember that you will never be photographed in anything as much as you will be in your wedding gown and you will probably never be seen by as many people at one time as when you are wearing your wedding gown. Decide the value of that before your enter the first salon.

Remember, you always get what you pay for. 

-Penny Frulla for Bridal Expo Chicago

What Are Those Things? – Embellishments!

You’ve seen all of those lovely beads and decorations sewn onto fabric and lace but, did you ever wonder what they were called? Here they are, a few of our favorite embellishments, in no particular order:

Rocaille Beads  – Pronounced “rō-ˈkī”. These are small round beads with a silver foil in the center. Also called seed beads, can be sewn on fabric, trim , lace or anywhere you want a little understated sparkle. 

Sequins –  Not ‘seqence’, not ‘sequences’, it is pronounced “See-quin“.  A sequin is a small, shiny disk sewn onto clothing  for decoration. There are several types of sequins:

Flat Sequins – completely flat discs

 

Cup Sequins – flat discs that have been stamped to make it appear to have some faceting. 

 

Shaped Sequins – Come in a variety of decorative shapes

Pailette –  Pronouned “Pi-ette “Although not technically a sequin, it is only a formality that separates the two. Pailettes can be of any shape or size but the tiny hole is at the top of the spangle, not in the center.

Aurora Borealis or A/B –  refers to the  light refract in a rainbow spectrum. A/B crystals and sequins are  the most popular accent for bridal gowns, headpieces and jewelry. Some are clearer and others are more opaque but, they all have some amount of a rainbow appearance.

Tulle – Pronounced “TOOL” – is netting that can be made of silk, nylon, or rayon; used primarily for skirts and veils.

 

 There are a lot of terms that will be thrown at you when you first start shopping for your wedding, and you may not know the meaning of all of them. When in doubt, ask. There is no shame in not knowing the term for a square sequin that has a hole on the top instead of the middle and I guarantee you will not be quizzed on it after the wedding!

-Penny Frulla for Bridal Expo Chicago

Your Mother’s Gown – A Delicate Matter

You have seen your parent’s wedding portrait hanging in the house for years. As a little girl, you probably thought your mother’s gown was the most beautiful thing you had ever seen. As a teenage girl, you probably thought it was dated or possible hideous. As a newly engaged woman, the idea of wearing your mother’s gown has probably entered into conversation at least once. She ‘saved’ it, had it heirloomed or preserved in acid-free tissue so that you would one day be able to walk down the aisle in the gown she chose so many years ago.

Just a few problems with this scenario: 1) She chose it for herself, not a child that had yet to be born. 2) It probably is dated. 3) You are more than likely not the same size. 4) What if you have sisters? Are you all supposed to wear her gown… all of you wearing exact same gown?

Let’s face it – you probably don’t want to wear it. You probably have an idea of  how you want to look on your wedding day and it doesn’t involve anything from your mother’s closet. It’s not vintage enough, it’s not retro enough, its just not enough!

So what do you do when she brings out the giant heirloom box and starts to talk about how beautiful you are going to look? Be gentle, be kind but, be honest.  tell her your exact feelings as nicely as possible. You should definitely try it on, tell stories and laugh! When the time comes, just  tell her that you want a different style or color or whatever the case may be.  you may be shocked at how easily she takes the news. You see, as a mom, I can tell you that when you save these things for your children you are really saving them for yourself.  
A compromise may be to use parts of the gown for something on your wedding day ensemble. Adding some of her lace to your gown is a beautiful sentiment and it leaves other elements for siblings to use as well.  Putting the edge on a handkerchief or using some of the fabric for a purse or to decorate a card box is equally nice.

Your wedding gown is probably the single costliest clothing item you will ever own, you will be photographed more wearing this gown than anything else you ever wear, you will hang your wedding portrait in your house and probably keep it in the same spot forever.

Whatever gown you choose, make sure to include your mother in the process ( and not just her wallet) so that she feels as special on your day as she did on hers so many years ago.

-Penny Frulla for Bridal Expo Chicago

Wedding Planning 101 – Attending Bridal Expo

I am sure you’ve often heard that sometimes the truth hurts. The fact is – sometimes it doesn’t hurt at all. Sometimes the truth is easy and painless. I can give you one perfect example: The BEST first step you can take to planning your wedding is to make plans to attend a Bridal Expo Luxury Event. That’s the truth.

However, there are some ways to make it easier and even more painless than you could imagine. I am thrilled to pass along these tips to you so you can save time and money and have a great time.

1) Make a day of it! Don’t plan to come to a show when you are in a hurry. Make this one day very special, plan a fantastic breakfast or brunch beforehand and stay for the entire show. You will not be sorry. You will save more time visiting our vendors in that one day than driving to and from every single vendor we have at our shows. How much time and money would you like to save?

2) Plan ahead. Before attending, bring a checklist of what services you need.  This will avoid confusion and save time. You won’t need to spend time shopping for vendors that you have already booked.

3) Bring your support team. Only bring those who offers you the best advice and gives you the most support.  Bring those people with you to keep you on task and focused on your needs.  You don’t want to bring ‘Debbie Downer’ with you and ruin an otherwise awesome event.

4) Bring contact labels. At each of our shows, you will have the eopportunity to sign up for amazing prizes and special deals from Bridal Expo and each of  our vendors. It saves so much time (not to mention writer’s cramp) if you have address labesl pre-printed with your contact information. Dont forget your email address! Make sure all the information is current.

5) Bring a digital camera. Yes, we not only allow but, encourage our brides to take pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. There will be flowers, cakes, gowns,  and all kinds of other things that you will want to remember. This is the best way to document your preferences. Later you can print those pictures and place them in your wedding planner for quick referencing.

6) Leave the kids at home. If you have small children, this is the best time to cash in a favor from a good friend and ask them to watch the kids for the day. Small children will be overwhelmed by the crowds and you will want to be able to stay focused. Plus, there are no strollers allowed in the vendor area. The kids will thank you!

7) Arrive Early. This will give you time to register, and after you have visited every vendor you will be able to find a great seat for the Couture Runway Fashion show. No where else can you see this many luxurious designer  bridal fashions on one stage.

8) Come for the show, stay for the prizes.  At each and every Bridal Expo there are fabulous prizes given away on stage before, during and after our luxurious runway fashion show. Large prizes (fabulous getaways, diamond earrings, photogrpahy packages) and smaller prizes (countertop appliances and gift certificates). Either way, you will not win the prizes if you are not there to claim them. If the bride is not present when called, our Fashion Director and show commentator, Carol Tardi, will call another name. Don’t be the one that got away!

9) Be ready to save money. Many of our vendors  offer booking specials. Dont be afraid to save money. If you are not ready to make a decision,  ask for their information so you can contact them later. They will be happy to oblige. 

10) Relax. The wedding planning process should be fun and Bridal Expo will help make it easier.  Organization is the key to staying stress-free and focused.

 

-Penny Frulla For Bridal Expo Chicago

 

Bridal Gown Shopping Can Be FUN!!

If you are one of the thousands of couples getting engaged this holiday season I have something to share with you:  For bridal salons across the U.S., the entire month of January is ‘Black Friday’. In fact, if you have even a hint that you might be getting engaged over the Holidays, it might be wise to book an appointment now because on December 26th you might be on hold for a while.

Before you arrive for your first appointment to try on bridal gowns it is wise to be prepared:

LOOK YOUR BEST– Do your hair and makeup – you might want to take a snapshot of the gown you bought. Cell phone cameras and  cameras seem to enhance skin flaws and dark circles. Look your best head to toe and you will feel better, after all you are trying on wedding gowns and the better you feel the better you will look.

UNDER THE GOWN – Wear your nicest undergarments,  heels (the height you plan to wear) and pantyhose if you like. Also if you feel like you might need some extra control, take some spanx with you.

SUPPORT GROUP -Your mom, sister, best friend or anyone who will offer support and a reality check but, don;t take too many people or their opinions may drown each other out. Take only the peope who have an opinion you trust. If someone asks to go and you dont want them to – tell them the bridal salon limits the number of people who can accompany you, its actually true in many cases.

FIRST TIME’S A CHARM – It is true that many bride’s fall in love with the first gown they try on. This happens when the bride has a clear vision and can verbalize her choice (including budget) to an experienced Bridal Consultant. Your consultant knows the store’s inventory and how each designer’s gowns are cut and priced. If you can get her to visualize your description – you are that much closer to success!

PICTURE THIS– Take photos of gowns you found in magazines or on  the internet. But, make sure the salon carries that designer. It is your responsibility to do a little homework and find salons that carry the gowns in the styles and price range that you like. Imagine going into a Mercedes dealship with pictures of Toyotas….

CHECK PLEASE– Bring whatever form of payment you will want to use because once you have found a gown that you love, it is time to stop shopping. Salons require a 1/2 deposit to order the gown and the balance is due upon arrival.  The deposit is usually based on the entire balance, including tax and extras (extra length, size or custom orders).  While you are at it, make sure you read the sales contract thoroughly so there are no surprises.

If you show up for your frst appointment fully prepared, you are more likely to have a successful and stress-free shopping experience – it can even be fun!!

-Penny Frulla for Bridal Expo Chicago

 

 

 

What is it with Big Box Bridal?

A long time ago when a woman became engaged she headed to a  small, local boutique and ordered her dress which was nearly made-to-order.

Her other option was to hire a local seamstress to create her dream gown. Expensive designer gowns were limited to  the mega-rich and superstars. Those small boutiques were based on one thing: customer service. Many times the owner knew the bride, sometimes her whole life and could very easily help her select her gown since they had a personal relationship.

For the most part, almost all department stores had bridal  and bridesmaids gowns but they began to fade in the 1980’s and by 1990 were almost completely gone.  The rare exception to the department store shut-down, Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) expanded the bridal department and has become a Chicago legend with their unique level of customer service and selection of gowns. I cannot speak for the other Macy’s stores but this brand has become synonymous with bridal success in Chicago.

Since late 1990’s everything is available at the click of a button on the internet and some brides are quite comfortable buying a gown they have never seen or tried on, in an undetermined size, off of a site that may or may not have any real credentials in order to save money. To me this sounds like a bad idea and I always discourage brides from buying gowns in the internet for one reason – customer service. Plus, we all know you get what you pay for.

A few years ago Target tried selling wedding gowns by Isaac Mizrahi. They were priced around $99. I had the ‘honor’ of seeing the entire collection as it  arrived in boxes at a media event. The only one I recall was made of what I would consider to be the cheapest fabric I’ve ever seen. The collection lasted about as long as this blog and I doubt if anyone even remembers that belted monstrosity or its similarly cheap counterparts. I am not sure whatever happened to Mr. Mizrahi’s failed attempt to enter into the bridal market but I would guess it had something to do with ….. (wait for it) ……customer service?

Recently select Costco stores began selling Bridal gowns at weekend trunk shows.  Don’t get me wrong –  I love everything about Costco, I’m just not sure that I would want to try on a bridal gown next to a 50 lb bag of dog food and a 15 lb bag of frozen chicken breasts. I saw the gowns and they were lovely but I couldn’t help but think something was missing. What was it? Oh, yeah – customer service.

This week when I read the news that Priscilla of Boston is closing all of it’s stores nationwide by the end of the year, my heart sank. Priscilla of Boston has been dressing brides for 65 years from every walk of life – including former first daughter Tricia Nixon who was married in the White House’s Rose Garden (it’s the only Rose Garden wedding to date) for her wedding to Edward Finch Cox. She appeared not once, but twice on the cover of Life magazine in a dress designed by Priscilla Kidder herself. I remember this very well because I was about 10 years old and was so enamored with the gown and all of the trappings, I persuaded my mother to buy the “Tricia Nixon Paper Doll” set for me. My love affair with weddings and bridal gowns began with Priscilla Kidder and Tricia Nixon.

So what’s next for Bridal? Will we be seeing bridal gowns stuffed on the clearance racks at Wal-mart next to the team apparel? Hopefully not. If my hunch is correct, this will move brides back into the direction where they came, directly to the bridal salons and boutiques who specialize in service. The same salons who hold trunk shows where you can get the ultimate in customer service by the designer him or herself. The ‘cash and dash’ of big box stores is just not suited for the bridal industry. Brides need assistance. They need ( at a minimum) someone to help them into the gown and more often than not an honest opinion.

Anyone in bridal retail will tell you that it is unlike any other form of retail sales. The level of service is so high that consultants are expected to be  encyclopedias of information. Bridal Consultants are trained to know about shipping, fit, construction, size, fabric and every single detail of the process…. especially customer service.

-Penny Frulla for Bridal Expo Chicago