Custom Made” Defined
At its finest, “custom made” employs the same techniques and produces garments of comparable quality to those of the French couture houses. The terms ‘couture’ and ‘custom’ have been bandied about by the wedding industry so much so that they have lost their rich meanings. The process a dressmaker undertakes to create a custom gown follows a series of labor and time-intensive steps. Be cautious of these terms and how they are used when interviewing a designer/dressmaker.
“Custom made” starts with a personal design consultation meeting. The designer reviews clippings the bride has brought and listens to the client. She may produce sketches on the spot. Scale, proportion, silhouette and appropriateness of the style for the event and venue are considered. The designer guides the bride through fabric and color options, discussing how various fibers behave, and then offers advice on embellishment and finesse touches. Measurements are generally taken at this meeting over the actual undergarments a bride will wear.
On her next visit, the bride will try on a muslin fitting shell. The purpose of the shell is varied: it allows the designer to note slight left – right side body variations, it helps identify fitting challenges, and when perfected, is used as the basis for the first sample. This first sample will also be produced in muslin fabric. Muslin is an affordable basic cotton woven fabric, but the term muslin can also refer to any affordable fabric with similar hand and drape characteristics of the final garment.
The first sample affords the bride an initial glance at the entire design. She can check comfort and fit, scale and silhouette. The beauty of custom is that fit adjustments and design changes can be made along the way. Working with the designer, the bride can request changes to her specification. The designer checks seams, fit and ease. She balances the design and judges the garment from all angles when the bride is standing, sitting and walking.
The next step in the custom made process is taking the muslin pattern and translating it into the bride’s decadent silk or brocade or taffeta. It is at this fitting that the bride has a first opportunity to see and feel her gown in the chosen fabric. Minor fit adjustments are the norm as muslin does not have the same characteristics as the final fabric.
Once sampled in the final fabric, the client can decide upon a lower décolletage, a shorter sleeve, a higher waistline or most any other change. She can critically view placement of desired embellishments (lace, appliqué, beading or other trim) and make judgment positioning. At this stage the bride can also decide on petticoats, veil, jewelry and heel height.
Additional fittings to perfect the final gown vary according to the complexity of the style. When complete, the bride is presented with an heirloom-quality garment.
Most designers request a minimum of six-months lead time, although some are able to produce the garment in a shorter timeframe if fabrics and embellishments are readily available. Ample time is required to review and select fabrics, components of the dress may need to be sent out (such as a bodice for hand beading or custom embroidery) and some gowns require special treatments, such as machine pleating, which is usually done off-site.
When your wedding day arrives and you walk down the aisle in a dress that reflects your unique personality, that flatters your features, is comfortable and fits you to a tee, the value of the custom made dress will be apparent.