Design Divas

Dreamweavers for Bay Area Brides

by Jolene Rae Harrington

articles_altMOVE OVER, MILAN…Back off, Big Apple…when it comes to dressing a bride for her spotlight moment, the San Francisco Bay Area takes a fashion front seat. San Franciscans have always marched to a different drum, and for that all-important walk down the aisle a Bay Area bride needn’t leave town to demonstrate her originality and style savvy. Custom couture and the pampering of internationally recognized fashionistas are just a BART or MUNI ride away.

In these next few pages you’ll meet a handful of our local treasures: design divas blessed with a veritable magic style wand—your very own fashion fairy godmothers—who are sure to make you the belle of your most-important ball.


Jin Wang In The Beginning: As a young girl, Jin learned to sew and construct patterns; by the time she was in high school, she was making dresses for her sisters. Drawn to the tradition of Old World ateliers, Jin spent 20 years in the fashion biz mastering the craft of expert tailoring and couture design. She started her own business in 1996.

Why Bridal? “A bridal gown elevates a woman’s elegance. I am passionate about creating a piece of art that a woman will remember for a lifetime. Becoming part of her personal history is extremely rewarding.”

Fashion Inspirations: Vintage gowns from the ’30s to ’60s; Dior, Chanel & Valentino. Current fave—Richard Tyler.

Style Brief: Sumptuous, graceful, timeless.

Signature Look:
Memorable rear views with an element of drama and surprise. “I like to balance the clean, sensual lines of my gowns’ silhouettes with architectural draping that enhances the shape of a woman’s body.”

Characteristic Clientele: “Independent yet feminine women with their own sense of style. They prefer sophistication and classic simplicity to a lot of embellishments. They are looking for an exceptional shopping experience.”

articles_alt Shop Scoop: Classical music plays softly in the background of this well-lit salon on a quiet street off of Union Square. Beautifully presented gowns are out on the floor (no garment bags!), fitting rooms are spacious, and the ambiance is stress-free. The consistent theme is quality, from the rich fabrics and detailed workmanship of the gowns, to the high level of customer service.

The Little Things: At the final fitting, the staff assists the bride in a formal dress rehearsal, and the bridesmaids are shown how to bustle the gown properly so all goes smoothly on the wedding day. “We also provide an emergency kit with stain cleaners and sewing kit.”

The Bottom Line: Custom couture starts at $3,000, and goes up depending on the embroidery. JinWang also offers complete redesign on existing gowns, or she can combine elements from different gowns into one unique creation.

One-on-one: “The customer’s vision and ideas are an essential part of my design process.”

Bridal Perfections

articles_alt Early Career Indicators: As a girl, Claudine would make doll clothes out of old socks and bits of lace. She has since traded dolls for brides. Claudine is proud to carry on a family tradition of Old World couture craftsmanship, begun by her great-grandmother.

Been A Pro Since:
 Claudine designed her first gown, of white satin and lace, in 1969. She’s been designing custom formalwear for discerning women ever since.

Signature Style: Romantic, artistic, elegant.

Design Philosophy: “My brides don’t have to settle; each is given exactly what she wants.”

Fashion Inspirations: “I draw my creative vision from each individual bride—her personality, body structure and taste.”

Most Important Question For Clients:  “How do you want to feel?”

articles_altAverage Price Range: $3,000–$6,000, depending on design and fabric selection.

It’s In The Details: Claudine’s gowns are all French-seamed or completely lined. Beading and embroidery are done by hand.

Extras: After the wedding, Claudine cleans and preserves your ensemble in museum-quality packaging.

Known For: Her expert redesigns of heirloom gowns; patience, listening, and detailed creativity.

Why Go Custom? “Brides come to me for personal attention, honest expert advice and a truly unique gown.”

Notable Clients:  Won’t divulge names, but her special occasion gowns have been worn all over the world, from the Emmys in L.A. to the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia.

Fun Facts: Claudine is a world traveler, Tai Chi practitioner, certified scuba diver, and white-water rafter.

Swati Couture

articles_alt Origins: “Clothes have always been my passion. My grandmother used to handcraft and embroider garments. My exposure to the colorful cultures of India, Africa and the Middle East, as well as my appreciation of artistic fabrics and embroidery, are reflected in the Swati line.”

Group Effort: An entrepreneur known for her creativity and forward fashion sense, Swati heads a team of talented couturiers, including award-winning Bollywood costumer Reza Shariffi. Swati’s overseas artisans dye and paint silk fabric by hand, as well as do the delicate embroidery and beadwork that define this Indo-fusion collection.

Style Sound Byte: Cross-cultural couture that is exotic, bold, sensual.

Signature Look: Two-piece embroidered gown…with high-voltage sparkle!

Most Memorable Creation: “An Indian woman who was marrying and American told us she wanted to look like a Victorian princess at her wedding. We created a gown that was a beautiful fusion of East and West, boasting traditional zardozi embroidery. The bodice was a corset with criss-cross strings at the back, and a fitted mermaid skirt. She was thrilled.”

articles_alt Cost: Typically, brides order gowns costing $2,500-$3,000. The cost can be as much as $10,000 or higher if the bride has real gemstones embedded in the gown.

Extras: Swati coordinates semi-precious jewelry to match each gown.

Design Philosophy: “Comfort, creativity and compliments for my clients.”

What To Expect: Swati works by appointment and encourages a bride to bring only one other person along. “The bride willl play dress up, get a feel for my clothes and style. When she decides she wants to commission us to do her gown, I‘ll spend time with her on design consultation. We’ll write a brief and specifications, do fittings and provide a sketch for the Indian team. In 8 weeks her original gown is ready!”

You Know Your Bridal Gown Is A Success When… “People say how beautiful you look, not how beautiful the gown looks.”

Filed under Fashion, Wedding Dresses,

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