Playing Dress Up
A Former Bride Revisits the Fun of Searching for the Perfect Gown!
Rachel, Phoebe and Me
As a genuine Valley Girl, my first stop has to be Lili Bridals in Tarzana. For 43 years, this family owned and operated business has been dressing bridal parties from all over Southern California and beyond. Lili’s is named for the grandmother of the current proprietor, Lisa Litt. Customers come here for the warm, friendly atmosphere, the excellent service, and the huge selection of formal gowns. I get a kick out of the framed black & white stills from the television blockbuster Friends that hang on the wall behind the front counter—all the gals are dressed in bridal gowns, including a very pregnant Phoebe. Lisa acknowledges that her store is a favorite of costumers, and I think, “If Lili’s is good enough for Rachel and Phoebe, then it’s sure to be a hit with the rest of us!”
Lisa informs me that brides are currently going for non-traditional styles. “I get very few requests for ball gowns or cathedral veils anymore.” With the trend in beach and destination weddings at an all-time high, brides are opting for simpler lines, and they’re not afraid to show some skin. “Strapless is in,” assures Lisa, “or dresses that can convert to strapless.” When I ask Lisa to choose a gown for me to try on, she pulls out a simple silk chiffon number by Sylvain Blanc. Secretly, I am a tad underwhelmed: it looks like nothing on the hangar. Lisa gently urges, “Try it on, you’ll see.” I demur that I’m afraid I can no longer safely wear such a figure-hugging style without revealing the extra poundage that marriage has produced. “It’s cut on the bias,” Lisa explains. “Bias cuts are very flattering to curvy figures.”
I do as she suggests. Va-va-voom! I can’t believe it, but this gown, which has a plunging draped neckline and a low cowl back, is a fantastic fit—asset-enhancing and flaw-reducing. “See? You look marvelous!” she proclaims. I learn an important lesson: trust your consultant—at least the experienced, well-trained ones at the finest salons. They often know which gowns lack hangar appeal but pack a punch on the body.
Also in the shop is a young bride being fitted by a Lili Bridal seamstress. Her cream-colored gown is embellished with tiny embroidered flowers of sky-blue and pink. “Color is showing up more in gown designs,” says Lisa. “Mostly in accents.” Pastel embroidery, a bold ribbon or sash, or Swarovski crystals of amethyst, mint green or pale rose can give a gown a visual lift. Incidentally, the bleached-white look of former decades is way passé. Today’s hues range from off-white all the way to rum pink, with the majority of brides opting for ivory.
From Europe with Love
My next stop is the The Montclair Collection, Southern California’s counterpart to the trend-setting designer boutiques of the Left Bank, Chelsea and Milan. Ensconced on Santa Monica’s artsy Montana Avenue, this upscale salon specializes in European haute couture, and its buyers make regular sojourns to Milan and London to purchase the latest styles straight from the runways. Montclair’s keen eye for high-caliber fashion and innovative styles has introduced California brides to some of Europe’s hottest fashionistas, several of whom are represented exclusively at their boutique. That delectable silk dress with gossamer sleeves you saw in a magazine by an Italian designer whose name you can’t pronounce? You just might find it at this Santa Monica gem.
When I ask Montclair consultant Charlene McKay to sum up the difference between European and American stylists, she reflects a moment before answering. “With designers overseas, there’s always a little twist, a special something that makes a gown unique.” Examples I review include a show-stopping paragon of French neo-couture with a train of futuristic twirls, and a romantic satin sheath adorned with a silvery leaf pattern and a sheer chiffon overlay.
Charlene wants to see me in a number by fashion phenom Romona Keveza which characterizes the current focus on striking “rear views.” I love the gown’s creamy satin which skims the body before falling into gleaming folds, as well as the fun, twisted shoulder straps. But what really makes the gown spectacular is the low-cut back, culminating in a chapel train spread to reveal a pyramid of accordion pleats. I feel quite royal. Once I’m back in my casual 21st century apparel, I grow wistful for the days when such sumptuous garb was de rigeur for stylish ladies.