Playing Dress Up
A Former Bride Revisits the Fun of Searching for the Perfect Gown!
Judy, Judy, Judy
I confess, it was love at first sight when I discovered the creations of Judy Lee Bridal back in the spring of 2002. Apparently, I wasn’t alone, and this talented, personable designer has garnered a loyal following at her swanky new Beverly Hills salon. Her formalwear has been so successful that Judy added bridal gowns to her collection. But don’t be discouraged when you first enter the boutique and see a delicious array of rainbow hues—Judy’s samples are also available in more subtle colors. So browse away and pick the ensemble you like, then request it in “bisque” or “taupe” for the walk down the aisle. Though each gown is made to order and includes all the fittings needed to get the look just right, the majority of Judy’s creations are reasonably priced. And while I’m here, one happy bride is being fitted for her Marilyn Monroe-type halter dress which sets her back less than $1000. Yet Judy doesn’t skimp on quality, and most of her gowns are fashioned in a variety of luxurious silks such as dupioni which is “such a flattering fabric,” she says. “It has a rich luster, and looks good on all figures.” Though most of Judy’s gowns are non-traditional, they’re classic styles enlivened with modern or nostalgic touches. Her fluid silhouettes are almost universally flattering, and details like scalloped lace at the neckline, a beaded mesh overlay on the bodice, or a sheer chiffon shawl edged in satin give the gowns a distinctively feminine appeal.
I flip over Judy Lee’s French-inspired bridal gowns, whose lace-up backs form a relaxed, modified train without much weight or encumbrance. In one creation, a bride becomes a vision of springtime with florets of sage green embroidered on ivory silk; the folds of the train are of the same verdant shade.
Take a walk on the saucier side with Judy’s “New Orleans Dress.” Like many of us gals, it’s a contradicting blend of sexy and sweet. It also laces up corset-style in the back, while in the front, a row of demure buttons and lace trim belies the plunging décolletage. The lace-edged hemline is “shorter in the front than the back,” Judy points out, “to show off the shoes and make it easier to move and dance.” When Judy suggests I try on the New Orleans dress, I am overjoyed. With the addition of an elaborate white filigree choker, I feel like a flirty demoiselle from a bygone era set on capturing the hearts of all the men I encounter. I practically float out of the boutique, humming, “I feel pretty, oh so pretty…”
The Dynamic Duo
On a busy street in Beverly Hills, a stunning landmark Gothic-Revival building boasts an exotic arched entryway, where a red-carpeted footbridge leads over a moat filled with koi. If the creations of the talented Cantu & Castillo are anything like their building, I know I’m in for something extraordinary.
I am not disappointed. The light and bright showroom is quite spacious, and an ornate chandelier makes a bold statement dangling from the high ceiling. It also illuminates a sewing dummy wearing a work-in-progress—a smashing scarlet chiffon cocktail-length dress with a scarf hem, a sparkling bodice and the teensiest of spaghetti straps.
“That’s for Halle Berry, for her next premiere,” says Daniel Cantu as he shakes my hand. Wow. In fact, the custom couture of Daniel and his partner Dolf Castillo has graced the figures of some of the most beautiful people in show business, including Brooke Shields and Jessica Alba, and been featured in W Magazine, In Style and Cosmopolitan, as well as the film American Wedding.
“Style is an attitude,” says Daniel, who prefers setting trends to following them. I am treated to a captivating display of cutting-edge fashions, which includes an impressive variety of wedding gowns: a tailored ivory suit dress, perfect for a jaunt to the Justice of the Peace; a daring ‘20s deco dress of silk chiffon, with a low shirred back and hand-beaded crystals along the front; a romantic ball gown of duchesse satin from Italy, with a satin-faced organza train bustled by a silk corsage. (Faux flowers are blooming on many wedding dresses these days, but the blossoms used by Daniel and Dolf come from vintage molds, with each petal handmade and pressed.) Cantu & Castillo are tops with high-society brides who want to walk down the aisle wearing a masterpiece all their very own. (They’ll also outfit your groom, from tie to tux!)
Daniel and Dolf are passionate about exquisitely finished details and luxurious fabrics, which they import from Europe. They construct their veils of the finest lace, with beaded embroidery that coordinates with the lace of the gown. “See how this net silk tulle from France is hand-finished with flowers?” Daniel hands it to me, and I run my fingers along the scalloped edge, lift the fabric over my head and sneak a peek in the mirror.
The seamstress interrupts us for a moment with a question, and Daniel shows her how he wants a hem folded “just so” over a piece of lace. While such meticulous attention and quality craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap, a Cantu & Castillo creation is actually competitive with some of the mid- to high-range bridal gowns featured in other salons. If you have a handsome budget, then you’ll want to explore the world of custom couture, as realized in this chic design studio.