Dream wedding dresses

For many modern brides, one wedding gown is simply not enough. We take a look at the multiple dress phenomenon.

Louise Nichol’s Carolina Herrera dress without the full-length skirt.
Powered by automated translation

A story in a British tabloid newspaper about a 25-year-old bride who wore nine wedding dresses on her big day because she couldn't decide on one, rather than being extraordinary, hints at a phenomenon that could change the format of dreary wedding albums forever.

Helene Glass, née Manca, from Guildford, Surrey, was shown posing in various creations, including the clichéd lady-in-loo-roll crinoline surrounded by seven bridesmaids dressed in ghastly purple polyester and increasingly glamorous creations costing £2,500 (Dh14,700) and upwards from the "first dance" onwards. For many brides, even in the West, still racked by recession, that is not far from the norm.

"It's now a case of two wedding dresses at least," says Peta Hunt, the fashion director at You & Your Wedding magazine. "It's no longer possible to have one dress that does everything. Ceremonies have got more diverse and bridalwear has become more exciting - and affordable."

To say modern brides are spoilt for choice underestimates the bewildering scale of what's currently on offer. Is it any wonder even the most focused bride becomes a bridezilla, given the fact that she can now be wed in her favourite Lanvin, then slip into a Vivienne Westwood or Vera Wang for the after-party?

"I had always wanted to get married in Vivienne Westwood," explains Alison Gartshore, an art director. "She is my favourite designer. I found two Westwood bridal dresses in a sale. I was on my own and couldn't decide which to go for, so bought both.

"One was oyster pink with a corset and fishtail skirt," Gartshore continues, "the other fuller but still as beautiful. When I got home and showed them to friends, everyone had a different opinion. So now I've decided to wear both of them, although I haven't figured out exactly when I will change."

But there is another problem. "I had bought another Westwood when we first got engaged. This will have to be for the evening."

Price is a key factor in the you-only-marry-once-why-settle-for-one-frock trend. However, pleasing families and oneself is another.

"I wore three-and-a-half wedding dresses," confesses Louise Nichol, the editor-in-chief of Harpers Bazaar Arabia, who married last year. "I have zero self-control when it comes to shopping, and for my wedding this was magnified a million-fold. Then we had to bring our wedding forward for family health reasons, which gave us six months to plan it from 3,000 miles away," she explains. "My mother really wanted us to get married in the Sussex church she and my father had used 37 years ago; however, I had three close friends getting married in the same church in that year. They were also choosing the same reception venue.

"We decided on a small family wedding in the church, followed by a small ceremony in my parents' garden, and then a blessing and reception at a hotel in Rye. Because lots of people were travelling to Rye, we stretched it to a three-day affair, with events such as a beach picnic and cricket match."

Nichol admits that, given more time, she might have found one dress suitable for the two formal ceremonies. As it was, Dubai's Frost boutique provided her with an off-the-peg Carolina Herrera dress for the blessing ("a little too 'fashion' for a church; plus I was able to walk down the aisle to the theme song from Sex and the City.")

For the church wedding she chose a classical bridal dress by Monique Lhuillier, also from Frost. She bought a long, ivory Alexander McQueen dress from Net-a-Porter for the cream tea. (The "half" was a detachable skirt on the Carolina Herrera dress, which she removed for the "first dance.")

Net-a-Porter's hugely successful online bridal boutique has given fashion fans the opportunity to buy brands that formerly offered this service only to wealthy couture customers. Even Vera Wang is now selling her White range through David's Bridal, the largest bridal retailer in the US.

"The combined bill for my dresses," Nichol stresses, "was actually smaller than many Arab wedding dresses would be."

Brands now sold online at Net-a-Porter include Alice Temperley, McQueen, Donna Karan, Alberta Ferretti, Vivienne Westwood, Jason Wu, Marchesa and Preen.

"Brides having two dresses is definitely a growing trend with wealthier customers," a representative from Alice Temperley Bridal told me during last week's Designer Wedding Show in London, which is considered the most cutting-edge of global wedding events. "We are often asked for slinkier styles for evening and pre-wedding dinners."

"We are not competing with the bride who wears couture Carolina Herrera or Oscar de la Renta," says Fong Ee at Matthew Williamson. "A wedding gown should equally be something very different from ready-to-wear outfits. You are the bride after all!"

Williamson's first bridal collection, which will shortly be available from his shop in Dubai, mirrors high-octane glamour styles found on the red carpet during the Oscars or Golden Globes. Features include bias-cut Grecian column dresses with hand-sewn ivory feathers, dense beadwork on shifts and chiffon maxi gowns featuring Swarovski crystals. Both long and short styles are included, to appeal to both classic and contemporary brides, whether they are tying the knot on a beach or in a sophisticated hotel.

To stop customers going elsewhere, bridal trendsetters such as David Fielden and Bruce Oldfield have opened bridal emporiums offering different types of wedding dresses for every conceivable occasion on each floor.

Fielden's five-storey Chelsea boutique houses "fast bridal", where customers can walk in off the street and purchase simpler pieces or eveningwear. Grander couture dresses that require fittings are to be found in the luxurious penthouse.

"Russian and Arab customers have always wanted pre-wedding dresses for various events," Walter Koller at David Fielden tells me. "As well as ivory, pale blue and silver bridal dresses are popular. We don't compete with Turkish or Arab designers who create heavy, embellished dresses."

"The trend for two dresses has come from America," believes the British bridal couturier Sassi Holford, who specialises in traditional techniques, such as corsetry, that show no signs of dying out. In fact, during the Designer Wedding Show, Holford's stand was mobbed by wealthy clients from Asia and the Arab nations following the catwalk show.

"Our customers spend as much as they possibly could on just one dress and want maximum wear from it. What we have done for American customers, however, is create jackets that go over the dress so they can wear it to a church and remove it to dance in the evening."

The bridal and eveningwear designer Catharina Eden has been equally inventive. Her My Eden (www.my-eden.co.uk) range offers the idea of a transformable wedding dress using one top and two bottom halves, one long, one short.

"My dresses are aimed at customers who can't afford two couture dresses. You get two highly individual styles for an off-the-peg price," she explains.

The idea grew from her own wedding ensemble. "When I appeared in my evening outfit everyone said, "Wow, a second dress!". It was in fact the same top worn with a shorter skirt that had comprised part of her petticoat.

"I've developed it further to keep the skirt fuller and I've thought up more tops. I got in a team of friends who sat in my bedroom trying on dresses according to their body shape. Some women suit a V neck rather than strapless full-skirted Mad Men-esque dress."

Eden's dresses take three weeks to create from luxurious fabrics that are as environmentally friendly as possible. "I'm looking into ways of pushing it to three outfits, which is what I'm being asked for. I'm also using organic, unbleached cottons for linings and unbleached silk, and I'm working on a biodegradable petticoat that, when planted, grows into flowers."

That brings a whole new meaning to blossoming love.