Dubai boutiques, e-tailers and second-hand options for the less traditional bride...
Whether it’s something old, something new or something borrowed, the last thing you should be left feeling when trying to find your wedding gown is blue. However, finding the dream dress for your big day can be a stressful, frustrating experience laced with disappointment and tinged with anxiety.
For many brides around the world, this worry is borne from an overwhelming array of options. In the UAE, the same is true – for a certain type of bride. Those looking for fairy-tale creations are well served by myriad boutiques, positively brimming with crystal-studded, tulle-skirted designs. The UAE, it seems, is a place where brides can easily realise their dreams of becoming a princess for the day – but what of those in the market for something a little, well, less?
It’s a problem I encountered after getting engaged earlier this year. My personal aesthetic veers more towards minimal (read: lazy, if you will), and the idea of something weighty, intricately adorned and almost theatrical filled me with a sense of impending fear. And I wasn’t the only one.
"When I was looking for my wedding dress, I found the system of booking appointments, and going and trying on dresses very disappointing," says Eva Hachem, who this year launched Dress Come True, a platform for buying and selling pre-loved wedding gowns in the UAE. "Appointments would finish, and I didn't like anything and I had no idea what I was looking for. I found the prices were very unreasonable as well. The whole experience was not suitable for a modern bride."
Instead, Hachem decided to bridge the gap between the now-wed and the betrothed, allowing women to sell their lavish gowns, including from labels such as Elie Saab and Azzi & Osta, at more attainable prices. "We have all kinds of dresses coming through; in a way, it really represents the area we are in," she says. "We have dresses for between Dh1,000 and over Dh100,000. When I was shopping for myself, I found that brides had to compromise, either with price or selection."
May Martin, who launched bridal boutique Ginger + Poppy in Dubai in June, found herself in a similar situation last year. “When I got engaged, my friend took me bridal shopping in Dubai, and I just couldn’t see or find anything that I thought was me,” she says from her just-opened showroom in Umm Al Sheif. “But when I went to the UK to have a look at dresses, I found all these really cool brands that weren’t available here.”
Returning to the UAE, Martin contacted three bohemian-inspired, contemporary labels, and now exclusively stocks them in the region, opening up a new range of options for the modern bride.
"The brands we have are pushing the boundaries of traditional bridal," says the former interior designer, who stocks New York's Alexandra Grecco, Made With Love, and Bo and Luca, both from Australia, in her curated boutique, a space that's more akin to a Manhattan living room than a store. "I wanted it to be a young, modern take on bridal. The dress should complement your personality, not wear you, and that's exactly how I wanted brides to feel here."
Also echoing that sentiment is designer Barbaranne Heaton, who established her bespoke label, House of Moirai, in Dubai in 2012. “I feel there’s been a real emphasis lately on brides wanting to feel good,” she tells me over the phone, as she prepares to host a pop-up event in London. “Traditionally, I think brides would have to change their personality and their style to fit into these traditional gowns. What they want now is for the dress to be a reflection of them.”
Heaton, who also launched a ready-to-wear line last year, works with brides to create something that encapsulates their personalities with more of a fashion-forward approach. “I saw a gap in the market for a service that brought together design and craftsmanship,” she says. “A lot of brides in the Middle East who perhaps 10 years ago were wanting a more traditional look, they now want to strip it back a little bit, get their personality in it more.”
While design might now take more cues from a bride’s character, Hachem has also seen an emotional shift from those tying the knot, describing the modern newlywed as more pragmatic. “Traditionally they would think: ‘Oh, I must preserve my dress for my daughter’ and so on; I think this emotional connection is not there any more,” she muses. “Tastes change and your daughter will want something completely new.”
The proof is in the pudding, so to speak: fewer than three months after launching, Dress Come True has more than 100 dresses stocked on its website, with inquiries coming in from potential sellers daily. “So far we’ve mostly been approached by brides from the UAE and Lebanon, but it’s designed for the whole Middle East,” says Hachem. “We think it is a cross-borders solution; in other countries people rent dresses at like $5,000 [Dh18,372] a pop, it’s ridiculous. They deserve more choice.”
A focus on alternatives is shared by Martin, who hopes her boutique not only provides free-spirited options, but also a different experience for brides. “I felt awful when I left shops,” she says of trying to find her gown in Dubai. “The way you’re received, it’s not personal, but it’s supposed to be fun and exciting.” Instead, Martin has tried to create an “inclusive, relaxed” space, that offers privacy and intimacy, so brides can share their moment with friends and family.
"I also try to promote body positivity; I hear every single bride say something negative about her body," she adds. "They're like, 'I'm going to lose weight', but why? You can rock that dress regardless. I want people to be themselves."
For those who want something that reflects their style, but don't have a finished result in their mind's eye, Heaton recommends plucking from a ready-to-wear line. "Bespoke isn't necessarily for everybody," she says. "There are some people who want to be able to visualise our product, rather than it being designed specifically for them."
House of Moirai’s pret-a-porter line, however, still has a personalised element, with each piece – whether an ultra-sleek silk two-piece or embroidered, scoop-backed gown – made to order. “There’s nothing hanging up that we post out to you. That’s at the core of what we do,” says Heaton.
With regards to whether a more contemporary, stripped-back approach to bridal is a trend that will continue to grow in the region, Martin, Hachem and Heaton are all emphatic that it will – and that it needs to. “Times are changing, people are doing different types of weddings – whole weekends, civil ceremonies, big parties, second dresses just for the evening,” says Ginger + Poppy’s founder, Martin. “The majority of brides I meet tell me they were going to fly overseas to shop for a dress.”
"There are a lot of brides out there who are compromising, and spending a lot of money to have to compromise," agrees Heaton. "We focus more on the fabrics that we use, and the way that they drape and fit, rather than them being all-singing, all-dancing and covered in lots of glitz."
Six places to shop for the more minimal bride
House of Moirai: While this Jebel Ali-based atelier can create anything your heart desires, its ready-to-wear line is a masterclass in clean lines and expert finishes, whether a spaghetti-strapped figure-skimming gown or an edgier cropped top and flowing skirt.
Ginger + Poppy Bridal Boutique: For those seeking something classically romantic but imagined with a more modern eye, Alexandra Grecco is the collection to turn towards at this boutique in Dubai's Umm al Sheif, while Bo and Luca's more boho, vintage-inspired outlook is perfect for outdoor ceremonies or festival-style weddings.
Dress Come True: The online marketplace has an impressive array of options among its pre-loved gowns, from embroidered ballerina-style creations to delicately embellished or ruffled-tulle numbers. You can also list your own wedding dress, with fees starting from Dh79.
Net-a-Porter: The luxury e-commerce site isn't just for stocking up on Aquazzura heels and Celine knits. This virtual dressing-up box of designer labels also has a dedicated bridal section, boasting brands with an of-the-moment aesthetic such as Stella McCartney, Galvan, Gabriela Hearst and Les Heroines.
Reformation: This sustainable US brand, which ships to the UAE, has a selection of affordable bridal options such as off-shoulder gowns with a gentle fishtailed hem or kimono-style wrap dresses for a more relaxed gathering.
BHLDN: The bridal arm of Anthropologie, which also ships to the UAE, serves a variety of tastes, whether you're seeking the wedding-white equivalent of Audrey Hepburn's Breakfast at Tiffany's LBD or Bianca Jagger-style suiting.