GEORGINA SAFE August 02, 2012
Edgy … Gabrielle Manning, at her Paddington shop, dresses a model in a Manning Cartell bridesmaid design. Photo: Nick Moir
The modern attendant has a world of options beyond ill-fitting taffeta and gaudy satin.
Sending up bridesmaids and their dresses has become something akin to shooting fish in a barrel for Hollywood.
Consider the unfortunate ruffled purple taffeta creations worn by Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne on a dress-shopping expedition in Bridesmaids, followed by the even more unfortunate food poisoning incident. Then there's Katherine Heigl's character in 27 Dresses, whose closet is stuffed with cringeworthy tulle and pastel gowns as part of her lot in the script to be ''always a bridesmaid, never a bride''.
But that plot line of bridesmaids as an easy potshot appears to be changing - in real life at least.
When Pippa Middleton impressed the world with her flattering and figure-hugging dress at the royal wedding, it was a high-profile strike back on behalf of bridesmaids everywhere.
The elegant ivory Alexander McQueen gown earned her the nickname of ''Her Royal Hotness'' and was followed by the wedding of Kate Moss to Jamie Hince in the Cotswolds in July last year.
While Moss wore a cream vintage-style John Galliano gown, her maid of honour and former casting agent, Jess Hallett, looked equally chic in a blue Stella McCartney design. Fourteen other young bridesmaids - true to supermodel form, Moss did not skimp on assistants - wore pretty white chiffon dresses with matching ballet flats and fresh flowers in their hair.
When the Sun-Herald's fashion editor, Kate Waterhouse, married in Italy in June, her bridesmaids wore elegant Grecian-themed, nude-coloured dresses designed by Carla Zampatti.
Zampatti is among a growing number of fashion designers in Australia and overseas offering more stylish alternatives for real bridesmaids than the traditional ''taffeta and tiaras'' stereotype of American rom-coms.
''We are getting so many wedding parties coming to us because they don't want to go to the typical bridesmaids shop,''Zampatti says.
''They want to have something from a fashion house that will create that wonderful aura of celebration, but not necessarily a specific bridesmaid's outfit.''
Zampatti's spring-summer fashion collection offers plenty of pretty options for bridesmaids, including an ivory lace cap-sleeve dress with a sheer overlay skirt and svelte ice-blue draped designs that end just below the knee or sweep the floor.
The designer says she creates dresses with special events in mind in general, rather than bridal parties in particular, which together with the fashion focus of her brand makes her designs attractive to modern bridesmaids.
''When they come to a fashion house, they know they will find designs with a handwriting of what is in the fashion today,'' Zampatti says. ''That means they can wear it after the wedding and continue to enjoy it.''
Carl Kapp is another designer who has found accidental success in dressing bridesmaids.
''We have three styles that get ordered constantly,'' he says.
The beauty of Kapp's Chameleon, Emilia and Athena silk dresses is that each can be ordered in the same colour and worn a number of different ways to suit different body shapes and sizes. In the case of the Chameleon dress and its strapless Athena counterpart, there are no fewer than 10 variations in the way they can be draped and twisted to accommodate various figures and wearability beyond the wedding day.
''Our customers don't want to look like the bridal party around the cathedral,'' Kapp says. ''They want to wear something that is modern and if someone doesn't like their arms, there is a way you can wear [a Carl Kapp dress] to create sleeves, and if someone is busty, you can wear it in a different way to minimise that.''
Much is made about the financial benefits of the bridal gown market, but Kapp says sales of bridesmaids' dresses are proving equally beneficial for his business.
''I deal with good clients that I know and who order a lot,'' he says.
He acknowledges dealing with bridesmaids and brides can involve patience and fortitude, but says the results are almost always worth the effort.
''It can be quite a drawn-out process, because someone might have been designated to look for the bridesmaids' dresses, then the bride comes in, then the mother comes in. But we are very patient and even if they don't end up buying the dresses as bridesmaids, sometimes they come back and buy a dress anyway for themselves.''
While Zampatti and Kapp don't design specific ranges of bridesmaids' dresses, several other Australian designers do. Zimmermann and Fleur Wood have designated bridal collections, and Manning Cartell will next month launch a capsule collection of bridesmaids' dresses to be sold in its boutiques in Sydney and Melbourne. ''It's come about purely from demand from our customers,'' Manning Cartell designer Gabrielle Manning says of the new range.
''Inquiries have been building for the past 12 months about two or three pieces [for bridesmaids] in each collection, and we'd be getting wedding parties coming in but there would only be one size left in a particular dress.''
The new service will allow customers to mix and match from about eight styles and have them made up in a choice of colours and sizes.
Priced from $499 for a relatively simple dress up to $1100 for a dramatic peplum top and floor-length skirt combination, Manning says the designs will appeal to brides and bridesmaids ''who tend to be a little more fashionable and edgier''.
''They don't want the strapless taffeta or satin,'' she said.
Fleur Wood's dresses similarly appeal to women who want to make a more individual statement, and the designer encourages each to experiment with different styles and consider alternatives to ice-cream pastels and ivory.
''When it was the fashion to have bridesmaids all in matching dresses, there would be one who would look fantastic and the rest in dresses that really didn't suit them,'' Wood says.
''We want every girl to get a dress that she feels good in and I love print and colour as well as embroidery and beading.''
Zampatti agrees that at the end of the day customers should simply choose what they like.
''I hesitate to give advice because weddings are such a personal matter,'' she says.
''At present I like ethereal and soft colours, but everyone has to make their own choices.
''For example, [my daughter] Allegra wore very pale pink and her bridesmaids wore black.''