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The Alternative Gown: Being Different In The Market, And Owning It!

We speak exclusively to Annagemma Milano and Betty Tran - two designers who are held in incredibly high esteem in the bridal world - about their process, and their response to the demand for an "alternative dress".

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The fashion industry continues to strive to create apparel reflective of the more daring individual, especially in this era of freedom of expression. The bridal niche is not excluded from this. An increasing number of designers are looking to break the traditional rule book on bridal fashion. These designers are exploring new colours, new materials, new silhouettes, all in the name of creating an alternative wedding dress.

Two designers have given us their insight into how they are achieving this: Annagemma Lascari, the Italian mogul who launched her long awaited collection this year, Annagemma Milano Unexpected Bride 2018, and Betty Tran, a fast rising couture and pret-a-porter designer from Australia who launched her brand in 2012. The two have different approaches to creating alternative dresses, but both achieve that “wow” factor.

In this article we explore the design process for such innovative bridal wear as well as the demand for alternative wedding dresses.

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Photo: Annagemma Milano

Defining alternative

Annagemma Lascari defines being alternative as a state of the soul. She told us that even a very simple and classic T-shirt can be alternative when worn by a person wearing it with this spirit and attitude. An alternative bride does not exist but an alternative woman does. This woman, who is about to marry and who feels alternative in the soul, hence looks for the proper and fairly accurate way to look during the most important day of her life.

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Photo: FG Magazine

Betty Tran stated, “A women wants be herself and be mesmerised on her special day. Modern day brides invest in statement looks which reflect their personality and most importantly, will invest in looks they will treasure for the rest of their lives.”

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Market demand and supply

Betty also highlighted that nowadays more and more brides are not looking for single use wedding dresses; rather they are looking for something they can wear on more than one occasion. And this is a gap in the market that designers like Betty Tran are trying to fill.

Although brands offering more traditional bridal gowns lead market sales and will likely dominate market share for years to come, it cannot be denied that the niche for alternative styles is one that is fast growing, especially in certain geographical markets.

As brides seek new themes for their weddings, they seek new dresses to reflect the occasion. Betty Tran highlights that within Europe particularly, there is a desire to look “unique”. She has noted increasing requests by European brides for dresses to make a statement in. “Brides shouldn’t feel they should have to wear white or follow current trend. Rather a bride should wear a garment she feels utterly dazzling in.”

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Photo: Betty Tran

Annagemma highlighted that many sellers, distributors and agents say they want different offerings, but are scared when they are presented with such. “Everyone is looking for something they call “alternative” which is in reality is only something different compared to the other bridal collections. In fact what the majority seek is something that fails to add anything very innovative to the plethora of already existing ones,” she explained.

In Italy, Annagemma has noticed the demand for a genuine alternative bridal product mainly comes from concept stores and stores that want to engage new challenges, especially those where there has been a property generational shift and where the young entrepreneur wants to move from the “mainstream” of the family tradition. She defines shops like these as her greatest supporter and perfect buyer, due to “the enthusiasm he/she shows in front of a truly innovative product”.

She has found that France, Spain, UK, Germany, Japan and Korea are all very sensitive to contemporary design. “They love innovative details and clean lines, even if they consume traditional clothes”.

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Photo: Annagemma Milano

Drawing inspiration

We asked our alternative bridal designers how they draw inspiration for completely new creations.

Betty Tran replied:

The Betty Tran bride is someone who embraces changes, someone who appreciates elegance, romanticism and likes to shake things up a little by experimenting with volumes, silhouette and shapes.

Each unique gown I creates is inspired by the women I meet and the places I visit. When it comes to designing garments I don’t follow trends as I believe style is on-going. We shouldn’t be following trends rather the gown should reflect the personality of the wearer.

Each and every garment I creates is intended to be versatile and interchangeable. A special gown like a wedding dress shouldn’t only see the light of day once, but rather should be a cherished item to be worn throughout one’s life.

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Photo: Betty Tran

The designs of Betty Tran have been inspired by her travels whereas Annagemma’s creative process is a product of her vast professional portfolio, as she told us:

The inspiration for designing unique outfits comes from my personal background: the haute couture culture. I’ve studied and worked next to the greatest masters, having access and being able to research into their prestigious archives, from Ferré to Capucci, from Dior to the last archive I have studied and that I learnt by heart: that of Elsa Schiaparelli. I do not intentionally pursue all the sources of inspiration while creating, but they are so “inside myself” that what I have loved and absorbed re-emerges, transfigured, into my creations.

For example, a great teacher of mine during my years of stay at Domus Academy, Gae Aulenti, inspired the namesake outfit. I thought of her, I thought of her creative genius and what it has transmitted to me to turn it into a tangible creation.

Finally, everyone’s background feeds their inspiration, based on the ability to read today’s culture, on the ability to observe the female body, in its various lines and shapes, to make it look beautiful, because if you let yourself be freely driven and inspired by the natural form of a female body, you can only create a wonderful outfit.

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Photo: Annagemma Milano

The Annagemma Design Process

She always starts designing by drawing freehand with pencil and rubber on a white A4 sheet. From the very beginning she creates a technically-configured sketch, so intuition of a dress form already takes shape. She then goes to the mannequin, to physically test the idea of a dress on the real shape of the body.

Then, along with her technical staff of couture seamstresses, they test one or two items to see if volumes and proportions are convincing. If it passes the test, it passes from the mannequin to the illustration, without going back to the drawing board.

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Photo: Style.it

She doesn’t adjust or conform anything onto pre-existing styles, she abstracts herself from any existing style every time she creates because she wants to be free to design something aimed at the future. This is clear with the Anna Gemma Unexpected Bride Collection, that is directed to the new generation of entrepreneurs in the bridal sector who are open-minded and eager to evolve in ideas and style.

Research and Originality

For designers looking to enter this market, research is essential. A strength of Annagemma’s collection is the attentive material design. One example, out of many from her collection Annagemma Unexpected Bride; she created her personal version of the tulle point d’esprit (synthetic tulle). This is a special tulle designed to undergo a thermo adhesive process and therefore become suitable to hold three-dimensional metal studs that create a wonderful visual effect on the weight i.e. the hang of the tulle.

Whether a designer wants to experiment with technological materials, new lines, new functionality, new shapes or silhouettes, the success of this falls on the designer’s ability to carry out research. If they can carry the alternative wedding gown from concept to a fully functional garment for the bride to wear on her special day, then they can truly establish a name for themselves like Betty and Annagemma.

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Photo: Betty Tran

The future is alternate

Designers such as Anna Gemma and Betty Tran are fulfilling a need in the market for crowd-stopping designs. The process is technical but the visuals are original.

Even for the bride who dreams of a classic style perhaps may opt for a coloured dress or may consider wearing innovative accessories such as a pair of “experimental gloves” or an extravagant fascinator. Whether it be a bride that fully embodies the alternative spirit or is a partial participate, the market for alternative bridal couture is expanding its horizons and is one with a bright future.

New boutiques looking to set themselves apart from the market, may want to consider being a supplier to the niche. The key is scanning market demand in your location or stocking gowns desirable enough that the bride seeking an alternative gown will travel to you.

Contact the vendors mentioned in this article

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