Weddings 2012 Planning Guide: Dresses
Coveted across North America, Adele Wechsler’s dresses are hand-detailed, unique pieces in beautiful silks and French laces. Her cozy north Toronto studio—where all the gowns are custom-made—takes brides one at a time by appointment, so you have the staff’s undivided attention. Most exciting: the Eco Couture Collection—which Wechsler has been producing since 2007—is made with fair-trade, organic blends of hemp and silk from mills that recycle their water. The vegetable-dyed gowns are clean-lined and graceful. Prices range from $1,500 to $4,000. By appointment. 416-787-5768.
A family business since 1944, this boutique has all the qualities of a good marriage: it’s reliable, considerate and safe. Friends and family members accompanying the bride-to-be can settle into oversized club chairs and watch as the lucky lady tries on jewel-trimmed, beaded-bodice or lacy styles from such European labels as Pronovias, Sottero and Midgley, Cymbeline and Va Lena Valentina ($600–$5,000 plus alterations). Look for dresses by Barbra Allin Couture, the in-house line known for charming, contemporary silhouettes (tea length, empire waist) that can be customized. Then complete the look with a stunning but versatile piece of hair jewellery: the Swarovski crystal–encrusted combs and clips ($70–$250) can be turned into brooches after the big day. 387 Danforth Ave. (at Chester), 416-463-6601.
THE BRIDES’ PROJECT
Helen Sweet came up with the Brides’ Project one Friday night as she was contemplating the wastefulness of her upcoming ceremony. It is now run in her Broadview home, primarily by volunteers, and sells new and gently used gowns to raise money for cancer. The selection is huge (around 500 dresses), and prices typically range from $250 to $1,250. A stunning Vera Wang creation in silk organza is gush-worthy ($1,250), while an ivory gown spun out of ribbon and tulle is a steal at $600. Beach brides can slip on a sexy nude dress with a cream lace overlay ($300). Those opposed to fuss may don a simple off-white dress with a taupe hem ($400). Ethnic pieces—such as silk cheongsams and intricately beaded lehengas—are also available. Similarly sized gowns are grouped into rooms, letting brides-to-be try on dozens at a time. 431 Broadview Ave. (at Victor Ave.), 416-469-6777.
Anyone looking for the bridal equivalent of a bespoke suit will find a good fit with Catherine Langlois, who creates timelessly elegant dresses from the third floor of her private studio. Her process is entirely one on one, and her involvement from start to finish is an uncommon luxury. Although Langlois recommends three to five fittings, she claims she can turn around a dress in as little as six weeks. Four-ply silk charmeuse, silk-satin organza and guipure lace are among the premium materials she uses, while keeping prices between $1,800 and $3,000 (with short dresses as low as $1,000). Couture lace starts at $3,600. By appointment. 416-652-9587.
DINA ALONZI BRIDAL
The extreme makeover of her Kingsway boutique in 2007 means that veteran bridal retailer Dina Alonzi has a space that reflects the quality of her inventory. With 23 years of experience, she parses trends (fuller skirts, “tattered vintage”) and edits her selection down to best-selling brands: Monique Lhuillier, Amsale, Kenneth Pool and Rivini. Then she, or one of her consultants, oversees every last stitch of the alteration process, thanks to an in-store studio. An average gown starts at around $5,000, though a Lhuillier Platinum will still set you back more than $9,000. Closed Sunday. 3020 Bloor St. W. (at Royal York), 416-236-0270.
Uptown brides looking for modern, easy-to-wear gowns adore this Bathurst and College boutique. Such big-name designers as Pronovias Couture and Watters (of which Felichia has the largest selection in Toronto) share space with new lines, like Alyne by Rivini (which offers Rivini luxury at more affordable, down-to-earth prices, starting at $1,500) and up-and-coming names, including Martina Liana, which is known for its use of French lace and delicate beadwork (as in a fun, floor-length frock with beaded bodice and an oversized bow). With designs by Casablanca and Wtoo (Watters’ lower-priced line) ranging from $1,200 to $1,500, your dream dress doesn’t have to break the budget. Closed Monday. By appointment. 601 College St. (at Clinton St.), 647-350-5559.
Ferré Sposa’s new Bloordale boutique offers personalized service and popular brands (Allure Bridals, Barcelona’s La Sposa and Aussie line Sottero and Midgley) at relatively decent prices, with most brides forking over $990 to $1,500 for a gown. Looks tend toward full skirts, but gowns in more refined silhouettes are also up for grabs, such as an Alfred Sung silk dress with a demure train and beaded belt ($2,100) or an ivory taffeta number with a skirt bursting with rosettes ($1,500). The front of the store is devoted to evening gowns and bridesmaid frocks; a fuchsia version with navy blue accents is simple but stunning ($185). 924A Bloor St. W. (at Concord Ave.), 416-535-8999.
GOWN AND GLORY CONSIGNMENT BOUTIQUE
Opened in 2010, Angela Kerry’s tiny consignment shop is about the sweetest bargain bridal boutique in Mississauga. Kerry resells gowns for 25 to 75 per cent off retail (many of the shop’s new gowns, she says, come from brides who couldn’t make up their minds and bought two dresses; the rest have been worn once and carefully dry cleaned. Everything in the shop is less than three years old (unless it’s on trend, like the ’60s frocks popularized by Mad Men), and Kerry has a complete listing of every gown in stock (about 100 to 150 dresses in sizes two to 18) on her website, so you can browse the selection before you go. The shop is in the renovated basement of Kerry’s house, and she books brides one at a time, so the whole experience feels like playing dress-up. The space is small and cozy, with lush decor in muted tones and a comfy divan where your own fashion consultants (a.k.a. friends and family) can relax. By appointment. 1450 Northmount Ave., Mississauga, 416-573-4240.
Gathering inspiration from street style rather than wedding mags, Hoa Bui’s gowns are more accessible than the typical princess looks. The dresses are made using European and Asian silks, while the majority of the lace is from France. Brides-to-be can pick from the samples on display, mix and match favourite dress parts, or even collaborate with Hoa to create a one-of-a-kind gown. Standout creations include a quietly elegant silk crêpe number with lace that peeks through a V-neck ($2,500). A gorgeous strapless gown is fashioned from silk organza with a lace overlay ($5,000). 2016 Bathurst St. (at Eglinton), 416-789-9641.
INES DI SANTO
In a space that feels more like a salon than a show-room, the dresses on display offer big-time drama. With finesse and flair, Ines Di Santo is not afraid to play up the female form, accentuating the bust and waistline while balancing a tight fit on top with her signature full skirts. She deviates from classic off-white with ease, exploring blush pink and champagne shades. Hand beading, Swarovski crystals, delicate fabric flowers and feathers can cause price creep (upwards of $5,000), but these truly are Costume Institute–calibre designs, all made from scratch. There is no better seal of approval than that of society queen bee Suzanne Rogers, who chose one of Di Santo’s designs when she married her media scion husband, Edward, in 2006. Cheryl Hickey of Entertainment Tonight Canada also donned a Di Santo creation in 2009. Closed Sunday and Monday. 168 Davenport Rd. (at Hazelton Ave.), 416-925-0002.
Owner Charmaine Mendyk advises keeping an open mind while trying on a wedding dress: “It looks so different on a hanger than on the body,” she says. Mendyk prides herself on carrying styles that suit many different sizes and age groups, so start here for respite from the ubiquitous strapless designs. A romantic Casablanca gown has a sweetheart-necked sheath topped by a sheer lace overlay with a scalloped hemline; other lines include Maggie Sottero and Blue by Enzoani. Along with trendy, tea-length hemlines, there are plenty of traditional mermaid- and ball gown–style dresses. The average price is $1,500, and turnaround is about seven months. There are veils, tiaras and custom jewellery, plus a separate bridesmaid and mother-of-the-bride shop in the basement. Closed Monday. 2479 Bloor St. W. (at South Kingsway), 416-915-1654.
For nearly 30 years, family-run Jolie Bridal has matched brides with their dream dresses in a charming, no-pressure atmosphere. The wedding gowns here range from delicate sheers embroidered with details to flowing chiffons draped to fit, and are purchased from a variety of international suppliers. A range of styles and price points ($99–$3,000) makes finding the perfect piece easy. A black floral-lace dress with an illusion neckline is a bold departure from the traditional, but on trend for 2012. Closed in July and August. 1158 St. Clair Ave. W. (at Dufferin), 416-651-6777.
LEA-ANN BELTER BRIDAL
Owner Lea-Ann Belter has been dressing brides for 20 years and knows how to give them exactly what they want while still remaining true to her own aesthetic. All gowns are silk—whether sexy satin crepe or stiffer, more formal dupioni—and create a precious feminine image without delving into frou-frou. Shorter, more casual frocks are here this season, of course; we spotted one with a ruffly crinoline peeking out the back. Draped bodices, asymmetry and feathers are “still really hot,” Belter says, as is a bit of beaded bling on sashes. Fascinators and other accessories can be made to match. Five to eight months of lead time is required. There is only one change room, so appointments are preferred. Prices range from $2,500 to $5,500. Closed Sunday and Monday. 238 Broadview Ave., 416-778-6868.
The romantic jazz standards that fill this downtown shop are just one sign that Lana Lowon and her husband, Jim Pope, take a delightful, delicious, delovely approach to bridal fashions. Often made with antique fabric, the dresses channel an old Hollywood glamour that is in short supply today. For this reason, Lowon attracts the type of bride who wants something a little less structured, a little more Grace Kelly–inspired. Dresses in antique tones and lace are available for purchase off the rack ($1,000–$2,500), but Lowon is also well known for building looks from the ground up. (If you want a custom corset, she is more than happy to make it happen). Made-to-measure gowns fall between $2,400 and $3,800, and that’s before adding a circle veil ($200), an ingenious swath of chiffon that can be worn in myriad ways. Closed Sunday and Monday, except by appointment. 117 Jefferson Ave. (at King St. W.), 416-504-8150.
MRS. BRIDAL BOUTIQUE
Housed in a three-storey space, Mrs. is comfortable and elegant; an urn filled with fresh flowers greets visitors at the door, and tasteful sofas and black-and-white photographs of famous weddings (Diana and Charles, John and Yoko) are dotted throughout. Owners Kelly Power and Michelle Gunn tend to shy away from big ball gown–style dresses, instead opting for simple but stunning gowns: a silk number with an understated ruffle that winds its way around the torso ($3,890), a stunner in French lace with three-quarter-length sleeves and dainty lace epaulettes ($4,589). Meanwhile, a Nicole Miller column dress is a modern take on Grecian draping, with beaded straps crossing over in the back and a ruffle falling from one shoulder ($1,125). 164 Davenport Rd. (at Avenue Rd.), 416-925-1674.
Nina Duong displays her dresses in glass-fronted cabinets as though they are family heirlooms or priceless artifacts. But her locally made creations are designed to be worn. Taking cues from haute couture, she often favours tucked and gathered skirts, French lace, embroidered tulle and restrained beading. If you’re looking for something with a little more contrast, ask to see the Coco in black, accented by a single white flower, and the Janet, which has black flowers against an ivory backdrop. Duong’s prices range from $1,500 to $7,500 (no extra charge for alterations). Allow between six and eight months, although rush orders are possible. Closed Sunday. 68 Scollard St. (at Bay), 416-921-5823.
PEARL BRIDAL HOUSE
In the heart of quaint Port Credit, Pearl Bridal House is a sleek boutique that’s been luring Toronto brides west with its upscale gowns by hard-to-find designers. If you’re seeking the feminine white dresses of Christos, Pearl has the Toronto-area exclusive. The shop’s focus is high-end couture gowns, so this isn’t the place for a bride on a budget; most gowns run from $4,000 to $6,000. But if you want a showstopper, such as dramatic satin ball gowns or whimsical details, like a tea-length skirt covered in thousands of hand-sewn bows, it’s worth a visit. Appointments are encouraged. Closed Sunday and Monday. 76 Lakeshore Rd. E., Mississauga, 905-278-5407.
It’s a long drive north of the city, but this intimate atelier in the quaint village of Woodbridge is a godsend for style-savvy brides in search of a non-traditional, statement-making gown. Owners Rob and Adriana Lamoso quietly opened the shop in 2010 and have been drawing downtown fashionistas ever since. The look is modern sophistication, as found in couture-worthy gowns by Zuhir Mirad and red carpet–inspired numbers by Reem Acra, not to mention the most extensive selection of Jenny Packham in the country. Renowned for her intricate bead and crystal work, Packham’s designs combine ’20s elegance with Hollywood glamour—Liz Hurley was married in one of her gowns—for the bride who cares more about cutting-edge style than indulging her inner princess. Closed Saturday and Tuesday, except by appointment. Market Lane, 140 Woodbridge Ave., Woodbridge, 905-605-1750.
After 60 years on Avenue Road, Ritché knows how to get the perfect fit for every gown. The boutique caters to sophisticated brides and carries labels such as Spain’s Pronovias and Rosa Clará, as well as Toronto’s Paloma Blanca. A silk duchess mermaid–style dress with Alençon lace detailing is on trend, yet retains a classic sensibility ($2,640); a more daring bride may snap up a coffee-coloured tea-length frock with beaded guipure lace detailing ($1,050). Meanwhile, bridesmaids love all the flattering possibilities: an elegant one-shouldered dress in fuchsia chiffon has excellent post-wedding party potential ($240), and in a teal taffeta sheath with beaded cap sleeves, bridesmaids will (almost) outshine the bride ($395). 1662 Avenue Rd. (at Brookdale Ave.), 416-789-4378.
SASH AND BUSTLE
A ground-floor space in a Leslieville loft is the ideal location for this two-year-old bridal shop: it’s resolutely urban and confidently stylish without being too showy. Owner and event planner Cynthia Martyn got into gowns as an answer to some of the complaints she heard from her customers—too many brides in the store at once, or too few dresses by local designers. “If you’re looking for a lot of pintucking, we’re probably not going to have something for you,” says Martyn. Instead, consider a knee-length dress in dotted tulle with a sweetheart neckline by Coren Moore, or other simple but fashionable pieces, most under $2,000. Other brands include Jim Hjelm Blush and Carol Hannah. Lightweight fabrics are easily packed for beach ceremonies down south. The turnaround is three to four months. Appointments recommended. Closed Monday and Tuesday. 233 Carlaw Ave. (at Colgate Ave.), Unit 2, 416-414-3617.
When off the rack is unacceptable, Toronto brides head to Kim Ironmonger’s 26-year-old Eglinton West shop. Among the virginal confections are three gowns in a regal icy blue, the first hint that Ironmonger isn’t afraid to colour outside the lines. She can illustrate as well as sew, expertly merging various photos and hesitant suggestions into the dress of a girl’s dreams. Incorporating lace or embellishments from a mother’s vintage gown is a basic request. Floor models skew to fairy-tale fantasies of peau de soie or dupioni in the ever-popular trumpet shape. Beading and embroidery are done by hand, which is why lead time is six months and dresses start at $2,500. Closed Sunday and Monday. 1104 Eglinton Ave. W. (at Menin Rd.), 416-781-6885.
“A lot of girls come here not wanting to pay Lowon Pope’s prices, but wanting a similar look,” says Cher Thornton, pulling out a slinky ’30s bias-cut number from her racks of previously loved gowns. If the wedding demands a ’50s frock puffed out with a crinoline, start here; the same goes for a mod ’60s miniskirt or a ’20s dress with a low back made of silk plissé. Prices vary based on era and quality. Most items are second-hand—people bring Grandma’s dress here hoping a starry-eyed almost-Mrs. will find it—but Thornton finds never-worn dead stock, too. She doesn’t do alterations but has tailors to recommend. By appointment. Closed Tuesday. 588 Markham St. (at Bloor), 416-818-1104.
Like the shy guy who wins out over the jock, Vogue Sposa is not among the obvious choices, and that’s part of its allure. The family business, going strong after 26 years, specializes in locally designed dresses with clean lines and unique detailing, such as lace appliqué around the bodice or beading along the train. Customers are welcome to bring pictures of dream dresses, but of the ready-made styles, two visible themes—silk fabrications and architectural details—already play into fairy-princess fantasies. Most dresses are between $1,700 and $7,000, with alterations from $100. Order six to eight months ahead for custom designs. Closed Sunday. 304 Danforth Ave. (at Jackman Ave.), 416-466-8884.
This Yorkville atelier is the ne plus ultra when it comes to statement-making dresses. Owner Andrea Anastasiou has perfected an experience worthy of Paris, from the spacious and stylish dressing rooms to the champagne toast when a customer has finished selecting a dress. She leans toward wedding-magazine mainstays: Monique Lhuillier, Carolina Herrera, Rivini, Oscar de la Renta and Reem Acra. Not all dresses will induce sticker shock, though some run as high as $13,500. You can score a Nicole Miller for $750, but the average range is $4,500 to $8,000. Closed Sunday and Monday. 19 Hazelton Ave. (at Scollard St.), 416-849-9196.