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Modern Romance
Wedding Dress Designers Add New Twists to Traditional Looks

By Janet Bennet Kelly
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 12:00 AM

Something old, something new? Today's brides are taking that traditional advice to heart as they snap up vintage-meets-modern gowns. Designers and retailers are obliging, adding modern details to old-fashioned styles and keeping the shapes sexy, for a look that's more femme fatale than fairy-tale princess.

Designer Anne Barge's dramatic dresses feature vintage details like colored satin sashes and rhinestones at the waist or bust line, coupled with modern conveniences like pockets. "Some of her gowns could just as likely have been worn in the 19th century as the 21st," says Harriet Kassman, whose eponymous boutique in Washington, D.C.'s Mazza Gallerie sells Barge's work.

Kassman's not surprised that women are seeking fresh takes on traditional styles. "Brides want to look like brides, but sexy," she says.

Old-fashioned adornments, like cabbage flower appliqu├ęs and feathers are being fashioned into new looks; designer Romona Keveza is using them in belts sewn into dresses., Lea Ann Belter affixes freshwater pearls, Swarovski crystals and brooches to her gowns.In deference to good old-fashioned common sense, however, these details are designed so they can be taken off and reused as stand-alone jewelry.

In a nod to the modern green movement, designer Adele Weschler is producing an eco-couture line of bridal gowns, made with vegetable dyes, hemp and other organic fabrics. Organic cotton and voile are the fabrics of choice for designer Claire Pettibone, who is most known for is her ability to turn costumey into current.

Proof positive that bridal fashion is keeping up with the runway : Pettibone's newest 2009 collection named "Rock n Roll Bride." Soft-flowing silhouettes make reference to the English rocker vibe of the 1970s while metal grommets, nail heads and crystals give a sexy new edge to her designs. "This collection, says Fox, was really dramatic but still consistent with her style, a combination of vintage, romantic and feminine."

No, brides don't have to wear all white. Jennifer Johnston, manager of the Vera Wang Bridal Boutique at Saks Jandel in Chevy Chase, Md., says the Vera Wang fall 2009 collection nods to a modern desire for color, and includes several gowns in dove gray and maize yellow, or with accents of lavender on ivory." Although Johnston says dramatic color doesn't often sell in Washington, it is selling well in other markets. The latest collection of this classic brand reflects a return to romanticism with billowing folds of tissue organza.

And while the hunt for the perfect dress may be a time-honored tradition, our current economic troubles mean today's brides are becoming savvier shoppers. Jessica Fox, co-owner of Bethesda boutique Promise for the Savvy Bride, says that customers are more discriminating than ever. "They're more conscious of how much they're spending and are shopping around for the best deal they can find," says Fox.

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