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Return to Romance
This spring's dress selections are all about Gypsies, hippies and Frida Kahlo
by Sylvia Rubin

January 20, 2002

Designers comments are high lighted.

The simple softness of cotton - so unexpected when thinking about bridal gowns - fits right in with this spring's emphasis on romance and ruffles, Latin inspirations and hippie chic. The bride who is looking for drama, or the one who wants to make a quiet statement, may both be inspired by our selection of petticoat skirts, cotton separates, tiered taffeta skirts, tassel details, flower pins and chunky jewelry.

The current romantic look is versatile enough for brides on a budget and for those who can live out their fantasies to the fullest. We've scouted Bay Area bridal salons and vintage stores, artisan jeweler's studios, small businesses and department stores to find separates from $100, dresses from $500 to $7,000, and accessories from $22.50 to $10,000.

Bridal experts say there is a move toward dramatic Latin and Gypsy influences, perhaps inspired by the movies "Moulin Rouge" and the upcoming biopic of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. "That simple strapless look seems to be fading out in favor of more drama and detail," says Deborah Starks, owner of Soiree in Oakland. "Brides today want a bit more for their money."

And that's exactly what this bridal issue is all about.

We present eight looks created by mixing and matching separates in varied price ranges. There are some surprisingly beautiful bargains, such as very affordable petticoats, for example. There are also expensive designer gowns, locally designed veils and unusual jewelry, some wispy, others bold, to help create any number of looks.

There are many ways to get the new look. It's worth a trip to your local bead shop for ideas on how to approximate the look of aquamarine, for example, or spend a day in Chinatown hunting down affordable turquoise, jade, garnet and citrine jewelry. Try a dance shop for tulle petticoats for as little as $40. Flower pins, available by the dozens in fabric stores and neighborhood boutiques, are an easy way to add a Spanish touch to a simple dress. Shawls of all description can be found at many of the Bay Area's Indian sari shops, for example, or online (look up "piano shawls" to start your search), and vintage shops.

Another trend that borrows from casual daywear and -doesn't have to break the bank is the use of separates to create the look of a gown. "We've gotten quite a few orders for two-piece outfits," says Starks of Soiree. "I think that both the Moulin Rouge and Frida Kahlo influences will be strong this year; more flounce, more ruching, more ruffles. To tell you the truth, I'm enjoying the change."

Bridal veil designer Stacie Tamaki of Campbell designs her veils around her client's gowns, and lately, she says, clients are bringing in gowns with less lace and more embroidery. "I've been seeing embroidered chiffon overlays and embroidered organza overlays; I - haven't seen lace appliques on a bride's gown in a while," she adds.

Bridal shop owners also say they're hearing more and more requests for fuller skirts and the classic to-the-floor veil. "We sell a lot of floor-length veils," says Karen Metz, owner of Marina Morrison bridal salon in San Francisco. "Strapless silhouettes are also still strong here, but we're seeing more of a wish for a dramatic gown; in years past the anti-bride was dominant. Now it seems to be OK to have a wonderful, grand dress."

Boat necks, spaghetti straps and chiffon or organza overlays are also becoming more popular, and bigger antique jewelry is something new she's seeing a lot of, says Nancy Pesina, manager at Grace Bridal on Sacramento Street in San Francisco.

"We've just started carrying a line of chunky, costume-like pieces that are replacing the single strand of pearls," she says. "Women are coming in with pictures of actresses in big jewelry, and tiaras are really hot, too - I -don't think that's ever going to go away. Really long veils with a long train are making a comeback; brides seem to like the drama they give."

Another way to feel dramatic is to add fringe and tassels to your gown - and -don't worry, the results are nothing like the green velvet curtain dress worn by Scarlett O'Hara in her moment of desperation.

We show two shawls here, one pure white for about $400, the other, a deep lavender with embroidery, for about $150. Higher up the price list is Moschino Couture's $2,500 gown with curtain pull details and tassel ends, and Bay Area designer Reva Manicavasagar's $4,400 silk taffeta gown that drapes on the body like a shawl.

It was, in fact, inspired by a vintage piano shawl the designer (who creates looks for The Guild in San Francisco), came across one day. "I just really loved the way the tassels drape around the body," he says. "The organza underskirt is based on the tango dress, the way it falls around the legs and ankles. Even the buttons are covered with tiny tassels

"If fringe is not your style, you can lavish some attention on your bridal veil instead. Tamaki says her clients are requesting long veils that lay close to the body, "or they want two layers of tulle of the same length," she says.

Our least expensive dress, shown here for about $500, keeps up with the trends: This romantic silk velvet gown from Bella Bridesmaid in San Francisco has a small train for a touch of drama and a spaghetti-strap bodice. For around $1,000, we created a gown-like look from two cotton and lace pieces, and for around $1,600 there's a Donna Karan silk top and a flouncy, taffeta skirt from Soiree in Oakland.

Lynn Rosenzweig of Ristarose (which will relocate and change its name to Ginger's on Feb. 14), says the inspiration for their spring collection are the children of hippies. "We named the dresses Dylan, Kylie, Meadow, names we thought were reminiscent of that era," she says.

The Dylan dress featured on these pages for about $3,000 is very ethereal, held together with ties, giving the impression that "there is something very free and flowy about it," Rosenzweig says. "It falls on the body in a very unstructured way; there are all kinds of peekaboo things going on - the neckline and arms slit open, the soft ruffles on the sleeve's edge, it all says Gypsy, peasant, hippie. But when you take off the overlay, you have a classic, timeless Ristarose look, an ultra-simple spaghetti strap in silk satin crepe.

"That Gypsy-hippie look "has always been my favorite look," says Jean Stewart, who owns Shadows bridal and dress boutique in San Anselmo. "You can do it on a small budget, with a mantilla or some combs in your hair, an embroidered Pakistani shawl. It's colorful, ethnic, a bit Old World."

Stewart says these new trends are helping her steer brides in new directions. "I'm always trying to get our brides to branch out into something a little more fanciful," she says.

Yellow orchid pin, and rosette pin in hair, $80 each, at Leiko Custom Design

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