Earlier this summer local Metro Detroit dress designer Sarah Kolis reached out about conducting a bridal session for her best friend Alex. Alex was getting married in July, and Sarah had designed not only Alex’s bridal gown, but also her shower, bachelorette, and dress rehearsal looks! (What an amazing friend to have!) I couldn’t have jumped at the opportunity quickly enough!
Fun fact when I was in college I took a photojournalism course, and in the course we had a final project that was to document a story over a period of time start to finish. I ended up shadowing one of the Threads designers (Threads is a fashion show that the design students put on at Central Michigan University) and documented the designers clothing line from initial sketches to final products and then getting a “press pass” to document the fashion show where the final looks were shown. It was a pretty cool experience, so this took me back to that for a minute.
What I also loved about this session, was the ability to take our time taking bridal portraits! On wedding days, we are constantly go, go, go, especially in the beginning. Having a bridal portrait session separate of wedding day, allowed me to just get creative and create.
Because there was so much amazing detail that went into each of the looks (Sarah’s work is amazing!) I asked Sarah if she’d be so kind to do a Q & A with me on each of the designs, her process, and just more about her in general because how cool is it to be a dress designer?
A big shout out to Sarah to helping me pull this together, and if you’ve ever thought of having a custom dress designed I highly recommend her! Every piece was made to perfection.
How did you get your start and why weddings?
I have been sewing my whole life, I could operate a sewing machine before I could write my own name! Women’s clothing has always been my interes and especially have always had an eye for weddings as they truly are the ‘ultimate’ couture sewing project. I also just love formal dresses in general. I am so honored with every bridal project to be able to play a part in the most important time in a woman’s life, especially something as intimate as her wedding gown! This is such a unique experience for each and every bride, and I strive to make it as enjoyable and positively memorable as possible, and stress-free too!
What was the process like to design Alex’s various looks, in addition to her wedding dress? Which one was your favorite to design? (Feel free to add any info on each of them and I can do like a picture w/ the info next to them.)
Wedding Gown: Alex had a vision for her dream gown and gave me a few parameters to stick by, then the rest was left to my creative freedom-which I love! Those parameters included a bustier structured top, a flowy skirt (but not too big), and a dropped lace strap/sleeve. From there, I sourced all the fabrics and lace. There are 3 different laces on this gown, all mixed in together! The skirt is 2 layers of silk organza, a sparkle netting layer, and satin bottom layer, then a petticoat crinoline slip (separate from the gown). I strive to make all my custom gowns out of silk fabrics as they are a natural fiber and extremely rare in store-bought gowns. Silk gives that extraordinary luxury quality to the gown that you cannot achieve in synthetic alternatives. It truly made for a beautiful, soft look for the bride! The bustier top was something I have never quite done before in that fashion so I was excited for the challenge! I did lots and lots of research on how to put together such a structure and did several practice rounds before cutting into the real fabric. We had 3 fittings just to get this top fit before moving onto the rest of the gown! This gown required the absolute *perfect* fit. Next challenge was that droop lace sleeve. I have altered soooo many wedding gowns that I know these particular sleeves can be tricky. Too tight and it looks good, but you cannot lift your arm. Too loose and you have the function, but lose the tight style/look. So I was very excited when I found a solution that had all kinds of win-wins! The solution was to create an illusion neckline and attach the lace to the edge of the netting right past the tips of her shoulders. This way, we could have a loose and functional fit, but not have the super exaggerated low strap. It sat right where we wanted it to without moving! The best part about this is that because it is a custom-made gown, I was able to choose from 20+ skin tone tulle colors to match her exact skin tone. When looking through Mallory’s photos, we can hardly tell there is any fabric up there at all! The other win with this style is that we were able to extend the lace of the bodice up into the neckline without that lace falling over and collapsing (again, another concern I have seen time and time again in my bridal alterations experiences). It was really great to use my prior knowledge of challenges in other wedding gowns I have seen, and apply fool-proof solutions to Alex’s gown. Finishing touch included pockets!!
The lace for this gown was all appliquéd on by hand. The 3 different laces were all cut up and strategically placed to mesh together and become one, new style of lace. This lace could not be sewn on until the rest of the gown was pretty much done as to avoid unnecessary work if altering. Therefore, I sewed this lace on for months and months, with the last week right before Mallory’s photoshoot being a heavy workload time to get it all wrapped up. I kept wanting to add more and more which therefore lead to lace sewing and watching The Sound of Music nine times on repeat just that week!
Custom Veil: The veil was one of our last to-do’s before complete with the whole collection of dresses and by this point, the bride was ‘done’ making decisions and gave me complete creative freedom! The veil Alex wore was a long cathedral length extending past the train of the gown. To not compete with the detail of the gown, we kept the edges raw but added lace details near the comb of the veil. It flowed beautifully in the wind as it was so light but created beautiful interest when photographing from the back.
Bridal Shower jumpsuit: Because Alex was already coming to wedding gown fittings and I have her master pattern complete, it wasn’t much more hassle to add on other dresses to what I now like to refer to as her ‘custom bridal collection’. The bridal shower look was a crepe jumpsuit. She decided on this design by remembering my personal engagement party jumpsuit from years prior and said to just copy that, but in white (mine was red). A few fitting adjustments to the pattern then cut right into the fashion fabric without doing a muslin mock-up stage as she was able to literally try on my old jumpsuit so we knew it would fit and she liked it. We did make the hem of the pant slightly more tapered and also longer. The sleeves we had changed from a pleat to gathers. The pant I had to double-line as that white crepe was quite see-through and I wanted to use a light under-lining to not compete with the crepe. Other than that, it is the same jumpsuit and of course it looks adorable on her!
Bachelorette party dress: Alex’s bachelorette party was in Las Vegas! Obviously we needed something sparkly and super fabulous. This fabric is from Haberman Fabrics in Clawson. It is a sequin mesh fabric in which I paired with a simple white cotton knit. For the style, she wanted something not too tight or low-cut so we went with this high-neck style with low back and fun crossing bow style. Pockets included!
Rehearsal Dinner dress: Alex wanted something modern and fresh for her rehearsal dinner so I came up with this one all on my own! I was having her over for wedding gown fittings and made a muslin mock-up dress for her on a whim in this style which she happened to love! I showed her a few fabric swatches and notoriously made quick decisions in picking a silk crinkle chiffon polka dot fabric. I also thought this fun fabric was perfect for the simple silhouette, but still very tasteful and elegant. Fabric buttons to match ran down the whole center front of the dress, but I still created a zipper back to make it easier to get in and out of. She looked absolutely stunning in this look the day before her wedding!
How far in advance should a potential client reach out to you to design and create their custom gown?
I whole year is ideal, but I am flexible with tighter timelines if need be. There is a lot of planning time that goes into custom gowns and dresses such as initial styles, fabric sourcing and collecting, initial pattern-making, and the muslin mock-up all before the first fitting takes place. Custom gowns require 3-6 fittings, however can be less if need be for traveling projects!
What wedding dress trend are you loving right now? Which would you love to see go away?
Vintage restorations have been popular lately and I am absolutely loving them! Especially fun if it was the mother’s gown! Other recent styles I have seen are large motif laces and detachable overskirts. What I would love to see go away is self-conscious attitudes as I believe every bride is the most beautiful they have ever been on their wedding day, no matter their attire!
Who would be your dream celebrity client? They can be married or unmarried.
Dream celebrity client would be Elle Fanning as she is so elegant and has an eye for couture styles. Mary Barra as she is a queen in the Detroit area or Reese Witherspoon because she is simply incredible.
In addition to designing gorgeous wedding dresses, what other services do you offer?
My biggest projects are custom couture wedding gowns but I also do custom veils, non-bridal dresses, vintage restorations, and lots of alterations. Alterations are truly so fun as I get to work with lots of brides and their friends and family on lots of different kinds of dresses. I perfect the fit of store-bought gowns to individual women and listen to their concerns and come up with creative solutions. I like to visually complement a woman’s figure by properly and creatively fitting the dress to their specific body shape, while enhancing the style of the dress. My first fittings are no-obligation and can be scheduled via my website, www.sarahkolis.com. I alter any kind of women’s clothing!
Anything else you’d love to share?
Mallory Tahy is seriously so incredible and talented! She was so willing and excited to photograph all these looks for Alex and I am so blessed to have the beautiful photos she created. She was particularly so awesome at posing the people in the photos as well. Her whole process was stress-free and I felt she truthfully wanted these photos to turn out just as beautiful as I did, if not more! She went above and beyond!
To book a no-obligation consultation or first fitting with Sarah Kolis, visit www.sarahkolis.com or send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.