Once upon a time...
“I guess that you could say I had a very specific idea of what my wedding dress would look like (as many do) before Nicholas even proposed, and growing up, as I did, with my grandparents my inspiration came from the romantic classic old films that were playing in our house ad infinitum. When I began searching the shops for the perfect dress I found that fashions were not in my favour. Dresses had too many diamantes or not enough lace or the shape was all wrong. However some were eye-wateringly beautiful, especially that from the little boutiques of Paris or London, but in each one something was missing. It was then that our venue wedding co-ordinator, who has done this literally hundreds of times, suggested that I should get my dress custom made. Narrowing down my list of prospective dress makers was easy, at that level their work and ability speaks for itself. After meeting Gwen my mind was set, there was really no point in meeting with anyone else.
Gwen’s style and talent and sheer honesty (something that was severely lacking in many of the shops, a mini dress would work so well in December, really!!) made me feel at ease and I knew straight away that she wanted my dress to be as perfect as I did.
I’d always admired Grace Kelly’s impeccable style and wanted to create something similar and timeless, Gwen truly brought that to life. She sourced the most beautiful lace for my jacket, from Solstice themselves the same company used by Ms Kelly! She hunted high and low for the perfect lace to adorn my veil and did all the leg work in the commission of Sean Barrett to design my headdress. She really did take care of everything. The dress was so perfect I still can’t quite believe it’s me in the photos!”
I cannot recommend Gwen Russell enough! I must have tried on approximately 120 dresses in and around Manhattan, hitting up every major designer to no avail. I found Gwen Russell through the internet and “Dressed to Kilt”. Despite the fact that I explained what I wanted through only a long distance phone call, she assured me she could create what I wanted – a ball gown with historical influences that could still work on my 5’1” frame. Most importantly, as an avid historical costumer, I wanted it to have some historical influences, while also incorporating my husband's tartan into the dress in a way that was still tasteful.
Later on, when I came to visit London, I stopped by to see Gwen for my first fitting. I confess, I was quite nervous that the dress might not be what I was looking for but I need not have worried. The dress was incredible - I couldn’t even hold back the tears- the dress was so beautiful and exactly what I wanted! Furthermore, it fit me perfectly – the proportions were spot on. She added the tartan in the form of a drape and a bow at the top, which was exactly what I wanted. Gwen is incredibly meticulous with an eye for detail that only masters at their craft have. The dress is both a piece of artwork and couture – it’s just absolutely perfect and I loved wearing it at my wedding. I felt beautiful and unique and utterly me - which is what you want from your wedding dress. Thank you Gwen for making my wedding dream a reality!
My engagement started with the dress... or even before... I was modelling wedding dresses for a friend who was a budding wedding photographer. After the shoot, my then boyfriend offered his opinion "you look stunning but if we ever get married someday, I would want you to wear some gorgeous, damsky robe d'epoch.." and then dear reader, I knew I had to marry him.
So when he proposed on holiday in Scotland, the search for the creator of this amazing dress was on. What we wanted would never be found in a bridal shop... it needed to be created.
I filtered through many periods Victorian, Edwardian, 17th century French, and settled on mid 18th century French.When I found Gwen, the stars aligned as perfectly as they did for my meeting my fiance. A bridesmaid found her through her work on the costumes for Dangerous Liaisons, my main inspiration.
Gwen's experience made her understand perfectly what I needed. I was a bride but not a typical, in seeking a completely historically accurate 18th century gown. She was able to understand my vision; no one else consulted had been able to. She was genuinely excited by the project which was thrilling.
Every period film I have loved, Gwen worked on the costumes. it was like a dream come true when she agreed to make my dress!
Living in America but travelling to France often for work I had work fittings in and around work trips over nearly two years ( long engagement!) Gwen was incredible and flexible with her time, travelling long distances for fittings and working around my schedule. We sent fabric swatches, hundreds of photo inspirations, sketches and ideas back and forth across the Atlantic. Gwen always stuck to historical accuracy but also always making sure I was comfortable.
When you are wearing paniers and a 18th century corset, being made comfortable is NOT an easy feat! but she succeeded! She advised me on historical appropriateness of everything I was buying form earrings to shoes, to stockings ( she sourced the stockings to be accurate as well, with modern stayups for comfort, but with blue satin ribbons as garters as would have been. She even had them embroidered with our wedding date on one and a lovely saying in French on the other.)
The work and care that went into my dress was extraordinary. Even the lace on the sleeves, Gwen sourced from lacemakers using 18th century techniques.
The final fitting was like a reunion with my mother and bridesmaids learning how to dress me. Gwen had only days before finishing and could be seen pulling out a stiff thread in the braid trimming for my intricate embroidered sleeves with a tweezer!
She gave me a photo book , shot by shot how to lace the 18th century corset, put on the panier, the series of skirts and then robe, how to tie up the sackback for dancing or walking about as (it was a long train) She patiently instructed my mom and best friends how to get me in and out of the dress until everyone had it down pat.
But this was the first fitting with shoes and over night she adjust the entire hem so it was perfect....walking down the steps of the chateau in the Loire valley with my father, i understood how perfect the hem was just low enough seem it touched the ground, but it did not and just high enough that it would not need picking up when I walked...do not underestimate a perfect hem!) She also added (again overnight as I had barely 48 hours in London before heading to France to the chateau) decorations to my shoes using materials from my dress so they would match perfectly.
The dress was such an important part of the wedding and the process, friends would ask not how are the plans coming , or what chateau or country did we pick ( yes we changed not just venues but countries.... from Isle of Skye to the Loire Valley) but how was THE dress coming along? The dress was a masterpiece... the venue had to be too.
The dress was more than I dreamt. the experience of wearing it was transforming, I felt regal and transported. it created perfectly the 18th century silhouette i wanted ( and yes i could breathe comfortably thanks to Gwen always making sure I was comfortable) and posture. the sackback (which I had not always been sure of) made me feel incredibly majestic.
The ritual of dressing in the many steps required of a historical 18th century gown was a beautiful element of preparing for me and my bridesmaids and my mum...everything about the dress and the dressing truly created the atmosphere of 18th century wedding I had worked for two years to plan. My husband nearly cried he was so happy when he saw where years of debates over damasks and sackbacks and corsets had resulted in this stunning creation.
A journalist I work had attended a fitting and interviewed Gwen. She said she saw her work with brides as being an interpreter of dreams....whatever the dream...
“When I met Claire Scoville - an artist based in Venice, Italy and New York - it was as Bridesmaid for Katherine Johnstone, one of my previous Brides. Claire came along to Katherine’s last fitting and loved the quality of my creations as well as the way I work.
Two years later Claire came to me with a request to design her own wedding gown; as an artist herself she had a lot of ideas but we eventually honed into the one image she liked - the wedding gown that Julie Andrews wore in the film ‘The Sound of Music’. Using that as a design base we played around with a few options and came up with a unique gown and coat ensemble. Once the toile was made Claire came for her first fitting and there decided that she was not as keen on the coat. She wanted a little more movement and so I promptly removed the bodice and sleeves, created an overskirt of organza with a train, and added straps to the dress. We were both so pleased with the end result, as she had a very ethereal gown for her ceremony and photos, as well as an edgy structured gown for the evening activities. It turned out to be the best of both worlds and exactly what she was looking for.”
- Gwen Russell