Nothing seems more glamorous than being the woman that spins thread into wedding dress gold. But making a girl’s most important dress is not all glitz and glam, it’s good ole’ hard work. This week, I sat down with Callie Tein, designer for Modern Trousseau bridal salons. Not only did I learn a lot about this wedding fashion phenom, but I also got a behind the scenes insight into the creative process of wedding gown design. Read on to hear what Callie had to say, and check out her predictions for upcoming trends in bridal fashion!
Did you always know you wanted to be in the fashion industry?
I always wanted to have a creative career, which is not something my family is known for. My family is very practical, working class people. So, I wanted to do something creative, but I wasn’t really sure what that was going to be. When I finished high school, I spent a year studying art and design. It was probably one of the best years of my life because it was ceramics one day, graphic design the next, then photography, and that was all we did all day long. It was great. I finished that, and I had a great portfolio. But, I had to make another decision, and I thought “now what.”
I thought of being a fashion designer, but I was a little scared to commit to it because I thought, “Oh, I am a woman doing fashion design, which is a bit cliche.” I applied for fashion design, textile design and industrial design. I went to all the interviews, but the one I was really most passionate about was fashion design. It was hard to get in; I went to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. The day I got in I was so happy I was jumping up and down, and my mom was happy. It was great, and I loved every minute of it. It was a lot of hard work; a lot of people dropped out. There were times when I even wanted to drop out, but there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do. So, I felt like I had to finish it, and I loved it.
How did you get into bridal fashion?
I had to make another decision now that I had this fashion degree. So, I worked for a couple of different companies. I did children’s wear and ready to wear, but none of it was particularly interesting. I wasn’t really loving the companies I was working for. There was a job interview for a bridal designer, and my mother literally pushed me into it. I wasn’t really sure, but I went. The interview went well, but you had to design some wedding gowns. She said to me, “I want you to design wedding gowns based on the sixties.” So, I went home and got every single book I had on the sixties to just immerse myself in it. I designed the collection, and I probably designed about fifty dresses because I really wanted the job and I wasn’t very sure if she wanted something very sixties or just sixties inspired. So, I did all these designs, and I went back for my second interview.
She looked at my designs and turned page after page, and I thought, “That’s it, she hates it, she hates it, she hates it.” Then, she got to one design, looked at it and asked what kind of lace it was. I told her I thought it should be a nice sixties guipure lace with a little bow and a slim line skirt. I had kind of based it off my mother’s dress because she was married in the sixties. She said, “I like that one. Okay you’ve got the job.” It was just like that. We put that dress into production, and we called the dress Stella…It was such a surreal feeling to know that I had designed the dress from a sketch, then it had gone into production and people were actually buying it to wear in their weddings. I worked there for about a year. I learned so much about the wedding industry and gowns, but after about 18 months I just decided…at some point, I can’t take this anymore. So, I set up my own business designing wedding gowns, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What was it about designing wedding gowns that made you fall in love with it?
I think part of it is that when you are designing ready to wear or any other type of fashion it is all about the bottom line—how much of a dress can you make out of the smallest amount of fabric. It is very technical. Most of the clothes are made over seas, so you’re not really part of the process. You are just making the sketch and sending it off. It wasn’t terribly exciting or creative… When I did weddings and we designed, there were no budgets; we just designed. We made whatever we wanted. We used as much fabric, as much lace, as much beading as we wanted… I loved the creativity. I loved that you could just sketch anything and get inspiration from anywhere. We weren’t really following trends; we were just being creative and making dresses.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
There is no one way to design a dress. It is a very organic process to me. Sometimes, I see a fabric that I just love…I just drape the fabric on the stand, and I just let the fabric speak to me and tell me what it wants to do. If you fight with the fabric, you are never going to be happy with the end process. It is really about working with the fabric and the textures you’ve got and seeing what you come up with. That’s the most fun way to do it. Sometimes, an idea comes to me, and I will sketch it. It is a little harder because I am trying to make that sketch come to life. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it just doesn’t work for whatever reason. You can make anything look good in a sketch. You can draw the craziest thing and make it look fantastic. But, when you try to make it, there is often a lot of compromise that goes into making it look good. Sometimes, ideas just pop into my head. I don’t know where they come from. It is a different process with every dress.
Why did you choose Nashville as a location for one of your flagship stores?
David [Callie’s husband] and I love things down south. We love the food, we love the weather, we love the people. I don’t know if it is because we are from Australia, and there are certain similarities in that it is laid back and people down here like to have a good time. I don’t know if that is why we are drawn to the south, considering we live in Connecticut which is up North. Sometimes, if we don’t find a store in the area that we click with, we can’t quite break into the market. That can be frustrating. That is exactly what happened with Charleston, so we just opened our own store. It was a similar situation in Nashville. We just didn’t find a store that we clicked with, so we just decided to open up our own store.
Also, in Nashville we plan to do a lot of evening wear. We can do a lot of high-end evening wear and glamorous gowns because there are a lot of balls and things of that nature. That is a great market for us to capture that we probably wouldn’t be able to do if we were in a bridal store. They probably wouldn’t be receptive to the evening wear. This really opens the market for us, and it is great for creativity because I am surrounded by white all day. So, it is really fun to do some color.
Is it rewarding to know you can customize a dress to be exactly what the bride wants?
It is because a lot of girls have different figures. So, the neckline on one dress might look good on one girl, but then it needs to be changed to look good on another… We do skinny girls, bigger girls, curvy girls. We love being able to put a smile on their face by letting them know that it is not a problem; just because you have this or that doesn’t mean you can’t wear a fabulous dress.
What is your best advice for brides as they pick out their dress?
I would say the best advice is to keep an open mind. Certainly, you can look at pictures online or pull pictures from magazines, but remember that those models have different figures than yours. They are very tall and extremely slim. They’ve taken a million photos, and then they’ve photoshopped it. It is not really reality. So, it is good to come in, try on the dresses, relax and keep an open mind. You never know which one is going to be the one.
I’m sure everyone is dying to know what your own wedding gown looked like!
I designed my own dress, and a very good friend of mine made it. That was his gift to me. It was very simple, but I loved it. It was a halter neck, which is weird because I never wear halter necks. It was very fit to flare. It was a silk Georgette in ivory, which is a very soft, flowy fabric. It had a very low back with a piece of Chiffon covering the back. The most interesting feature, which would probably not sell today at all, was the sleeve that was long. Because it was a soft, draping fabric, it just flowed down and was a little wider at the bottom. It was very fluid. I love it.
There are definitely elements of that dress that I could make today, and it could be a great selling dress. I loved my dress, but if I was getting married tomorrow, I would wear something completely different because fashion changes and my body is not the same as it was back then. But, I still love my dress, and I think it is really important. Even though fashion changes and things date, you need to be able to look back on your dress and say that was the perfect dress for that day.
Modern Trousseau’s Nashville Flagship store opened in Downtown Nashville unofficially on March 1st. Stop by their showroom located at 425 Church Street and see Callie’s beautiful gowns, or visit their website or connect with them on Facebook! Tell Modern Trousseau The Pink Bride sent you!
All images courtesy of Modern Trousseau Nashville’s Facebook page. Photos 6 and 9 courtesy of Gregory Byerline Photography.