Expert Advice from a Dressmaker

Martha Stewart Weddings, Summer 2010

Jean Kormos, Dressmaker
New York, New York

Known for: Expert tailoring, custom dressmaking, couture details, and an uncanny knack for "reading" her clients' style.

How to find her: Ghost Tailor, 212-253-9727; ghosttailor.com

Once a bride decides to have a dress custom made, what is the process? 
We usually have an initial meeting, and sometimes a second one to firm up details, then two fittings -- one to fit the toile [a full-size model of the dress], the second to fit the actual dress. I sketch the proposed dress, cut a pattern, and construct a toile of the dress. I fit the toile to the bride's body. If the bride intends to lose weight, I delay the toile fitting until she's achieved her goal. Otherwise, we waste the advantage of achieving a perfect fit right from the beginning. The process usually takes three to four months, but there have been times when I've had only a month to design and make a dress. 

What about brides on a budget? Should they go the custom route? 
A custom-made dress can be a quality dress at a reasonable cost, with no marketing or shipping expenses and no long wait. I price my gowns based on the time involved plus materials. The bride won't have added alteration expenses, which can be significant when purchasing an off-the-rack dress. That said, a custom-made dress is not a discount dress.

How do you work a bride's personality and sense of style into your dress design? 
A woman sometimes doesn't realize how much she communicates visually. Things like the way she wears her clothes and the expansiveness of her movements are informative, along with the way she talks. Later on in the process, during the fitting for the toile, I encourage relaxed conversation. When the bride is speaking about her day, her wedding, or anything else, I'm able to see if she feels comfortable. I'll notice if she repeatedly touches or pulls at a detail because it feels like it's shifting. This is most important with a strapless or low-backed dress. I then correct those details, eliminating unnecessary distraction on her wedding day. 

Are the classic fabrics -- satin, taffeta, silk, chiffon -- still very much in vogue? 
Yes, but technology has contributed much to fabrics. I've made gowns from fabrics produced with high metal content. One was an iridescent silk taffeta that had almost a mirror shine when pressed, and beautiful body. The other was a linen woven with fine wire threads. The fabric started as smooth but had a "memory" for every fold and wrinkle. The more it was handled, the more patina it developed. The bride is a sweater designer and wanted an unusual statement to reflect her creative style and informal wedding.

Is there a type of fabric that's not traditional but gaining in popularity? 
I've recently made complete gowns of cotton shirtings, cotton twill, and cotton dotted Swiss. They've been unconventional choices for gowns for the last several decades, but if you think back through historical periods, many of our favorite dresses from the 18th and 19th centuries were cotton. 

Does a bride ever bring in a bolt of fabric and say, "Do something with this"? 
Yes. I designed a dress for a woman who had purchased two saris in India while there on an academic research trip. They were amazing white satin with varied gold patterns. The thread is real gold, so it will always remain bright. I've also made dresses from antique fabrics, pieces of a bride's mother's dress, and a bolt of hand-woven cotton gauze from Ethiopia. 

Top Tip 
"I encourage brides to bring any and all ideas. I welcome photos of dresses, drawings, magazine pages -- as many clips as she has, especially images that convey a mood that appeals to her. We move them around on my big cutting table, and things become clear. It's funny how often a woman will bring a hundred images and then hesitate to show me more than five. They shouldn't hold back: Each one communicates something -- a detail, an attitude."

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