One-of-a-Kind Details

Martha Stewart Weddings, Winter 2006

Whether you customize an existing dress, ring, or invitation or have someone create an original design, it will add a charming, personal touch to your wedding day.

Weddings are loveliest when they reflect the spirit and style of the couple getting married, which is why a bride and groom often spend months searching for just the right details. But sometimes, no matter how hard they look for it, the perfect item proves elusive. In these cases, some people consider having the object, such as an engagement ring or wedding gown, custom-made just as they imagined it. Others simply want to have something completely fresh -- a wedding invitation, for example, that no one has ever seen before, says Eve Weinsheimer of A Day in May Design, a custom stationer in San Francisco.

In the truest sense, a custom-made item is designed from scratch to your specifications. However, in wedding parlance, the term has expanded to include pieces that are adjusted or personalized to fit a client's request. For example, a designer might pair the sash from one of her off-the-rack dresses with the skirt of another.

Having something custom-made does not inherently increase the cost. A sleek, unadorned sheath that is made-to-order may be more affordable than an elaborately beaded ready to- wear gown. However, if what you envision demands a significant outlay of time and creativity on the part of the professional you choose, expect to spend some money. Fortunately, experienced vendors often have plenty of suggestions to satisfy both a bride's imagination and her bottom line. For instance, a vintage diamond can appear larger and more brilliant depending on the setting, and a custom jeweler will be able to show you examples. You don't need to be artistic or to actually design all the details you wish to include; you just need to have an idea of what you want, find a vendor you feel comfortable collaborating with, and understand the process. Here is some information to help you.

Your Wedding Gown
Experts encourage brides to begin their search for a dress a year before the wedding date. If you haven't found the ideal dress but love the bodice of one and the skirt of another, ask the bridal salon's staff whether the designer can alter a gown for you. An experienced salesperson should know which designers are willing to customize their garments and which are not, says gown designer Anne Barge, owner of the Anne Barge Collection in Atlanta. When the answer is yes, the salon can guide the process. When no, the staff may be able to help you find a similar dress. If the change is minor, perhaps the salon can complete it or recommend a seamstress who specializes in wedding gowns.

If the dress you are looking for can be found only in your dreams, it will have to be custom-made. Even so, it's important to visit salons and try on a number of dresses in the style you have in mind, so you'll understand how the silhouette works on your body. To find just the right person to work with, look through national and regional wedding magazines and note the names of designers whose dresses you admire; then look them up online. Once you find one, you should discuss with her the details of your wedding and the gown you envision, showing her tear sheets of elements you like as well as any fabric swatches you may have. The designer will make sketches; once you approve them, she will fashion a muslin, an inexpensive cotton version of the dress, which you will try on in order to see whether the gown lives up to your expectations. If it doesn't, "a designer can easily make major changes that she wouldn't make to the actual dress for fear of over handling it," explains Jean Kormos of Ghost Tailor in New York City, which specializes in one-of-a-kind wedding gowns. Once the muslin is perfect, the designer creates the actual gown, scheduling fittings as needed.

Your Ring
If you have inherited an heirloom ring or loose gemstones, you will likely want to seek the services of a custom jeweler. Depending on your preference, he can update an old-fashioned setting or create a new ring, a process that takes about three months. You'll discuss the style and metal, usually platinum or gold. The jeweler then draws sketches, fine-tuning them to your requirements. This may be followed with a wax model of the ring for you to try on and approve or have adjusted before the final ring is crafted.

Your Invitations
Some couples want to send custom made invitations, incorporating a motif alluding to the wedding theme (for instance, a train for a reception in a converted railway station), a unique monogram, or a pattern they love. To design and print such stationery takes about six to eight weeks. You will work with a stationer to select paper (stock, size, and color), ink, type style, decorative borders, enclosures (such as hand-drawn maps), envelopes, icons, and accents such as ribbons and bows. He will create a mock-up of the invitation to work from, making alterations according to your wishes. Your stationer can likely give you tips to save money, too. For instance, clip art can become an icon as charming as an original illustration -- at a fraction of the cost of commissioning a drawing.

Another approach that imparts a very personal feel is to have your invitation inscribed by a calligrapher (your stationer will probably be able to recommend some whose style sheets you can review) and then printed. Calligraphy is also a lovely way to tie together other elements of the wedding -- envelopes, menus, maps, and seating cards, for example.

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