Melissa Sweet isn't a name many UK brides-to-be will know, but it ought to be. And soon, it will be.
The American designer has been in the bridal business for years, starting her own bridal collection in 1996 before being purchased by high-end bridal boutique Priscilla of Boston in 2005. When the prominent bridal chain closed down, the parent company - David's Bridal - took on Melissa Sweet's designs to great success.
We are certain that when David's Bridal launch their debut London store at Westfield Stratford City this week, her refined tailoring, delicate details and vintage-inspired designs will be an immediate hit with British brides.
By way of introduction, we speak to the Costa Rica-based designer about the bridal world and her love affair with lace.
Who is the Melissa Sweet bride?
"She is, of course, romantic, smart and most of all beautiful inside and out--she connects to fashion in a personal way and often seeks out a tie to her legacy through the vintage elements she may see in my gowns. She is feminine, comes in all shapes and sizes, and is really looking for a gown that fits her figure in the best possible way--rather than looking to put herself into a gown just for the sake of a trend."
Where do you find your inspiration?
"I find inspiration everywhere, whether its in an appliqué I find in the fabric market, or my natural environment here in Costa Rica (I have designed gowns inspired by the shells that I walk upon every day). Of course, I am a lover of couture fashion magazines. And I always return to fashions of past eras."
What era are you most inspired by?
"I am inspired by many eras, ranging from Deco and Art Nouveau elements of the 1920s and 1930s to the feminine detailing and tailoring seen in the 40s and 50s -- but also making these elements modern, "now', "of the moment". I say my gowns are vintage-informed, not just vintage."
Lace has long been a traditional bridal staple, but which bridal fabric do love most and why?
"Working with lace gives me an opportunity to introduce a whole new element into the world of white in which I live--emotions, texture and space. My love affair with lace is in the many wonderful possibilities they offer me to tell each bride's unique story. Imagine the ancient tapestries. Within these murals, there is a story actually woven into the fabric. As you walk down the length of it, the characters change and meet other characters, and the situations change. That's how it is working with lace for me. A story is already in told the lace and you get to guide where that story goes with how you use the lace. Laces have all these individual qualities and textures. From Guipure lace (a heavy embroidered lace) to Chantilly (finely worked thread-like lace), each lace evokes different emotions. There are almost little characters in the lace: flowers, leaves, butterflies, even some more obscure shapes and designs. Altogether, these shapes tell a story. But I can cut them apart and rework them, and in doing so, actually change the story. With lace you almost always need to put something behind it (that is, if its not going to be see-through story). And all of the changes depends on how much coverage you need behind the lace or where you are putting that coverage. So you now introduce the concept of "space", shadow and depth to the story. And this dimension opens up this whole other world for me."
What are you up to when you aren't designing bridal gowns?
"When I am not designing, I am spending most of my time with my husband and two beautiful sons, Ishy and Sami, in our home in Costa Rica. I also founded a non-profit organization called Vida Autentica (www.vidaautentica.org), where I work with local communities to infuse earth-honoring practices into their culture and economies by funding greenhouses and farmers markets, cultivating organic food through classes and education. Like working with brides, Vida Autentica has become a true passion."
Describe your top trends for brides
"I keep my finger on the pulse of what's happening in the fashion world, and it informs my design, but bigger than that for me is creating timeless beauty for a bride to wear on her wedding day. My collections will always include a spectrum of silhouettes because I believe every bride should have a gown that fits her figure best, not just a figure that fits a particular gown."
What's your proudest moment to date?
Melissa Sweet: "For me, my career was never measured in milestones. It was very much nose-to-the-grindstone. I didn't take notice of my success as a designer, until one I was walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and saw one of my designs adorning a window at Bergdorf Goodman's. That's when I stopped and smiled and realized that all of my passion had really created something beautiful and important to brides."
What can we expect from your next collection?
"The next collection, I continue with a fresh mixing of traditional laces in a super stylish and "now" kind of way. I played with the layering of embroideries and details and laces, allowing one texture to peer through another texture, and let the essence come through the way I mixed the textures together. What is your top piece of advice for brides-to-be searching for their dream dress? Close your eyes and see how you want to feel on your wedding day. Do you envision walking down the aisle on air? Do you want to twirl and spin in an open field? Do you want to feel chic and sexy? Trust your intuition to guide you in finding a gown that makes you feel as good on the inside as you look on the outside."
The perfect wedding dress is...
"A gown that makes you feel as good on the inside as you look on the outside."
Melissa Sweet for David's Bridal; www.davidsbridal.co.uk