Forget the veil, and the groom?
Designers like Vera Wang are showing subversive weddings gowns for the modern unconventional wedding
Vera Wang. Photograph: Getty Images
“It’s very important to me that these not be viewed just as wedding gowns,” said Vera Wang, the pre-eminent wedding-gown designer for a generation. She was on the phone discussing her decision not to hold a live show during the recent presentations of bridal collections in New York, a kinder, gentler and briefer version of Fashion Week, with profusions of curling-ironed hair, platform pumps and champagne flutes twinkling in broad daylight.
Instead, Wang’s public relations department had circulated a short online = video titled “Chasing Alix,” after the self-effacing early 20th-century French couturier Madame Gres (aka Alix Barton). The video showed models in dresses whose cobwebbed bodices and fraying edges, accessorized with black rose petals and the odd tattoo, suggested not heterosexually coupled bliss but a small sorority of blase Miss Havishams.
Wang opened her bridal studio in 1990 and 22 years later separated amicably, as “conscious uncoupling” used to be called, from her husband, Arthur Becker. This is not the first time she has put forth an unconventional vision of that great American mass theater production, the wedding.
“I’ve been subversive in measured amounts,” she said, referring to times when her signature dresses were black (fall 2012), or red, as in China (spring 2013), or “architectural” (spring 2014). But perhaps never before, in fashion or history, has a man seemed such an optional part of the overall edifice.
“I don’t want to use the word goth, but certainly there was a sisterhood,” the designer said of the video, in which several female models stare into the foggy distance, entwine hands and twirl wanly, Lorde-like, in an abandoned manse. She intended to evoke not Dickens, but the Brontes. “I didn’t think we had to be literal with a groom and a tuxedo and all that.”
Yeah, who needs a groom, anyway? With marriage rates low and the contours of the institution inexorably shifting to accommodate same-sex and transgender couples, surely Wang would not be the only one in the wedding-dress business to be lifting the veil, or dispensing with it entirely.
But visits to a half-dozen bridal presentations showed only pockets of innovation here and there. Such as Zac Posen, who put actual pockets on a soutache-embellished skirt with a fitted bodice, which could come in handy for stashing the nuptial cash gifts standard in many cultures (or the money saved by spending only $245 on the ensemble; many sell for 10 times that much and up).
“I get in there with my scissors,” Posen said fiercely, standing in his atelier for an old-fashioned appointment-only viewing, redolent of the “gentleman seems to know what he wants” scene in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (also, fresh lilacs). He was describing not a turn toward deconstruction but his emphatic personal involvement in a mass-produced line, Truly Zac Posen, that has been ordered for a second season by the chain David’s Bridal and runs, with unusual generosity for a name-brand designer, from size 0 to 26.